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Trotz: Richards may be ready for Caps' debut

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Trotz: Richards may be ready for Caps' debut

From the sights and sounds of the Capitals’ optional practice on Friday, center Mike Richards is close to making his long-awaited and much-debated debut with the Caps.

Richards skated for the eighth straight day on Friday at Kettler and said he’s starting to feel like an NHL player again.

“You don’t want to be that guy messing up the drills or chucking pucks at people’s feet,” said Richards, who has not played an NHL game since April 9 for the Los Angeles Kings. “My legs are feeling better, my hands are feeling better. It’s just the progression of a shortened training camp maybe, but I feel good.”

Asked if he’s ready to play this weekend, when the Caps visit the Sabres on Saturday and return home to face the Rangers on Sunday, Richards shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I just do what I’m told,” he said. “If he needs me to play I’ll play.”

“He” would be Capitals coach Barry Trotz, and after allowing Richards to go through a game-day routine on Thursday, which included a pregame skate, Trotz seems willing to put the 30-year-old center into action in Buffalo.

“He’s getting used to how we do things,” Trotz said. “He’ got to feel real comfortable so when we throw him on the ice he’s just thinking about playing hockey.

RELATED: Friday Six-Pack: Richards could play this weekend

Trotz said he’s not adverse to Richards playing in back-to-back games this weekend, especially if he keeps his ice time to a minimum Saturday night against the Sabres.  

“I may have to say, ‘Go into one and see where it’s at,’” Trotz said. “He’s going to start on the fourth line, which is natural, and we’ll try to increase his minutes. But if his minutes aren’t too high to start, I wouldn’t be too hesitant (to play Richards on Sunday). I want him to succeed and I know he’s going to be a good fit for us.”

Trotz said he’s considered letting Richards play in the Capitals’ six games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, then sending him to the AHL Hershey Bears for back-to-back games on Saturday, Jan. 29 in Syracuse and Sunday, Jan. 30 at home, also against Syracuse. Richards also has a hearing scheduled for Jan. 28 in Manitoba for allegedly taking a controlled substance across the Canadian border last summer. It is unclear if that hearing will be postponed.

“He’s made great strides,” Trotz said. “The first few days you get a little humbled. You think you’re in pretty great shape and you find out you’ve got some work to do. If you’re passing with your brother and a couple of your buddies (in Kenora, Ontario) they’re not going up the ice like Kuzy and Burakovsky and Ovi. He’s caught up to that.”

After six seasons in Philadelphia and four more in Los Angeles, Richards says he’s impressed with the pace he’s seen in his short stay with the Capitals.

“The biggest thing is just the work ethic every day, it really is amazing,” Richards said. “The high tempo of the practices; everybody’s in the gym working out together; the fun they have doing it. It’s pretty impressive to be honest to come to a team doing so well. Sometimes you get complacent, especially around the halfway point of the season, but it seems like they’re not satisfied, they’re pushing for more.”

While others may question why the Capitals would add Richards to a team already 16 points ahead of the rest of the Metropolitan Division, Trotz is not. He knows Richards’ hockey history, which includes a Memorial Cup in 2003 with the OHL Kitchener Rangers, a World Junior Championships gold medal in 2005 with Team Canada, a Calder Cup in 2005 with the Philadelphia Phantoms, an Olympic gold medal in 2010 with Team Canada and two Stanley Cups with the 2012 and 2014 Kings.    

“In your business there are people you look at and you go, ‘That is an outstanding journalist,’ Trotz said. “I’m saying he’s an outstanding hockey player. They love to be playing the game, they compete at a very intense level. All those things I like about Mike and I think he’s going to be a real fit for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: Canucks on Caps: Good teams wear you down

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

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USA Today Sports

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 game. “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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5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

5 reasons the Capitals beat the Rangers in overtime

The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.

Here are five reasons why the Caps won.

1. Djoos saves a goal

With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.

Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.

A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.

That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.

2. Carlson off the faceoff

The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.

Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.

Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.

3. Hand-eye coordination

With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.

Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.

Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.

4. Braden Holtby

Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.

Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.

Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.

Can’t blame Holtby for those.

5. Working from the office

The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.

There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.

Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.

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