Washington Capitals

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Patrik Laine suffers injury blocking shot


Tuesday wasn’t kind to Patrik Laine. The Winnipeg Jets have to hope that it was bad merely from a short-term perspective.

One factor that’s probably important to Laine but not as much to the Jets: Alex Ovechkin pulled ahead in the Maurice Richard race, scoring his 44th goal of 2017-18. Laine remains stuck at 43, in part because the stupendous scorer couldn’t play much against the Los Angeles Kings.

Laine struggled to get off the ice after blocking a shot, as you can see from the video above this post’s headline. The 19-year-old won’t return. To little surprise, there’s no real update beyond that, as the Jets are merely leaving it as a “lower-body injury.”

The Jets’ next game is against the Ducks on Friday. That gives Winnipeg some time to assess Laine’s injury. The Finnish finisher probably wants to play in as many of the Jets’ remaining nine regular-season games (after tonight) as he can, but the team has to value an elusive playoff run more than anything else.

This means that Laine’s 15-game point streak comes to an end. That would be noteworthy even out of context, but it’s especially relevant since it concludes the longest run for a teenager.

Here’s hoping that Laine can return swiftly and keep a great Richard going against Ovechkin and others.

Update: Some early optimism after the Jets managed a 2-1 overtime win against the Kings:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ovechkin passes Kurri for 19th on all-time goal list


It’s unclear if Alex Ovechkin will best the next great Finnish sniper for the Maurice Richard Trophy, but he passed one of the best Finnish scorers ever in the all-time goal rankings on Tuesday.

With the 602nd goal of his already-impressive career, Ovechkin now sits alone in 19th place in NHL history, breaking a tie with Wayne Gretzky’s former partner-in-crime Jari Kurri. It says a lot about Ovechkin’s sniping that he reached 602 in game 994 of his career, while Kurri finished with 601 goals in 1,251 regular-season games.

Ovechkin also broke a tie with Patrik Laine for the goals lead in 2017-18, at least for now (both Ovechkin and Laine can beef up their stats as tonight goes along).

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Ovechkin’s 602nd goal is also his 44th of the season, and it’s very much from “his office.”

Keeping up with the Finnish theme, take a look at how many goals Ovechkin needs to score to catch Teemu Selanne at 11th place:

11. Selanne: 684 goals.
12. Luc Robitaille: 668
13. Brendan Shanahan: 656
14. Dave Andreychuk: 640
15 (tied). Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic: 625
17. Bobby Hull: 610
18. Dino Ciccarelli: 608
19. Ovechkin: 602

If he closes out 2017-18 with a burst, Ovechkin could conceivably push Ciccarelli or even Hull. It would be tough to imagine Ovechkin reaching Robitaille through 2018-19, but either way, the Capitals superstar has a chance to rocket up the ranks in little time.

[Can Ovechkin catch Gretzky’s 894 goals?]

After their respective games tonight, both the Capitals and Jets have nine more games remaining before the playoffs begin. It should be an entertaining race to the Richard, and maybe another 50-goal season if Ovechkin really heats up.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Caps’ Holtby discusses fatigue before return


Tampa Bay Lightning goalie (and Vezina hopeful) Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the only netminder who’s acknowledging being tired, at least to some extent.

Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals’ frequent workhorse, admitted as much while praising the recent work of upstart backup Philipp Grubauer, as NBC Sports Washington’s JJ Regan reports.

To be more specific, Holtby admits to some mental fatigue, rather than being tired physically:

“Physically, I actually feel way better this year than last,” Holtby said. “If you’re fatigued physically, that’s on you. That’s not on anything else. But mentally, it does catch up.”

Since 2014-15, Holtby leads the NHL in wins (160), games played (250), and saves (6,442) during the regular season. Only Pekka Rinne (42) has played in more postseason games than Holtby (38) during that same stretch of time.

Considering that workload – not to mention how mentally draining it must have been to win two straight Presidents’ Trophies with the Capitals, only to fall in the second round against the Penguins two years in a row – the hockey world probably should have seen all of this coming.

If you want a convenient view of Holtby’s slippage, consider his numbers before and after the All-Star break, via Hockey Reference:

Before: 25-9-2, 2.66 GAA, .917 save percentage
After: 4-6-2, 4.31 GAA, .875 save percentage

On March 7, PHT recommended that the Capitals really give Grubauer a chance, at least for much of the playoff push (and maybe even the playoffs). The suggestion wasn’t meant to degrade Holtby; instead, the goal would be to rejuvenate the workhorse goalie while also seeing how far Grubauer might take them, considering that the young netminder is hoping to earn a new contract as an RFA.

A day later, former NHL goalie Brent Johnson put up a detailed analysis of Holtby’s fatigue, and how goalies handle and hide fatigue in general, in a thread on Twitter. Johnson began with a salient point: now, more than ever, the game of hockey is played at an incredible pace. Such a speedy game makes things more taxing for a goalie, who must keep track of the puck at all times. Asking a goalie to be a workhorse now is maybe an unrealistic demand.

Johnson added that goalies will rarely share that they’re tired with the media or coaches. Some of that might come down to the culture of the sport – “hockey tough” – and other factors, possibly in some cases related to job security. Such a sentiment makes it so refreshing to see Vasilevskiy and Holtby acknowledge the obvious.

Johnson also stated that Grubauer carrying more of a workload would actually help Holtby, and that seems to be a sentiment that the Capitals goalie also shares. As Regan reports, Holtby said that Grubauer’s “held our team together” and “that takes a lot of pressure off the rest of us.”

The nice thing for the Capitals is that they’ve been able to monitor this issue in March, rather than when the playoffs kick off in April.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

This doesn’t just serve as a warning and a lesson for Barry Trotz and the rest of the Capitals organization. It should also serve notice to the rest of the NHL that it’s foolish to ignore the warnings that come from sports science, sports psychologists, and others who warn against wearing out athletes.

Honestly, it should really be common sense.

You can be a “tough team” and still take measures to keep your most important players rested. After all, it’s easier to get over the hump/go the extra mile/run through that brick wall if you have more energy, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ovechkin’s challenges in scoring more goals than Gretzky


Alex Ovechkin is “still young,” yet he’s at a funny spot in his career after last night’s landmark achievement of scoring his 600th regular-season goal.

In a way, he feels like the “goal-scoring present,” while he’s being chased by the future (Patrik Laine) for the Maurice Richard and his 600th goal is already inspiring questions about whether he can topple the most prolific snipers of the past, with Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals coming up in plenty of discussions.

Here’s the 600th goal, which came in Washington’s 3-2 overtime win against Winnipeg on Monday:

One can debate Ovechkin’s place among the greatest pure snipers of all-time until you’re blue in the face, but either way, Ovechkin will have to grind his way to within Gretzky’s record. It’s truly astounding that Ovechkin hit 600 goals during this era in fewer than 1,000 games (990 to be exact), but he’d face a long road to scoring almost 300 more.

If nothing else, Ovechkin does care about certain stats and numbers, as he said while discussing the Rocket Race against Laine, via NHL.com’s Brian McNally:

“We look at the standings, look at the stats,” Ovechkin said. “If you close to top three or top five, of course you pay attention. I think it’s normal thing. I don’t believe when someone says, ‘I don’t care about the stats,’ and all of this kind of stuff. Of course they want points, they wants goals.”

By that logic, wouldn’t Ovechkin want to score more goals than anyone else, even Gretzky? You’d think so, but let’s consider the biggest and/or most interesting hurdles in his way.

The aging curve

So far, Alex Ovechkin has largely avoided the pitfalls of the aging curve, which seems to hit snipers especially hard. It’s profound that people were worried about a 33-goal season from Ovechkin in 2016-17, yet that really highlights how reliably he’s filled the net. Consider that, since 2012-13, he’s hovered around his career average of .60 goals per game during every season except 2016-17.

Theoretically, Ovechkin could fall to a goal every other game and still pass Gretzky if he plays in about 600 more games.

That sounds exceedingly plausible when you consider how frequently Ovechkin scores, especially since he’s able to fire in about 20 power-play goals from his “office” each season. Still, it’s one thing to score 40+ goals per season when you’re in your prime, or even at 32.

As they say, though, “Father Time is undefeated.”

(Jaromir Jagr sadly nods his head.)

The contract, Olympics, and KHL

So, Ovechkin’s 13-year contract ($9.538 million cap hit) expires after the 2020-21 season, meaning Ovechkin has 13 regular-season games plus three more seasons to continue piling up goals.

Things get interesting after that, especially if Ovechkin wins that elusive Stanley Cup sometime between now and 2020-21.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

What if the next CBA agreements don’t include an agreement to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics? Ovechkin made it no secret that he was upset with not representing Russia/the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the latest tournament. If there’s the threat of that happening again, and what would be an undoubtedly huge offer in the KHL, there’s at least the chance that Ovechkin could experience a Jagr-style sojourn overseas, prompting plenty of “What if?” scenarios about his NHL numbers.

Style of play

According to Yahoo’s stats, Ovechkin has delivered 1,792 hits and 238 blocked shots since 2009-10. That doesn’t cover his entire career, and it doesn’t cover hits received. Either way, Ovechkin is involved in a ton of collisions, and while he’s been improbably sturdy, sometimes a player can fall apart pretty quickly.

(Again, Jagr sadly nods.)

Ovechkin fires a ton of shots and is involved in a lot of collisions in just about every game. Shooting a ton will help, and he can certainly milk that rocket of a shot from the faceoff dot, but attrition is on Gretzky’s side.

It wouldn’t hurt Ovechkin’s cause if this season’s substantial jump in scoring ends up sticking rather than being an aberration, by the way.


Last night, Ovechkin became the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals, and only Jagr’s 766 goals bests his total among active players. All things considered, Ovechkin has a shot at joining Gretzky and Gordie Howe (801 goals) as the only snipers to cross the 800-goal barrier.

Scoring 894 or more to match Gretzky, though? A lot of things would need to go Ovechkin’s way, including having the hunger to sustain such a goal if his rate slows considerably. As you can see from this post, there are a lot of factors that might push him off the path.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.