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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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Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

Is Alex Ovechkin still the best winger in the NHL?

When you win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals, lead your team to a Stanley Cup and win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, you certainly belong in the discussion among the best in the game.

Even after Alex Ovechkin's incredible season, however, he falls just short of the top spot, according to NHL Network.

The NHL Network revealed the "Top 20 Wings Right Now" rankings as part of its countdown series on Sunday and Ovechkin came in second. Ahead of him was Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A compelling case could certainly be made for both players. Kucherov finished third in the NHL in points with a career-high 100 points (29 goals, 61 assists). Ovechkin, meanwhile, led the NHL in goals with 49 in his 87-point season.

The main argument for Kucherov is that he is 25 while Ovechkin will turn 33 in September and the ranking is for "right now." Ovechkin, however, is still basking in the glow of the Caps' Stanley Cup run which happened just a short two months ago. He also beat and outplayed Kucherov when the Caps met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, outscoring him with seven points (four goals, three assists) compared to Kucherov's five (one goal, four assists).

Ovechkin's case is a compelling one as evidenced by the fact that he edged out Kucherov in the fan voting.

And then...there's analyst Mike Johnson who believes Ovechkin is neither No. 1 or No. 2. In fact, he barely cracks the top five.

Father Time is undefeated and there will come a point where Ovechkin begins to decline. But when the last competitive NHL hockey game was played, it featured an Ovechkin goal and him hoisting both the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup. Two months wasn't that long ago so perhaps we should not be expecting his production to fall off a cliff just yet.

The Great 8 has a way of making those quick to bury him look pretty foolish. Will he keep up that trend this season?

MORE CAPS NEWS: 

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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.

Today's team: Carolina Hurricanes

2017-18 Results: 36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Micheal Ferland, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Dougie Hamilton, D Calvin de Haan, G Petr Mrazek, head coach Rod Brind’Amour

Notable departures: F Elias Lindholm, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Derek Ryan, F Jeff Skinner, F Lee Stempniak, D Noah Hanifin, G Cam Ward, head coach Bill Peters

When they will play the Caps: Dec. 14 in Raleigh, Dec. 27 in Washington, March 26 in Washington, March 28 in Raleigh

Offseason recap: The offseason was one of change for the Hurricanes as new owner Tom Dundon tried to make his mark. Peters and Ron Francis are out, Brind’Amour and Don Waddell are in as coach and general manager. Carolina’s new front office had a busy offseason with a number of splashy moves.

Hanifin, Lindholm and Skinner all will have new homes next season as the Hurricanes traded all three players in two big-time trades. Hanifin and Lindholm netted the team Hamilton, Ferland and a prospect while Skinner brought back a prospect, a second, a third and a sixth-round pick.

In addition, Carolina also added Svechnikov with the second-overall pick in the draft.

Biggest strength: Defense

Carolina was solid defensively last season, it just didn't seem that way because of how bad the goaltending was. Adding de Haan and Hamilton bolsters what was already a formidable blue line.

Biggest weakness: Goaltending

Did I mention how bad their goaltending was last season? Darling and Ward combined for a .909 save percentage, better only than the Buffalo Sabres. Ward put up better numbers (2.73 GAA, .906 save percentage) than Darling (3.18 GAA, .888 save percentage), but he has moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks. To replace him, the Hurricanes picked up Mrazek who also struggled last season (3.03 GAA, .902 save percentage).

So to recap, Ward and Darling both had subpar years, but to replace Ward the Hurricanes picked up a goalie who was worse.

It makes sense that Carolina would want to give Darling another shot at earning the starting job considering they traded for him to be their starter of the future, but just because the goaltending could not get much worse than last season is no guarantee it will be better.

2018-19 season outlook: The Hurricanes enter the season with a lot of question marks.

Can Brind'Amour handle the responsibilities of being a head coach in the NHL with zero head coaching experience at any level? Did they do enough to address their scoring woes? Will someone play like a starting-caliber goalie? Is Dundon breaking the mold of an NHL owner or will his meddling negatively impact the team? Will Hamilton adjust to his new team? Is Svetchnikov ready for a top-line role in his rookie season? Is Sebastian Aho a center?

If they can find positive answers to all of those questions, this is a team that could surprise. More likely, however, there are simply too many issues in Carolina right now for this team to make any real noise.

A new owner, new general manager, new head coach and a new-look roster are too much for one team to adjust to in one season.

2018-19 season prediction: The Hurricanes miss the playoffs and it's not close.