Alex Ovechkin scores again, Capitals beat Oilers to end skid

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WASHINGTON — With less than 2 minutes left and the Washington Capitals hoping to avoid blowing another third-period lead, Alex Ovechkin skated toward the net and, instead of shooting, passed the puck between his legs to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who knew it was coming.

“For sure I knew he’s going to pass,” Kuznetsov said.

After scoring again, Ovechkin’s most important contribution Monday night was a timely assist on Kuznetsov’s goal that allowed Washington to hold on and beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-4, snapping a four-game losing streak. It turned out to be the game-winner after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored 45 seconds later, but the Capitals will take a hard-earned victory without several key players.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to build after this game for sure because that’s a pretty good team and I felt like even when we give up goal we was never giving up,” said Kuznetsov, who had two goals and two assists for his eighth career four-point game. “We were always positive on the bench, we always support each other because we missing a lot of guys, a lot of D guys, and they stepped up today.”

Ovechkin scored for a third consecutive game, beating Stuart Skinner on the power play in the second period and making him the 163rd different NHL goaltender he has scored against. It’s also the third game in a row he has scored on a new goalie after Detroit’s Ville Husso and Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka became Nos. 161 and 162.

Goal No. 788 of Ovechkin’s career put him 13 back of Gordie Howe for second on the career list and 106 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s record that long seemed unapproachable. Ovechkin has heated up recently with five goals and two assists during a six-game point streak.

“Ovi, Kuzy and (Conor Sheary) were really good offensively,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought everybody played well, but you need your best players to be your best players.”

Capitals newcomer Dylan Strome had two goals and an assist in his latest showdown with former junior hockey teammate Connor McDavid, who was playing his 500th regular-season NHL game. He stole the puck from Oilers forward Warren Foegele and scored late in the first period, added a second on the power play early in the second and, with Washington skating 5-on-3, delivered a perfect cross-crease pass to Kuznetsov for his first goal of the season.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson also had three points – all on the power play, where Washington went 4 for 5.

“Four power-play goals,” Edmonton’s Zach Hyman said. “Can’t win with that. Can’t win taking penalties.”

McDavid added to his league-leading goal total with his 13th of the season and Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the third period, but the Oilers could not pull off the comeback and extended their losing streak to three. Nugent Hopkins also scored a goal batting the puck out of the air in the first, and Skinner allowed five goals on 31 shots.

“It’s getting old, battling back,” said Draisaitl, who now leads the league with 17 assists. “It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. We just give up too many goals.”

Charlie Lindgren made 12 of his 25 saves in the third period of his fourth start with the Capitals, who were playing extremely short-handed with players adding up to almost $40 million in salary cap hits out of the lineup because of injury. Dmitry Orlov became the latest absence, joining defenseman John Carlson and forwards T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Connor Brown, Carl Hagelin and Beck Malenstyn.

“There’s a lot of grit, a lot of compete in this group,” Lindgren said. “As a goalie, you love to see it. It makes you play even harder. It’s a fun group. We’re all competing, we’re all battling hard and to beat a good team like that feels really good.”

Forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel made his Washington debut after being claimed off waivers Sunday from Toronto. Defenseman Lucas Johansen played his second NHL game and first of the season in place of Orlov. Aube-Kubel, who famously dropped and dented the Stanley Cup on the ice during Colorado’s championship celebration in June, delivered a big hit on Evander Kane in the first period of his first game with the Capitals.

“Usually he’s a little tougher on his skates than that,” Aube-Kubel joked. “I don’t know, maybe I surprised him.”

UP NEXT

Oilers: Make the second stop on their four-game Eastern Conference road trip Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Capitals: Host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.

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    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

    Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

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    BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

    The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

    In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

    They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

    Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

    Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

    Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

    “Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

    Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

    “This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

    The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

    “This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

    Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

    Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

    Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

    “We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

    Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

    TRIBUTE

    The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

    The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

    “It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

    FOR THE RECORD

    Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

    EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

    Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”