Alex Ovechkin is putting the Capitals on his back

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to their come-from-behind win on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals find themselves up 2-1 in their second-round series against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins. It is worth keeping in mind that their only loss in this series so far — Game 1 — was a game where they mostly carried the play and only lost because of a five-minute meltdown in the third period that saw the Penguins score three consecutive goals. They are that close to being up 3-0 in the series, and outside of that five-minute stretch have been hands down the better team.

Their penalty kill has shut down the Penguins’ high powered play, and they have had the overall edge in the special teams battle.

Braden Holtby is outplaying Matt Murray in net.

They are feasting on the Penguins’ aggressiveness and getting what seems to be countless odd-man rushes.

Then there is Alex Ovechkin. Oh, man, is he playing great right now.

On Tuesday, he scored what is already his eighth goal of the playoffs, putting him in a three-way tie with Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for the league lead in these playoffs. It was his fourth consecutive game with a goal and the fifth in the past six games.

This one was especially big because it broke a 3-3 tie with just over a minute to play in regulation, finishing an odd-man rush with Nicklas Backstrom that saw him knock a rebound off the post out of mid-air to put the Capitals back in front.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He did not end up as a finalist in the Hart Trophy voting this season as league MVP, but he did make my ballot in the top-five for his impact on the Capitals. He not only led the league in goal-scoring for the seventh time in his career (and the fifth time in the past six years), but the Capitals were a completely different team when he was on the ice versus when he was off of it. After losing several players from last year’s Presidents’ Trophy team without really having the salary cap flexibility to replace them, the Capitals obviously took a bit of a step backwards. At times they did not look as good as their record might have indicated, but they were still good enough to win the Metropolitan Division again. A lot of that was because of the way Ovechkin bounced back from what was a “down” year (by his standards).

During 5-on-5 play during the regular season the Capitals outscored teams by a 67-54 margin with Ovechkin on the ice (plus-13) and attempted 51 percent of the total shot attempts. Without him on the ice, they were only a plus-four in the goal department (101-97) and attempted just a paltry 46 percent of the total shot attempts. Forty-six percent is the level lottery teams — bad ones — play at. It was basically a tale of two different teams all season — the  Ovechkin team, and the non-Ovechkin team.

That same storyline has continued over into the playoffs.

Through the Capitals’ first nine playoff games with Ovechkin on the ice at 5-on-5 the Capitals own a 9-6 goal advantage and are attempting more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts. Without him, they are being outscored in those same situations by a 10-11 margin and have attempted just 47 percent of the total shot attempts. If anything, the gap between the Capitals with Ovechkin and the Capitals without him has grown in the playoffs.

The thing about Ovechkin and the playoffs is that he has always produced in these situations. There has never been a postseason series in his career where he has failed to score at least one goal. After Tuesday, he is now up to 54 goals and 103 total points in 106 career playoff games.

[Related: Ovechkin’s heroics have Capitals up 2-1 in series]

As I pointed out after the Capital’s first-round win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he is second among all active players (minimum 40 playoff games played) in postseason goals per game, trailing only Nikita Kucherov, and fifth in points per game, trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Kucherov.

But because there has always been one reason another for the Capitals being unable to advance beyond the second round, the lack of a championship is always the elephant in the room when it comes to Ovechkin and his legacy.

Sometimes it has been because the Capitals’ goalie — whoever it may have been in past playoff runs, from Jose Theodore, to Semyon Varlamov, to even Braden Holtby in the past two Pittsburgh series’ — forgetting how to stop the puck. Sometimes it has been because the other team’s goalie refuses to give up anything. Sometimes in the playoffs you just fall short to a better team and there is no one really to blame. Sometimes you just lose.

But through it all Ovechkin has always been there producing.

He is doing it again this postseason and, perhaps most importantly for the Capitals, some of the other stuff is starting to go their way.

They may not be playing great when he is off the ice overall, but they are getting the superior goaltending. Some of the breaks that used to work against them in these situations are starting to fall in their favor. That is the type of stuff a team needs to win in the playoffs. It is not just great players playing great. Every winning team needs some breaks. The fact some of it is starting to go the Capitals’ way has to be encouraging for them.

Every year until they actually get over the hurdle we are going to wonder if this year is finally the year. Every year we keep saying it, thinking this really will be it. This time it really is starting to feel like it could be the year. For real. At least a little bit.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

More Penguins-Capitals:
Tom Wilson enrages Penguins with another controversial hit
Penguins coach: At some point we hope the league might do something

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Jonathan Toews is back

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After seeing his production dip in under 60 points in each of the last three seasons, many believed that we’d already seen Jonathan Toews‘ best days. Last season, Toews posted 0.70 points-per-game which was a career-low for him in his NHL career.

Picking up 20 goals and 52 points in 74 games is far from a terrible year for most players, but Toews isn’t most players. He’s the captain of the Blackhawks and his contract comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million dollars. To make matters even worse, Chicago ended up missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017-18.

It’s no secret that Patrick Kane has been the team’s MVP this season, but Toews hasn’t been too far behind.

The 30-year-old has picked up 28 goals and 60 points through 60 games and he’s picked up at least one point in 19 of his last 22 contests. He’s also scored in three straight games and he’s amassed 18 points in his last 11 contests. He hasn’t been a point-per-game player since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he had 48 points in 47 games.

“I guess you’re always looking to be better, no matter what,” Toews said, per the Chicago Tribune. “So if I’m comparing this season to my previous two years, yeah, things are better. But I still have a higher expectation for myself. Things are falling into place for our team and the power play’s looking better, so I feel I can relax and focus on my game and not worry about doing every single little thing right and maybe take some offensive risks and try to create some offense when our team game’s pretty solid.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I always want to create more offense, and even though I’m on the board here and there, I can do a better job of just being more dynamic and offensive every time I get on the ice.”

When taking a deeper look at the numbers, it’s easy to see why Toews has been more successful, especially in the goal department. In the previous two seasons, he had shooting percentages of 10.6 and 9.5 percent. This year, he’s up to 17.2 percent, which is his highest percentage since 2007-08 (17.4 percent).

Interestingly enough, a lot of his advanced numbers have taken a dip this season. Here’s what his advanced metrics look like from last year to this year:

CF%: 56.07 to 48.73
FF%: 53.16 to 47.06
HDCF%: 52.05 to 41.75

(All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

With Toews and Kane leading the way, the Blackhawks have found a way to get themselves back in the playoff hunt. Heading into tonight’s game, the ‘Hawks are just one point behind the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The only problem, is that three other teams also have 59 points.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Worst deadline trades; How Blues almost got Kessel

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL.com takes a look at who will be buyers and who will be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline. (NHL.com)

• ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski breaks down the 20 worst deadline trades in NHL history. (ESPN)

• The Vegas Golden Knights and Vienna Capitals have entered into a collaborative partnership. “Our ambition is always to learn from the best. The Vegas Golden Knights are an outstanding benchmark in the hockey world and this partnership enables us a tremendous amount of opportunities to learn from this club. We are very proud to get the chance for this collaboration,” said Vienna Capitals General Manager Franz Kalla. (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

• As part of Black History Month, P.K. Subban explains what it’s like to be a role model. (Sportsnet)

• A group of priests are trying to bring back the Flying Fathers, who are the hockey equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters. (New York Times)

T.J. Oshie plays an energetic brand of hockey and he’ll probably never change. (Washington Post)

• Jaromir Jagr is back after a long absence. (CBC.ca)

• Robert Tychkowski can’t believe the Oilers are in the mess than they’re in. (Edmonton Journal)

• Dave Eastham is the trainer that helped Kevan Miller become a regular on the Bruins blue line. (WEEI)

• Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist isn’t letting the trade chatter bother him. (MLive.com)

• Remember that time the St. Louis Blues almost traded Keith Tkachuk and David Perron for Phil Kessel? (St. Louis Game-Time)

• NBC’s Pierre McGuire could learn a thing or two from John Tavares:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Miller, Ducks win again; Josi on a tear

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Three stars

1. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

A night after becoming the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller produced a fantastic performance in a 31-save shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

The shutout was Miller’s first of the season and 44th of his career. The Ducks have now won two straight and are three points back of the Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight, including their second straight game being banished from the scoresheet. The Ducks are faring well without John Gibson.

2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Josi scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner, and added an assist in the game for a three-point night

The elite defenseman now has four goals and 11 points in his past eight games for the Predators, who needed a win after going 1-3-1 over their past five games.

The Preds are now just a point back of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division although Winnipeg has three games in hand.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored twice and added an assist in a 4-2 win for the Panthers against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Huberdeau hadn’t scored in eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest and had just one goal in his previous 14.

Florida is nine points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the night

Barkov with another dirty move:

Windmill:

Broke all the ankles:

Factoids

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1098065651539865601

Scores

Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Penguins 4, Devils 3
Lightning 5, Flyers 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Ducks 4, Wild 0
Predators 5, Stars 3
Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 (SO)


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=

O’Reilly scores historic overtime winner as Blues win 11th straight

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And then it was 11.

The St. Louis Blues set a new team record for consecutive wins in emphatic fashion when Ryan O'Reilly went bar down on Frederik Anderson 34 seconds into overtime to down the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on NBCSN on Tuesday.

Mitch Marner came rushing in just before O’Reilly’s winner, but Colton Parayko was able to fend him off. O’Reilly was there to intercept Marner’s attempt at a centering pass and it was off to the races for No. 90, who scored his 26th of the season to extend St. Louis’ remarkable streak.

The Blues came into the game riding a three-game shutout streak — because beating teams simply wasn’t enough anymore. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to first-period goals from Jaden Schwartz and Parayko.

The game appeared to be heading toward another blank sheet after two periods, but a bad giveaway by Alex Pietrangelo led to Zach Hyman‘s weird angle shot turning into an own goal and bringing an end to the shutout streak at a 2:33:50.

The Leafs were mostly lifeless through the first two periods but Hyman’s goal seemed to be the jolt they needed.

Auston Matthews bagged his 28th of the season just 31 seconds later to tie the game. St. Louis challenged for (non-existent) goaltender interference and the call of a good goal on the ice was upheld.

Jordan Binnington entered the game already having set a Blues rookie record with eight straight wins, including shutouts in his past two outings. ‘Winnington’ could do little on the own goal and Matthews’ goal came off a rebound in front that he couldn’t get to. He managed to stop 31-of-33 shots to extend that record to nine straight.

His personal shutout streak ended at 173:50.

The Blues haven’t trailed in a game since Feb. 5. They were in last place on Jan. 3 but are now six points up on Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division. What a turnaround.

Meanwhile, a massive open-ice hit that Vince Dunn delivered priority mail to Nazem Kadri seems to have put the latter on the shelf.

Dunn drilled Kadri at the 8:48 mark of the first period, but Kadri stayed in the game. He took another shot, this time more of a glancing blow from Brayden Schenn, who had Toronto’s No. 43 in his crosshairs before missing at the last second.

Kadri did not emerge after the first intermission and was ruled out with a concussion not long after.


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