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Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

Once a week this season, we're taking a closer look at the numbers and pointing out a few trends that every Capitals fan should know about.

Hot

T.J. Oshie

In his last 11 games, Oshie has seven goals and five assists. Since Jan. 1, in fact, the first line winger is the Caps’ leading goal scorer with 14. That’s two more than anyone else on the team…and Oshie missed six games during that stretch. With one more goal, Oshie will match his career high of 26, which he set last season. And the timing couldn’t be better for the 30-year-old, who is setting himself up for a big free agent contract this offseason. “Every player handles it differently,” Coach Barry Trotz said of contract year pressure. “Some players have career years on those years. Some players wilt under that pressure. He’s real focused. He’s having an exceptional year.”    

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 67 (21 goals, 46 assists) in 65 games. And he's been red hot the past 15 contests. During that span, the 29-year-old center has eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points—seven more than any of his teammates in that timeframe. Backstrom also logged seven shots against the Stars. He hasn’t taken seven shots in a game since 2013. So, yeah, he’s feeling it.

Penalty kill

The Caps’ penalty kill has risen to fourth (tie) entering Wednesday’s game with an effectiveness rate of 85.0 percent. Over the past 10 games, the Jay Beagle-and Karl Alzner-led unit has thwarted 25 of 28 shorthanded situations. This, of course, is a good thing for a team that’s got a penchant for taking minor penalties. In fact, since Dec. 31, the Caps have been assessed 124 minors. The next team is Tampa Bay with 106.

RELATED: Caps' playoff opponent watch: Battling Brooklyn

Cold

Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin has not scored a goal at even strength since Jan. 31—a span of 15 games—and has no goals in the Caps’ last seven contests. Overall, the 31-year-old has 27 goals (two more than Oshie) and is on pace for 34. Ovechkin had 50 or more each of the last three seasons. Asked about the downturn this week, Trotz said he’s confident his captain will get hot. “Early in that [slump], I don’t think he was getting very many chances,” Trotz said. “I think he’s working better for those chances [now]. He’s going to score, I’m pretty sure about that. …He’ll get back on track and get hot here. It’s tightening up now [so] you have to work for your goals, you have to work for your space.”

Goals per game since the bye

From Jan. 3 - Feb. 11, a span of 20 games, the Caps boasted the best offense in the NHL, scoring a total of 93 goals (4.65 per game). Then they had a six-day bye week. Since returning, they’ve scored 20 goals in nine games (2.22 per game). Sure, they’ve played a few desperate teams that adopted a, shall we say, defensive posture. (Flyers and Devils, I’m looking at you.) Still, it’s time for Ovechkin and Co. to bear down and get the “snipe” back in their game, as Trotz is fond of saying.  

Recent first periods

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Caps were tied with the Maple Leafs for the most first period goals (67) in the NHL. That trend, however, has been slowing as of late. In fact, in the nine games since the bye, they’ve come up empty in the first period six times. “We haven’t dominated,” Trotz said. “It was a sort of a mindset [prior to the hiatus]. We came out with a lot of juice and jumped on teams. And lately, we just haven’t. We haven't come out with that, ‘Let’s jump on you early and not give you a chance to get off the mat.’ We’ve been sorta saying, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals ink two college free agents

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

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USA TODAY Sports Images

How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship is coming to a close this Memorial Day weekend.

After two weeks, the sixteen team field has been narrowed down to four with the world championship now on the line in Slovakia. 

The two group winners, Canada, the top-ranked team in the world and 26-time IIHF Champions, and Russia, who rolled through the group stage with a 7-0 record and a +29 goal differential, are the favorites. Russia overwhelmingly has played like the best team in Slovakia, outscoring its opponents 40-10 behind Nikita Kucherov's 16 points in eight games.

The Russian/ Soviet Union team is the only team with more titles than the Canadians with 27 (five as Russia, 22 as the Soviet Union). 

Canada will face off against the Czech Republic, whose only loss came against the Russians in group play, with a spot to the Finals on the line. Russia will play Finland for the last spot in the gold medal match.

Three of the four teams remaining (Russia, Canda, and the Czech Republic) are the winningest teams in the IIHF's history. The four semifinalists have combined to win 67 of the 82 IIHF World Championships.

When is the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will take place at 8:15 p.m. local time (2:15 p.m. ET) on Sunday, May 26. The bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match at 3:45 p.m. local time (9:15 a.m. ET). 

2019 IIHF World Championship Schedule:

There are only four matches left in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The two semifinals, the bronze medal match, and the gold medal match.

SEMIFINALS:
No. 3 Russia vs. No. 5 Finland, 9:15 a.m. ET, May 25
No. 1 Canada vs. No. 6 Czech Republic, 1:15 p.m. ET, May 25

BRONZE MEDAL MATCH:
Loser of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Loser of Semifinal No. 2, 9:45 a.m. ET, May 26

GOLD MEDAL MATCH:
Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2, 2:15 p.m. ET, May 26

How to watch or stream the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

All games at the IIHF World Championships will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Who is playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will be played between the winner of Russia (8-0-0)/ Finland (7-0-1) and Canada (7-1-0)/ Czech Republic (7-0-1).

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF Championship Finals will be announced on the morning of May 26. 

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

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USA Today Sports images

The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

When the St. Louis Blues woke up on Jan. 3, they were in dead last in the NHL. A 15-18-4 record gave them 34 points, less than teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators who would go on to finish the season as the two worst teams. Yes, St. Louis had played in only 37 games to that point, the fewest in the league, but finding a way to climb back into the playoff hunt seemed daunting and unlikely.

Now the Blues are the Western Conference champions and stand just four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

The Blues have been one of the best stories of the NHL season climbing from last place to the Stanley Cup Final. When looking back at St. Louis’ season, there are several moments one can point to as key moments in the turnaround. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 20 and goalie Jordan Binnington got his first start with the Blues on Jan. 7 and never gave back the crease.

But the turnaround really started on Jan. 3. On that morning, the Blues were in last place. That would be the last day they would find themselves there.

And it all started with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals.

On Jan. 3, St. Louis and Washington looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Blues were in last place, the Caps were rolling with a 24-11-3 record, first in the Metropolitan Division. Washington came into St. Louis on a five-game road winning streak. As if that wasn’t enough, the Blues were also without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

And yet, what looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but. Robert Thomas scored a deflection just four minutes into the game. Washington managed to take a 2-1 lead early in the second, but St. Louis rattled off four straight goals for the 5-2 win. With Washington down only 3-2 heading into the third period, the Blues but on a possession clinic outshooting Washington 14-2 in the final frame.

"We stayed aggressive," Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. "When we're playing in the O zone, the best way to play defense is to play in their end. We kept the puck, we moved the puck, we worked. Forwards were great tonight, protecting the center of the ice. It kind of took their playmakers out of the game."

The Caps’ first shot came 13 minutes into the third. By then, the Blues already had 12 shots and two goals.

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams will lose games against teams they shouldn’t. This felt different. Watching this game, you did not come away thinking the Caps played down to an inferior team. The Blues dominated that game and the Caps knew it.

“They were skating, competing harder, won races, more determined than we were,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If we’re being honest about it, we didn’t have a very good game, and they played a pretty darn good game.”
More importantly, St. Louis realized it as well. They knew following the game that this was a win and a performance they could build on.

“I think we out-chanced them, so we're building here at even strength,” Pietrangelo said. “It's just a matter of keeping it at even strength and scoring goals. Tonight the goals weren't necessarily pretty but we created a lot of chances."
That night proved to be the first night of the turnaround. From Jan. 3 on, no team in the NHL earned more points than St. Louis’ 65, not even the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the Presidents’ Trophy with an incredible 128 points.

St. Louis was not expected to be bad this season. The team made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster and many thought they could be real contenders, but they sure did not play like it through the first half of the season. It took a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champs to show them and everyone else just how good they really were. From that point on, they never looked back.

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