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Will Obama catch a game at Verizon Center?

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Will Obama catch a game at Verizon Center?

There are a few things coaches, players and fans look for on the day their team’s NHL schedule is released, so let’s delve a little deeper into the Capitals’ 2015-16 schedule.

Caps fans won’t have to wait long to see the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who make their first appearance in Washington, probably accompanied by a visit to the White House, on Oct. 15. [Hey, maybe President Obama will actually attend the game to root on one of his hometown teams.]

It’s worth noting that last year the Caps were without a coach and general manager when the 2014-15 NHL schedule was being drawn up and that the Caps were hit with 16 back-to-back games.

That’s something that could not have pleased Barry Trotz, who coached the Caps to an 8-6-2 record in the front end of those back-to-backs and a 7-8-1 record on the back end for an overall mark of 15-14-3.

This year, the Caps have 13 sets of back-to-back games – two in October, three in November, two in December, two in January, one in February, two in March, and one in April.

The Caps will play 10 games in October [six at home], 13 in November [eight at home], 14 in December [five at home], 12 in January [six at home], 14 in February [eight at home], 14 in March [six at home] and five in April [two at home].

Trotz undoubtedly has already looked ahead to the final 16 days of the regular season, when the Caps play nine times, including twice against the … St. Louis Blues? The Caps close out the regular season with games at New Jersey, at home against the Blues and Blue Jackets, at Philadelphia, Colorado and Arizona, at home against the Islanders and Penguins, and then off to St. Louis for the regular season finale against the Blues on Saturday, April 9.

Trotz might also like the fact the Caps play just six afternoon games this season, compared to 10 last season, when they went 4-5-1 in games played at 3 p.m. or earlier.

As for the players, the Canadians on the Capitals’ roster will be pleased to be informed they’ll be making four appearances on Hockey Night In Canada: Saturday, Nov. 7 at home against the Maple Leafs, Saturday, Nov. 28 in Toronto, Saturday, Dec. 5 in Winnipeg, and Saturday, Dec. 26 at home against the Canadiens.

The Caps players and their wives may also like the fact that their first trip to Western Canada involves three games in four nights [Oct. 20 in Calgary, Oct. 22 in Vancouver and Oct. 23 in Edmonton] and is followed by a four-day break in the schedule.

The players might also like the fact the Caps are playing a noon home game against the Flyers on Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 27, giving themselves and their fans plenty of time to load up on appetizers for the big game.  

Caps fans will get to boo Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the first month of the season. The Pens make their first of two visits to Verizon Center on Wednesday, Oct. 28. They return on Jan. 24 and again on April 7.

The Caps have to wait until Nov. 3 to make their first visit to Madison Square Garden since being eliminated by the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal, while Caps fans must wait until Jan. 17 to give the Blueshirts and earful.

Fans who love a little chippiness might want to check out the Caps’ Dec. 30 home game against the Sabres. Not only does it promise to be a chance to see phenom Jack Eichel, but it marks the only time all season the Caps play back-to-back games against the same opponent, which almost always results in paybacks from the game before.

Fans might also want to circle Nov. 23 on their calendars, since that’s the night Connor McDavid is expected to make his first appearance in Washington against former Erie Otters teammate Andre Burakovsky.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS 2015-16 FULL SCHEDULE

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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