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Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament

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Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament

With the Capitals rookies set to complete their four-day camp in Estero, Fla., today with a 10 a.m. game against the Nashville Predators, a handful of players already have made a strong first impression on the Caps’ coaching and management staffs.

Among them:

Jakub Vrana, forward

Whether he can withstand the physical punishment of the North American game remains to be seen, but the 19-year-old Czech has game-breaking speed and hands of gold. He showed both in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second of three games for the Caps rookies.

Taken by the Caps with the 13th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Vrana scored his first goal of the tournament when he raced down an alley-oop pass from defenseman Madison Bowey and scored on Tampa goalie Adam Wilcox for the first goal on Sunday night.

Vrana is a left shot who can play either wing. Bears coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that he’d like to see Vrana use his linemates better and limit his attempts at beating opponents one-on-one. Mann said he saw that on Sunday night.

Connor Hobbs, defense

Taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL draft, Hobbs will play this season in Regina under former NHL head coach John Paddock, but through two games he leads all Caps rookies with two goals. His second came on a second-period slap shot from the point on Sunday night.

Madison Bowey, defense

Considered the Caps’ top defensive prospect, Bowey pick up a goal and an assist against the Lightning, setting up Vrana’s mad dash down the right wing and blasting a power play point shot through Wilcox for his first goal of the tourney.

Bowey, 20, is expected to begin his first pro season in Hershey but if he continues with a strong training camp he could warrant consideration from the Caps.

Caleb Herbert, right wing

Following Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers Mann said he wanted to see more out of Herbert, who was taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft. On Sunday he delivered with a pair of assists on goals by Hobbs and Nathan Walker. Herbert, 23, is expected to begin the season in Hershey but is hoping to establish himself as a reliable AHL callup.

RELATED Could Roy give Caps the depth they need up front?

With a 1-0-1 record the Caps can win the tournament with a win over the Predators on Tuesday morning, a fact thart has not escaped Mann.

“I think it’s important that these guys work on some more things, because ultimately they’re going back to Washington to hang out with the big boys starting on Friday,” Mann told reporters.

“I think it’s important that they continue to work on the system play that (Caps coach Barry Trotz) is going to introduce to them and it’s a little bit of a leg up for them going into training camp where they know the neutral zone forecheck.”

Ovechkin arrives

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who turns 30 on Thursday, has arrived in D.C. and is expected on the ice for today's informal workouts with the Capitals. Free-agent center Derek Roy, 32, is also expected to participate. 

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

Both Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals extended their streaks on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin's second period goal extended his point streak to 14 games, a career best, and Washington notched its fifth straight win.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A quick response

Similar to Friday’s game in Carolina, the Caps yielded the first goal very early into the game as Jack Eichel scored less than three minutes in. Just 58 seconds later, however, Brett Connolly erased the deficit with a goal set up by the hard work of Devante Smith-Pelly.

Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton went to retrieve a puck behind the net, but Smith-Pelly pressured him on the forecheck and stole it away. He passed it to Connolly in front and he had an easy layup with Hutton out of the net.

Alex Ovechkin

He did it again.

You would think at this point there was nothing more Ovechkin could do to wow us, but you would be wrong. Though he did not continue his hat trick streak, Ovechkin did in fact extend his point streak to a career-high 14 games with a second period strike that tied the game at three.

Orlov broke up a breakout by Buffalo in the offensive zone and Nicklas Backstrom uickly fired a beautiful pass through traffic to find a wheeling Ovechkin who had plenty of time and space for the wind up to beat Hutton.

Ovechkin now has 17 goals and six assists over the 14-game streak. His goal was his league-leading 29th of the season.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ovechkin also scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

All eyes are on Ovechkin and his point streak, but Kuznetov is putting together a nice little point streak of his own. With an assist on Jakub Vrana’s first period goal, Kuznetsov extended his point streak to eight games. He has one goal and nine assists in that stretch. Kuznetsov also scored in the shootout.

A horrible miss

With about a minute left in the game and the score tied at 3, Sam Reinhart had the game on his stick. Jeff Skinner skated in to a sharp angle and fired a shot up high on Copley. Copley stopped it, but couldn’t control it and the puck rebound fell to Reinhart in the slot with an empty net yawning. Reinhart tried to fire the bouncing puck into the net, but instead hit it off the post behind a helpless Copley. Vrana got his stick down in a desperate attempt to block the shot, but it looked like he did not get a piece of it, Reinhart just could not control the puck enough to hit it home and score what would have almost certainly been the game-winning goal.

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