Trotz to Capitals: ‘It’s step up time’


ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Facing some salary-cap math that wasn’t pretty, the Washington Capitals took a beating in the offseason with the loss of several significant contributors players.

Now they go about the unenviable task of trying to fill the void left – including the 68 goals scored last season – by Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

“It’s step up time,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s by committee. Next man up.”

For the Capitals to remain Stanley Cup contenders, the burden is on star forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie and goaltender Braden Holtby to step up even more. Coming off back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy seasons for leading the NHL in regular-season points and losing in the second round each time to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington is a very different team with an infusion of youth that veterans hope will help rather than hurt.

The Capitals could have eight players age 25 and younger in their opening night lineup, including defenseman Madison Bowey and Australian forward Nathan Walker potentially making their NHL debuts. Center Lars Eller sees those young players and others, like top prospect Jakub Vrana, and feels excitement about what could be.

“Experience is hard to replace, but they’re going to bring something else,” Eller said. “And the truth is, I think on a Stanley Cup-winning team you got to have all kinds of guys bringing something different to the table. … I still think we have a very good mix of experience and youth and these guys are going to be really, really hungry to prove themselves and to take the next step.”

For the Capitals to take the next step after three first- and six second-round exits over the past decade, Ovechkin and the top players will have to assume a bigger chunk of the responsibility. General manager Brian MacLellan hopes for big things from Kuznetsov and fourth-year winger Andre Burakovsky.

“They want more from me and I understand that,” said Kuznetsov, who signed a $62.4 million, eight-year deal that makes him Washington’s second-highest paid player behind Ovechkin. “I want people to ask more from me. If they give me a bigger role, I will try to do my best.”

Some things to watch with the Capitals this season:

ADJUSTING OVECHKIN: Going into his 13th NHL season at age 32, Ovechkin is hoping to make good on an offseason request to get a bit quicker. MacLellan wanted him to train more for speed than power after the lowest goal output in a non-lockout season since 2010-11. “You always ask players to evolve,” Trotz said. “What can you add to your game that you haven’t added? In his case, the game is getting quick and he has to stay relevant from the quickness aspect.”

HOLTBY WITHOUT KORN: Holtby won the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16 and was a finalist again last season under the tutelage of goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who moved on to director of goaltending with Scott Murray taking over day-to-day duties. Along with backup Philipp Grubauer, Holtby leads arguably the best goaltending tandem in hockey and doesn’t expect anything to change with his elite play. “You’re not revamping styles or anything like that,” said Holtby, who had a combined 2.17 goals-against average and .923 save percentage over the past three seasons. “You’re grooming things, looking for trends, looking at little ways to get better.”

TROTZ CONTRACT WATCH: Trotz is in the last year of his contract, an interesting situation to say the least for a veteran coach with such a strong resume. But like many of his players, Trotz hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs, and MacLellan said after last season he wanted to see “evidence” of improvements before talking extension. Trotz said his contract status has “0.0 effect” on him, adding he’s not worried about it at all.

ROCKY ROAD: Eight of the Capitals’ first 12 games are on the road, and six overall come against playoff teams from last season. There won’t be any easing into the year, but if Washington can stay afloat through a rough first month and not dig too much of a hole in the stacked Metropolitan, it could be on the way to a third consecutive division title.

WHO’S ON D: Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and pending free agent John Carlson are clearly the top three defensemen. After that, the blue line will be filled out by the likes of Bowey, Christian Djoos, Taylor Chorney, Brooks Orpik and Aaron Ness, whose play will determine a lot of the Capitals’ success this season.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

For more AP NHL coverage:

The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

Associated Press
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Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:


Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eddie Olczyk declares he’s cancer-free


It’s the news every hockey fan wanted to hear.

On Thursday night’s Chicago Blackhawks broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago, Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed last summer with colon cancer, told the hockey world some great news.

“I got the call on March 14 at 5:07 p.m. letting me know my scans were clear,” an emotional Olczyk said as he stood next to long-time broadcast partner Pat Foley. “I’ve never heard a better phrase in my life. I’m now 10 days on with the rest of my life.”

Olczyk, 51, had surgery after his diagnosis and had his last chemotherapy treatment on Feb. 21.

“All the cancer is gone – we beat this thing,” Olczyk said, thanking a handful of people, from colleagues at NBC to the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL to his family members, wife and four kids. “And I say ‘we’ because it has been a team effort. We all beat this and I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers. They worked. I’m proud to stand here before everybody and say we beat this thing.”

Foley called Olczyk’s battle with cancer, “heroic.”

Olczyk was scheduled to have a scan in April to see how his chemo treatments had gone, but that scan was moved up due to emergency hernia surgery, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve had enough crying to last me a lifetime,” Olczyk said. “I can’t emphasize enough just the support out there… just the texts, the email, the letters. I’ve received thousands and thousands of mail. I won’t be able to thank everybody, but I just want everybody to know on behalf of Eddie Olczyk and his family, we’re forever grateful for the support and the prayers and well wishes we received over the past seven months.”

Olczyk said one thing he realized through his battle is that he found out he was way tougher than he thought he ever was.

“If I can inspire one person to stay away from this, then I guess it was well worth it going through it,” he said.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck