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A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

A Capital doesn't win Hardest Shot at NHL Skills for the first time in 3 years

ST. LOUIS -- John Carlson did a valiant job trying to defend his title for the hardest shot, but Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber took home the prize with a blistering 106.5 MPH shot at the NHL Skills on Friday.

Alex Ovechkin won the Hardest Shot in 2018 and Carlson won it in 2019. He looked to be in good position to win it again after taking the lead with only one shooter left to go.

As Carlson skated up for his turn, the number to beat was 102.4 from Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson. Carlson shattered that with a shot of 104.5, beating his own winning shot from last year of 102.8.

The only problem? Weber was the last shooter.

"With Webs going behind him you kind of just expect him to go put up some big numbers," T.J. Oshie said. "But when John put up 104.5, you thought maybe there was a chance, but obviously Shea stepped up and took care of business."

Weber had Carlson beat on his very first shot. Weber smashed the puck for 105.9 MPH on his first attempt. As he was the last shooter, he had already won, but took his second shot anyway and beat his own mark, finishing with a 106.5 MPH shot.

While the Caps had won the event in each of the past two seasons, Weber had won it three straight times before Ovechkin took the title in 2018.

Even when Carlson took the lead, he still did not believe he would win knowing Weber still had to go.

"I think I knew all along we were all just a part of the show," Carlson said.

Braden Holtby also fell short in his attempt to win the Save Streak event. Frederik Anderson had the number to beat of seven when Holtby went between the pipes. He faced shooters from the Atlantic Division and made a run at seven when he stopped David Pastrnak’s shot. A goalie's round could not end on a save. As the captain, Pastrnak was the last shooter unless Holtby saved his shot. When Holtby stopped Pastrnak, that meant he would continue facing shots until he was beaten. With two straight saves, Holtby denied Shea Weber and Brady Tkachuk to get his streak up to five saves before he was finally beaten by Jack Eichel.

"I was just hoping Shea Weber wouldn't come down and take a slap shot on me,” Holtby told the NBCSN broadcast.

St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington ended up winning the event, much to the delight of the home crowd. Andrei Vasilevskiy raised the save streak up to nine with Binnington as the last goalie to go. In dramatic fashion, Binnington went on to deny 10 straight shots to take the win.

Other highlights of the All-Star Skills:

Ryan O’Reilly’s football helmet

Next week is the Super Bowl Sunday and Ryan O’Reilly showed who he is cheering for in warmups as he came onto the ice wearing a Kansas City Chiefs' helmet.


Connor McDavid is not the fastest skater?

We all know who the fastest skater in the NHL is. It’s Connor McDavid. You might as well just declare the race over, right?

Not so fast. (See what I did there?)

Stunningly, McDavid did not win the event and was edged out by New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal who completed the event in 13.175 seconds, just 0.03 seconds away from the record.

The Justin Bieber mask

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl decided to have some fun during the save streak. Before his shot attempt on Binnington, he busted out a Justin Bieber mask and put it on before shooting.

No, he did not score. Yes, the mask was terrifying.


The women’s 3-on-3 game was awesome

If there is one complaint about the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, is that it is not competitive enough. Players have fun with it, as they should, but they aren’t exactly going 100-percent like they would in an actual game. That was certainly not the case for the 3-on-3 women’s game between Canada and USA.

The women’s teams put on a great display of skill in what was an incredibly fun game to watch. Canada took a 1-0 lead in the first period off a goal from Rebecca Johnston. Melodie Daoust made it 2-0 in the second period and Hilary Knight finally put USA on the board putting them to within one.

But really it was the goalies who stole the show. With plenty of room to work, there were a number of breakaways and odd-man rushes. Both Alex Cavallini for the USA and Ann-Renee Desbiens for Canada were strong in net to keep it a three-goal game.

"It was pretty impressive," Oshie said. "The goalies stood on their head, but the girls were making some awesome plays, some great moves. It's always fun cheering on the Americans."

Desbiens had a drop the mic moment with a glove save just as time expired to maintain the 2-1 win for Canada.

Shooting Stars

You have to credit the NHL for trying. One of the new events featured players on a raised platform in the crowd shooting at targets on the ice. It was...different. The biggest issue with it was that the players could not hit most of the targets and the one that seemed the easiest to get was worth the most points. This one will need some tweaking if they want to bring it back again next year.

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NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL's All-Star weekend kicked off on Thursday with media day. On Friday, we have the first competition as the players take part in the NHL All-Star Skills. Compared to the regular season, not much is on the line on Friday. Teams are not battling for two points in the standings, rivalries are pushed aside and the quest of the Stanley Cup is put on hold. But Friday's event will pit the best hockey players in the world against one another as they show off some of the skills that got them there. For Capitals fans specifically, there will be plenty of reasons to tune in.

Here is what you should be watching for in Friday's All-Star Skills:

T.J. Oshie's reception

You thought he was just a fan favorite in Washington? Oshie spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and those fans have not forgotten. Oshie received a thunderous ovation from the fans on hand when he was introduced at Thursday's media day and you can expect that again on Friday anytime he is on the ice.

Unfortunately, with the shootout no longer included in the competition -- something in which Oshie excels -- he will not be specifically competing in any event himself. He will, however, participate as a shooter in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak so at least he can show off his skills there.

Holtby goes for the save streak

The majority of Friday's event -- and, let's face it, the All-Star Game itself -- is geared towards the offense. The one event for the goalies is the save streak. Braden Holtby and each of the other seven other goalies invited to the All-Star Game will take part in the save streak competition.

Each goalie will face shooters from an opposing division. All nine skaters will shoot with the divisional captain shooting last. If the goalie stops the captains' shot, the shooters continue shooting until the next goal. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak wins.

Regardless of who you may cheer for, everyone should be keeping their fingers crossed for a tie. Why? The first tie-breaker is the total number of saves made, but if there remains a tie after that, then the tied goalies will compete in a sudden death round of goalie goals.

Yeah, we all want to see that.

Holtby is making his fifth consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game. He is the only active goalie to do so and one of only four players in franchise history to make five all-star appearances. It still must feel bittersweet as he has not had a great season thus far, but Friday's event -- as well as Saturday's game -- will be his opportunity to show that he remains one of the top netminders in the league.

Carlson defends his hardest shot title

The Caps player with the most at stake on Friday will be John Carlson who will be defending his title in the Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot. Should Carlson lose, it will be the first time in three years a Cap has not won the event as Alex Ovechkin won it in 2018 with a shot of 101.3 MPH.

Carlson faces stiff competition this year as Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returns for the event. Weber is a three-time winner of the hardest shot, winning it in three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. His best shot cames in 2015 when he fired a blazing 108.5 MPH to win, very close to Zdeno Chara's 108.8 MPH record.

Carlson and Weber should be considered the two favorites. Also competing against them will be Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Victor Hedman and Elias Pettersson.

3-on-3 women's event

The All-Star Skills will feature two new events this year and easily the most highly anticipated will be the Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by Adidas. One of the best rivalries in all of hockey, Team USA women and Team Canada women, will be renewed as all-star teams from each country will face-off in a 3-on-3 game.

The game will consist of two 10-minute periods with a running clock. All penalties will result in a penalty shot.

One of the biggest criticisms of All-Star weekend is that the skills and the game are not competitive enough. If you have ever felt this way, then this is the competition for you. The women's game will likely be the most competitive event of the entire weekend. Women's hockey does not often get the spotlight and you can beat these all-stars are going to take full advantage of the chance to promote their game. Add in the fact that they get to play against their biggest rivals and you can expect a pretty intense performance.

Shooting Stars

The second new event added to this year's competition is the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars. Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, about 30 feet up and shoot at different targets on the ice. Each player will attempt seven shots.

There will be eight shooters from the NHL All-Stars and an additional two women, one from the U.S. team and one from Canada, will participate. The women will be selected by social media vote.

With all events the NHL experiments with, we have no idea just what this will look like or how good it will be until we see it. Maybe it is the next big thing and maybe it will be a total flop.

But hey, nothing could be worse than watching the players try to shoot on the mini nets as they have in the past so at least it's not that.

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Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the goaltending to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

See Monday's breakdown of the team's offense here.
See Tuesday's breakdown of the team's defense here.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the defense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stat
.916 team save percentage (20th in the NHL)

Player stats
Braden Holtby 18-9-4 (18 wins tied for 8th), .897 save percentage (48th among goalies with 15 or more games played), 3.09 GAA (40th)
Ilya Samsonov 15-2-1 (15 wins tied for 18th), .927 save percentage (5th among goalies with at least 15 GP), 2.06 GAA (1st)

It's been a tough year for Holtby. After a difficult start to the season, he seemed to reset and rebound in November. Then December rolled around and he struggled again. His save percentage has now dipped below .900 for the season. He still has gotten a majority of the starts and has put together a decent record on the season, but this does not look like vintage Holtby.

There is no one aspect of his game that you can point to and say, there it is, that's why he is struggling. The fact is that he is playing in front of a defense that has been shaky in terms of turnovers and he has not been able to bail them out with big saves like he has in years past. Deflections and screens seem to be affecting him more than they once did. Whether this is evidence of decline for the 30-year-old netminder of if this is just a bad year is a discussion for another day, but right now his play has not been up to par and he would be the first to admit that.

With Holtby in a contract year, Samsonov was likely brought up a year earlier than perhaps the team would have wanted him to be. The move, however, has paid off as Samsonov has been absolutely brilliant. There are flashes of inexperience to his game, particularly overcommitment when he slides from side to side, but already he has already improved from the start of the season to now and he seems to be every bit as good as advertised when Washington selected him in the first round back in 2015.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, Samsonov is an unknown commodity. We would like to assume his regular-season game will simply translate into great postseason play, but it does not always work that way. Just ask Jose Theodore. The fact is that he is a rookie goalie with zero NHL playoff experience. You also have to consider that the most games he has played in a professional season is 37 which he did last year in Hershey.

With Holtby struggling and Samsonov excelling, there are many who would love Samsonov to take over as the No. 1. But when you have a young goalie who has never in his professional career taken on a full-time starting role, is in his rookie season in the NHL and has no playoff experience, it is easy to see how this can all get very overwhelming very quickly.

There is no question that the play of both Holtby and Samsonov dictates that Samsonov should be playing more, but that probably will not translate into as many starts as you may think after the all-star break as Todd Reirden tries to manage the minutes of the rookie netminder. So long as the team remains atop the standings, there is no pressure to force more games than you need from Samsonov. Having said that, I doubt very much that Holtby will get every start in the upcoming four games the team has against the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins. I would be surprised if Samsonov did not get at least two of those games and one at home.

The verdict: Yes, the goaltending should be good enough to win the Cup

I know, you just read an entire analytical article with the ultimate conclusion of "I think so," but goaltending is the hardest thing to predict in hockey. Sometimes goalies get hot and sometimes they don't.

If the playoffs were to start today, Samsonov would have to be the starter. There is no debate. The problem is we have no idea what kind of a playoff goalie he will be. That's what makes Holtby's role so important.

Holtby ranks 5th all-time in playoff save percentage with a .928 and it's not a small sample size (89 games). OK, but won't his poor season translate to a poor performance in the playoffs? Ask 2018 Holtby who was in the exact same situation, supplanted by Philipp Gtubauer as the starter. He came on in relief of Grubauer in just the second game and never looked back with a .922 save percentage and 16-7 record all the way to the Stanley Cup.

Holtby is a goalie who likes to play as often as possible. The playoffs are ideal for him because you play every other night. It suits his game well. What happened in 2018 is no guarantee of success in 2020, but I don't know why anyone would think the Caps are better off getting a different back up than going with the guy who is statistically one of the best playoff goalies ever and who has won a Stanley Cup going into the postseason as a No. 2.

If Samsonov is anything close to what he has been in the regular season, the Caps are in good shape in net. If not, there is every reason to be confident in Holtby as the backup. Samsonov/Holtby as a tandem is about as good a tandem as there will be in the playoffs and there's no reason to change it.

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