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Season preview: Minnesota Wild

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Season preview: Minnesota Wild

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Minnesota Wild

2014-15 record: 46-28-8, 4th in the Central

How they finished: Lost in 4 games to Chicago in the Western Conference Semifinals

Coach: Mike Yeo (5th season)

Notable additions: None

Notable subtractions: C Kyle Brodziak

RELATED: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

Schedule against the Capitals: Thu. Feb. 11 at Minnesota, Fri. Feb. 26 at Washington

Outlook: The Wild had a very quiet offseason with re-signing goalie Devan Dubnyk to a long-term deal their main focus. They did that, but little else. That's an interesting strategy for a team that got swept in the playoffs, even though it came at the hands of the eventual Cup champions.

Minnesota will be depending on its young pieces to take on a larger role on both ends of the ice. Mikael Granlund will likely center the top line and Jason Zucker will play on the second. Zach Parise and Jason Pominville are still in their early 30s so there should not be much of a drop off yet in terms of their production and even if there is, Granlund and Zucker should be able to make up for that.

Defensively, the Wild are very young. Minnesota will rely on five defensemen who are 25 or younger this season with Jonas Brodin (22), Marco Scandella (25), Matt Dumba (21), Mike Reilly (22) and Jared Spurgeon (25). If the team struggles defensively early on, don't be surprised to see a mid-season trade for a veteran defenseman.

But let's be real, Minnesota's season rides on the shoulders of Dubnyk. The Wild looked like they were going nowhere last season and everyone was waiting for Mike Yeo to get the ax, but eerything turned around once the team traded for Dubnyk.

Dubnyk set the NHL on fire last season, posting a .936 save percentage and 1.78 GAA. Those numbers were not nearly as good in the playoffs where he managed only a .908 percentage and 2.53 GAA. This begs the question, just how good is he really? The fate of the Wild rests on the answer to that question.

Expectations: Dubnyk certainly would not be the first goalie to disappear after a breakout season and if that happens, it will be a lost season for Minnesota. The problem is that It would be unreasonable to expect Dubnyk to replicate the numbers he had last year. If that's what it will take to get the Wild back into the playoffs, they're in trouble. He's going to have to be really good, but can he be good enough?

Minnesota is on the right track, but their young players need another year or two before this team can really become competitive. I look for the Wild to take a step back this year and, given that they were a wild card team last season, that means no playoffs in Minneapolis.

MORE CAPS: Capitals' free agents: Who stayed and who is moving on

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Central Division 
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Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins 8/15 
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Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Capital One Arena — The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

The Capitals dominated Tuesday in T.J. Oshie's return as Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick to lead Washington to the 6-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

Fast start

Bad starts were starting to become a problem for the Caps even during the team’s seven-game win streak. That certainly was not the case on Tuesday as Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of the game.

Brett Connolly scored a power play goal less than four minutes in, Travis Boyd scored his second career NHL goal and Alex Ovechkin got a crazy deflection to give the Caps a 3-0 lead. It was just that kind of night for the home team.

Starts have gone from a weakness to a strength recently as Washington has now scored three goals in the first period of each of their last two games and three times in the last five games.

Connolly and Ovechkin still hot

When you’re hot, you’re hot. Everything just seems to be working for both Connolly and Ovechkin.

Connolly extended his point streak to five games as he deflected in a shot from John Carlson. All eyes were on the Caps’ top power play unit with T.J. Oshie’s return, but it was Connolly – playing in Oshie’s spot on the second unit – who got Washington on the board first.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, extended his point streak to 12 games, the second longest streak of his career. Ovechkin put the exclamation point on the first period as he fired a one-timer from ten feet above the faceoff circle that was going nowhere near the net. The shot, however, deflected off of Niklas Kronwall and past a helpless Jonathan Bernier.

If you’re more into the pretty goals, don’t worry, Ovechkin had one of those too, as he beat Bernier clean on a two-on-one in the second period to extend the Caps’ lead to 5-0.

If Ovechkin scores his second goal of the game in the second period, there’s a pretty good chance three is not going to be far behind. Ovechkin finished off the hat trick in the third period as he fired a one-timer from the boards that just managed to squeak through Jimmy Howard.

The goals were Ovechkin’s league-leading 23rd, 24th and 25th tallies of the season. In addition to his 12-game point streak, Ovechkin has scored in four straight games (six total goals) and has 13 goals and 19 points over that 12-game streak.

Fourth line production

The fourth line’s main responsibility typically isn't to put points on the board. When a team does get production from that line, it’s a pretty big bonus for the offense. The Caps got another bonus point on Tuesday with a goal from Boyd.

The goal was set up completely by the work of Dmitrij Jaskin, who won a foot race in the offensive zone to cancel out an icing call, shielded the puck away from Detroit defenseman Mike Green and passed back to Nic Dowd who made the quick pass to Boyd.

Boyd now has a two-game goal streak, which is significant considering those are the only two goals of his NHL career.

Washington seems to have found real chemistry with Jaskin, Dowd and Boyd, which is important considering the Caps lost Jay Beagle in the offseason and the fourth line was one of the few question marks for the team heading into the season.

The power play

The Caps’ power play has been cold lately, going 0 for its last 8 opportunities and with zero goals in the last three games. In the past 14 games, in fact, Washington has gone only 15.4-percent on the power play since Nov. 11 – a stretch of 14 games – with six goals on 38 power plays.

Todd Reirden expressed his excitement on Monday about how Oshie’s return to the lineup could spark the power play, and boy was he right. The team had a clear spark with him back, and the power play responded with a goal in each of its two opportunities on the night.

Oshie himself scored the second power play goal from his normal spot in the slot.

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