Alex Ovechkin

Caps, ‘Hawks tied 2-2 after two periods of Winter Classic

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WASHINGTON — We’re even through two at Nationals Park.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals sit tied 2-2 through 40 minutes, after an entertaining middle frame that lacked the scoring of the opener but still provided noteworthy moments.

The first few minutes were mostly about Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who twice drew iron. On one particularly wild sequence, Ovechkin intercepted a Duncan Keith drop pass and was stoned on a breakaway by Corey Crawford — then fired the rebound off the post.

Shortly thereafter, Chicago tied it up.

Brandon Saad scored his ninth goal of the season — on helpers from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa — at the 3:15 mark, erasing Washington’s 2-0 lead.

Following Saad’s marker, a new trend emerged — Washington’s penalty problems.

The Caps took three in a six-minute span, including a pair that put Chicago on a 5-on-3 for nearly 90 seconds. Tom Wilson (goalie interference on Crawford) and John Carlson (high-sticking Andrew Shaw) were the guilty parties, but their teammates — and a lacklustre ‘Hawks power play — bailed them out; Chicago didn’t manage a single shot with the two-man advantage, and the Caps faithful responded to the all-important kill with a healthy round of applause.

Shots on goal finished 13-7 in Chicago’s favor for the second frame; a stark contrast from the first period, when Washington out-shot the ‘Hawks 15-13.

Video: Goals galore, as Caps lead ‘Hawks 2-1 in Winter Classic

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The Washington Capitals got off to a rather good start in the 2015 Winter Classic.

Eric Fehr made it 1-0 for the home side at 7:01 of the first period, deking Chicago goalie Corey Crawford on a breakaway after the puck got past Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook at the opposite blue line.

Then, at 11:58, Alex Ovechkin banged in a rebound to make it 2-0, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd at Nationals Park.

The Blackhawks did get one back at 13:36, a power-play marker by Patrick Sharp.

Get your game notes: ‘Hawks at Caps, 2015 Winter Classic

Today on NBC, it’s the Washington Capitals hosting the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic at Nationals Park. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Through 21 games, Chicago was 7th in the West (3rd in Central). Entering the Winter Classic, the Hawks are leading the Central Division, and with 52 points, trail NHL-leading Anaheim (54 points) by just two points with two games in hand.

• After their Dec. 2 loss to Vancouver, the Caps were 11th in the East. Now, they are 8th in the conference, and with 43 points, occupy the 2nd wild card spot in the conference.

• Chicago has made the playoffs 6 years in a row, winning 2 Stanley Cups in that stretch (2012-13, 2009-10).

• Washington missed the playoffs last season (by 3 pts) after making the postseason the previous 6 seasons.

• Star Power: Since 2007-08 (Backstrom, Kane, and Toews‟ rookie seasons), the Kane/Toews and Ovechkin/Backstrom tandems are two of the highest scoring teammate combos in the NHL:

**Here’s how these 4 stars have fared head-to-head against each other, and in outdoor games**

PATRICK KANE vs. WSH: 2G-3A in 7 GP

• 1A in 2 career outdoor games

JONATHAN TOEWS vs. WSH: 4G-3A in 6 GP

• 2G-2A in 2 career outdoor games

ALEX OVECHKIN vs. CHI: 6G-3A in 9 GP

• 0 points in 1 career outdoor game

NICKLAS BACKSTROM vs. CHI: 3G-4A in 6GP

• 1A in 1 career outdoor game

• While Ovechkin and Backstrom have been more productive scoring-wise, Kane and Toews have found more playoff success with 2 Stanley Cups (2010 & 2013), as opposed to 0 for the Caps stars.

COACHING MATCHUP

• CHI coach Joel Quenneville (1,330 games coached, 731 wins) & WSH coach Barry Trotz (1232 games coached, 575 wins) rank 1st and 4th, respectively, among active coaches in games coached and wins.

• Quenneville will coach his 3rd outdoor game – most among coaches – while Trotz will make his debut behind the bench in an outdoor game.

CHICAGO TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Patrick Kane leads the Hawks in goals (18) and points (40). He had an assist against Nashville, and has been hot lately with 14 points (6G-8A) in his last 9 games.

• Jonathan Toews is right behind Kane – 2nd on the team in goals (13) and points (31). “Captain Serious” did not record a point against Nashville, but he has 8 points (2G-6A) in his last 7 games.

• Marian Hossa has just 4 points (3G-1A) in his last 9 games, but he has great numbers vs. the Capitals in his career. In 50 career games, Hossa has 55 points (24G-31A).

• Patrick Sharp turned 33 on Saturday. That night against Colorado, Sharp scored a goal. He now has 17 points (6G-11A) in 23 games this season.

• With an assist Monday against NSH, Sharp recorded his 500th NHL point in his 700th NHL game.

• Sharp missed over a month (14 games) after injuring his knee in a game against Montreal on Nov. 4. Since his return, Sharp has 8 points (3G-5A) in 10 games.

• Sharp led the Hawks in goals (34) and points (78) last season.

• Duncan Keith had 3 assists against Nashville. He leads Hawks d-men in points (23). With 6 goals through 36 games, Keith has already matched his goal output from a season ago.

• Corey Crawford has made 4 starts since missing nearly a month after he injured his foot leaving a concert. He is 2-1-1 in those games, including the win against Nashville in which he made 36 stops on 40 shots.

• Overall this season, Crawford is 14-6-2 with a 2.08 GAA and .921 SV%

• Career vs. WSH: Crawford is 2-2-1 in 5 career games vs. the Caps, with a 3.62 GAA (17 goals against).

• Career in outdoor games: Crawford won in his only outdoor game, the 2014 Stadium Series game at Soldier Field. CHI defeated PIT 5-1, and Crawford made 31 saves on 32 shots.

WASHINGTON TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Nicklas Backstrom has more goals (7) in 13 December games than he did in his previous 23 games of the season (5).

• Backstrom leads the Caps in points (38) and assists (26) and is 2nd on the team in goals (12).

• Backstrom has scored 7 goals in his last 8 games.

• Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in shots (179) and is 5th in hits (131) – teammate Brooks Orpik is 4th w/ 138.

• Ovi leads the team in goals (17) and is 2nd in points (30).

• He scored the game-tying goal against the Islanders on Mon. and has 3 points (2G-1A) in his last 3 games.

• Troy Brouwer was a 7th round pick (214th overall) in 2004 by Chicago and won a Cup with the Hawks in 2010, but he was traded in the summer of 2011 to Washington for a 1st round draft choice.

• Brouwer is one of 38 – and the only active – players to have competed for both the Caps and „Hawks. He is the only player to have skated in at least 200 games for both clubs (246 – WSH, 238 – CHI).

• The 29-year-old had a career year last season, posting highs in goals (25) and points (43).

• This season, Brouwer is t-3rd on the team in goals (10), but he has just one point in his last 5 games.

• Career vs. CHI: Brouwer has 0 points against his former team in 4 career games.

• John Carlson is emerging as an elite defenseman for the Capitals. The 24-year-old is 2nd on the Caps in assists (23), and his 27 points are fourth amongst NHL d-men.

• Through 36 games, Carlson is already approaching his career high for assists (30) and points (37) in a season.

• Carlson also leads WSH in TOI/G at 23:17.

• Braden Holtby started all 13 games for the Caps in December (a career-high for consecutive starts), going 8-2-3 with 2 shutouts, a 2.13 GAA and a .929 SV%.

• Overall this season, Holtby is 16-8-6 with a 2.28 GAA and .920 SV%.

• Career vs. CHI: Holtby is 2-1-0 in his 3 starts vs. the Hawks, with a 3.28 GAA and .904 SV%.

• This will be Holtby’s first appearance in an outdoor game.

Capitals see Blackhawks as what they strive to become

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The Washington Capitals are red hot (8-1-3 in last 12 games) going into the 2015 Winter Classic, but there’s no doubt that they still have a lot left to prove. Since they drafted Alex Ovechkin in 2004, the Capitals have had arguably the best scorer in the league on their side, but despite that they haven’t gotten further than the second round of the playoffs.

That’s why when they look across at the Blackhawks this afternoon, they’ll not only be seeing their competition, but also the team they wish to emulate.

“I think the Blackhawks are probably the gold standard right now in the National Hockey League with success on the ice and success off the ice, having a strong following,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com. “To me they do everything right. The details, game presentation, facilities — they think about the whole hockey experience for their fans, for their players, for their employees. That to me is the gold standard.”

It’s not hard to see why Trotz holds Chicago in such high regard. After all, the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup twice since 2010 and have been to at least the Western Conference Final four times since 2009.

“Just based on our personnel, I don’t think our team is going to look like theirs does, but the consistency and kind of their attitude and their culture, that is something that we can hopefully get to that level someday,” Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They’ve got it established and they are proven winners. A lot of the same people are there, and they know what it takes.

“We’re not there yet. We haven’t accomplished anything. We want to have some of the attributes they have, like the culture, and I’m not in their room, but I’m sure they have a lot of accountability. Hopefully we can get there.”

It takes time to develop that kind of culture and winning attitude, but the Capitals have to start somewhere. They’ve attempted to reinvent themselves over the summer by appointing Brian MacLellan as the team’s new general manager and hiring Barry Trotz to serve as the team’s bench boss. Washington has started to see the fruits of those changes and on top of everything else, this game is an opportunity for the Capitals to test themselves against an elite squad in a heightened atmosphere.

NHL on NBC: 2015 Winter Classic from Nationals Park

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NBC will feature the 2015 Winter Classic from Nationals Park between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks. The game is scheduled to begin at 1:00 p.m. ET, but keep in mind that it’s possible the start will be delayed if the glare on the ice warrants it. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly anticipates the delay will be short if there is one at all.

In addition to NBC, you can also watch the game online.

In some ways the Winter Classic is about taking hockey back to its roots and for many of the players, it’s a call back to their days of skating on frozen ponds as kids. In other regards it’s a modern feat utilizing advanced ice-making technology to create a rink in Nationals Park, one of baseball’s newest stadiums.

It’s quickly become an annual tradition and the highlight of the NHL regular season schedule. A spectacle for the fans and a memorable experience for the players. So while this New Year’s Day game ultimately counts the same as any other, it can’t be viewed in that light.

“Really, the message is enjoy this experience,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “Let’s face it, this is pretty unique and it’s something that you don’t always get to do. … [Thursday] will be different. It will be like a playoff game.”

If you were to try and evaluate like you would any other regular season game though, you’d still find that this promises to be a great contest. This year’s Winter Classic will feature two of the hottest teams in hockey in Chicago and Washington. The Blackhawks have gone 13-2-1 in their last 16 contests while Washington is 8-1-3 in its last 12.

This game will also include some of the game’s greatest stars from Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Those competing duos have been the cornerstones of their respective franchises for years. Going into Wednesday’s contests, they were also the first and sixth highest scoring teammates respectively since 2007-08, per the NHL on NBC research team.

Perhaps one of them will make history today by providing us with our first Winter Classic hat trick. After all, Toews and Washington’s Eric Fehr have had two-goal outdoor games before. Maybe projected goaltenders Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford will be the difference this afternoon instead.

Whatever the case is, as Trotz said, it will be a unique game and when it’s over, it will live on in the memories of those who were a part of it.