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Spare defenseman Taylor Chorney pushes the Caps past the Senators

Spare defenseman Taylor Chorney pushes the Caps past the Senators

As the Capitals’ spare defenseman, Taylor Chorney doesn’t get to play very often. In fact, Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Senators was just his seventh appearance of the season.

Which is exactly what made his third period goal—the game winner—so sweet for Chorney, his teammates and the coaching staff.

“Guys were cheering,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We were all happy for him. There’s certain things guys do very well—scoring for Taylor is probably not one of them. So when he does get one, it’s special for everybody.”

Indeed, the goal was Chorney’s first since March 2, 2016, his second in 62 games as a member of the Caps and just his third in 130 career contests. Of those three goals, two are game winners.  

And Chorney couldn’t have picked a better time to deliver another one.

RELATED: Defense comes up big on both ends in win over Senators

Locked in a 1-1 battle, he took a pass from defensive partner Brooks Orpik less than three minutes into the final frame and fired the puck past Ottawa goalie Mike Condon to give the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.

Afterward, fellow defenseman Karl Alzner, who scored the Caps’ first goal, revealed that Chorney had called his own shot as the team returned to the ice for the start of the third period.  

“I was just joking,” Corney said of telling his teammates that he felt a game-winner coming. “I wasn’t expecting to score, but I did. When we walked out, I said, ‘It would be nice to get the first of the year on a game-winner.’ It just worked out.”

Like everyone else in the dressing room, Alzner was excited to see the puck go in for team and, just as important, for Chorney.

“More than happy,” Alzner said. “Chore is unique. It’s a super-hard position to be in. He doesn’t get to play a whole lot. Every single game he’s played he’s been not just good, he’s been great. And he still comes out of the lineup just because of the way the team is built. He always has a smile and he’s always working hard. It’s nice to see him get rewarded.”

Chorney said the play that led to the goal is something the Caps have been working on in practice lately.

“We’ve been working on getting into that look where we get it up at the top and go D-to-D and get into a flank look,” he said. “Brooksie put it in a good spot and I just shot it. There was a bunch of traffic and it went in.”

Trotz doesn’t often change a winning lineup. But he opted to insert Chorney over Nate Schmidt, despite the Caps’ 6-2 win in New Jersey on Saturday.

Why?

“Every day he comes to work,” Trotz said. Trotz also knows that he needs to keep Chorney sharp, just in case injuries strike.

“That’s how we think about our team—everybody is an important piece,” the coach added. “Even Chore, who’s not always in the lineup, he comes in as a true pro, works his butt off every day, doesn’t complain, gets in the lineup and contributes. That’s what you look for. And that’s why the guys love him. That’s why a guy like Taylor Chorney is so valuable to your hockey team. He comes in a does a real good job, and he’s done it all year.”

The goals by Chorney and Alzner marked the sixth and seventh by the Caps’ defensive corps over the past 11 games. While that’s still behind last year’s pace, the group is steadily closing the gap.

And for a Caps’ team that still isn’t scoring as much as it should, getting contributions from the backend is a welcome sign.   

“It’s huge,” Trotz said. “Tonight, two guys that don’t score a lot of goals were the difference.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz discusses Vrana's demotion, bringin in a 13th forward

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Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

On Thursday in New York, Tom Wilson will present his case to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and argue why he does not deserve the 20-game suspension handed down to him by the Department of Player Safety. Regardless of whether or not Bettman decides to reduce the suspension, there’s a larger question that now hangs over Wilson and one that will determine the direction his career goes from here.

Can Wilson change his game?

There is no question whether the hit he delivered to St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist which earned him the suspension was illegal. The DoPS’s explanation video lays out why it was a bad hit. This is also Wilson’s fourth suspension in just 105 games meaning the next suspension will be even more severe.

When you have to think about suspensions of more than 20 games, those are serious. They have serious consequences for both the team and the player.

Like it or not, Wilson will have to change the way he plays. But can he?

Can a player who has played a certain way his entire career, a player who made it to the NHL playing the way he does, simply change his game?

“Every player can add different elements to their game,” Reirden said Tuesday when asked about Wilson. “I think it's a line that needs to be towed with him in regard to he has a physical element that is a difference maker for him and using him at the proper times and in the proper ways.”

The team is not going to ask him to not be physical and, despite what Caps fans may think, neither will the league. The point is he needs to be smarter about when he is physical and make sure to keep his hits legal. That means playing smarter.

The hit to Sundqvist was unnecessary. Wilson could have played the stick instead of going for the hit. The fact that it also came in the preseason is significant as well. At that point, he should not even be thinking about delivering a big hit to anyone because it is a meaningless game.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season, Wilson is headed to the bench for a line change, but turns to deliver a hit to Zach Aston-Reese. That hit ended up breaking Aston-Reese’s jaw and resulted in a three-game suspension for Wilson. He could have simply gone to the bench and the entire situation could have been avoided.

Wilson absolutely can be a successful player if he plays smarter. He is not on the top line because of his hitting, he is there because he is a good skater with offensive skill who can win board battles with his physical play. The hits are just one aspect of his game, but he is a much more dynamic player than his detractors give him credit for.

But there’s no denying part of what makes him successful is being a good hitter. Reirden knows that and doesn’t want that aspect to be taken out of Wilson’s game completely.

“To expect him to go out there and not finish anymore checks is not going to be very effective either,” Reirden said. “We're working towards a good product for him so he can continue to be back in our team. He's such an important piece to what we do here. We want to have him back as quick as we can and then we want to keep him in the lineup so we'll be discussing that further after things are done.”


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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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