Carl Hagelin

Kovalchuk finds home with Capitals after whirlwind journey

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Ilya Kovalchuk and Brenden Dillon broke bread in a Northern Virginia restaurant, leaving their temporary home away from home hotel and swapping stories.

The Washington Capitals’ two newcomers bonded over their shared experience of playing in the NHL and adjusting to a new life. That’s just about where the similarities end because Kovalchuk’s journey has taken him to the ends of the earth and back.

Kovalchuk’s trade to the Capitals marked another twist in a career ranging from national hero to aging reclamation project. A gold medal winner and Olympic MVP in 2018, the once-feared Russian sniper was a disappointment in Los Angeles, a revelation in Montreal and is now just one of the guys with the Capitals in his pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

”It’s no more trade deadlines,” the 36-year-old winger said with a wry smile. ”It’s always new. You come, you meet the new people. For me it was easier because I knew the coach, I knew a lot of guys on the team. But still to learn the system and get used to the way the guys play and all the routine, it’s a lot. But it’s OK. I love it.”

Kovalchuk is loving the sport again on a team with good friend Alex Ovechkin and their fellow countrymen, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov. He also knows coach Todd Reirden because the two played together with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02 and became fast friends.

A homesick Kovalchuk left the NHL in 2013 and played five seasons back home in the Kontinental Hockey League. Once he decided to return, the road back wasn’t smooth.

Kovalchuk didn’t play up to the expectations of an $18.75 million, three-year contract signed with L.A in the summer of 2018; he put up just 43 points in 81 games while struggling under two coaches. He agreed to mutually terminate his contract in December after it was clear the fit with the Kings wasn’t a good one.

”It just didn’t work,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. ”You’ve got to be able to cut a tie and move on.”

Kovalchuk signed with the Canadiens for a pro-rated league minimum $700,000 salary and thrived. He saw more ice time, scored three game-winning goals and recouped his reputation in NHL circles.

Montreal coach Claude Julien called Kovalchuk ”the ultimate pro” and ”an easy guy to like.” A pre-trade deadline game at Washington gave Capitals brass a chance to see what Kovalchuk could do and ponder what he might bring to a title contender.

It was clear this wasn’t the same Kovalchuk who languished in a limited role in L.A.

”To completely turn it around the way he did, to be as productive and to have as much impact as he had on the Montreal team both on and off the ice, their manager (Marc) Bergevin, he couldn’t say enough good things about the character of the guy and the way he handled himself,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”So many good things have been said about him on and off the ice in Montreal that we basically thought it was a no-brainer to add him.”

Kovalchuk also had to make a decision. Montreal had deals worked out to trade him to Boston or Washington, and he chose the Capitals over the NHL-leading Bruins.

Kovalchuk said he liked the way the Capitals played. It also didn’t hurt that he’d be the team’s fifth Russian player and has talked with Ovechkin about being teammates from the time they were teenagers.

”You never know what’s gonna happen, but yeah sometime in the summer (we said) it would be nice like if you’re gonna be one day on Washington Capitals team,” said Ovechkin, who MacLellan consulted before trading a third-round pick for Kovalchuk. ”I said: ‘Yeah, let’s do it. If we can take him, why not?”’

Reirden, who learned all his Russian from Kovalchuk (and helped teach his friend English), has already experimented with a line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Kovalchuk at times, and the trio combined to produce a goal in a win at Minnesota.

What better way to make Kovalchuk comfortable?

”He may be old for hockey player, but inside it doesn’t seem like he’s much older than us,” said Kuznetsov, who is nine years younger than Kovalchuk. ”We feel like we’re same age and that’s always easy to find a way and it’s always translate on the ice. If you can find out how to communicate with a guy off the ice, then it will be much easier on the ice.”

Kovalchuk is trying to blend in and stay out of the way. He has connected with Dillon in large part because his Russian friends already have established lives in the D.C. area. Kovalchuk doesn’t want to interfere with that and is biding time until his family, still living in California, visits over spring break.

Playing mostly on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller, Kovalchuk is making a bigger impact that he perhaps realizes.The Caps’ 23-year-old rookie goaltender, Samsonov, needs to only observe Kovalchuk to learn more about how he conducts himself.

”It’s important for me because I see how he get practice or warmup, how he’s ready in the game,” Samsonov said. ”He’s very good for our team.”

Only 22 active players have played more regular-season games than Kovalchuk without winning the Cup, and that’s a hunger Reirden sees in his former teammate. That experience is something Capitals players remember before winning it all two years ago.

”He’s experienced, so it make us better, make us deeper and stronger,” Orlov said. ”It’s only gonna help us.”

Streaking Flyers closing in on Metro lead

Travis Konecny #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores a goal
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The Philadelphia Flyers moved within one point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals Wednesday.

Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov each had a goal and an assist as the Flyers won their seventh straight game. Brian Elliott made 25 saves and picked up his second win this season against the Capitals. Travis Konecny, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton also scored for Philadelphia.

James van Riemsdyk left in the first period after blocking a shot with his right hand and did not return

“I’m not sure the severity of it,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the win. “There are different breaks but he took that shot right on the tip there. I’ll find out tomorrow (Thursday) for how long.”

Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored, but Washington fell for the second time in the previous three games. Four points separate the top three teams in the Metro and a slump could cost the Capitals, Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Provorov sealed the victory for the Flyers with a wicked wrist shot that sailed past the glove of Braden Holtby in the third period. Jakub Voracek patiently waited at the blueline until the young defenseman was able to join the rush and gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead. Philadelphia leads the NHL with 43 goals scored by defensemen this season.

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period with consecutive goals by Konecny and Hayes.

Konecny converted on the power play shortly after one of his attempts was waived off following a video review. Provorov took a shot from the point that Holtby couldn’t control and Konecny buried the rebound.

Hayes expanded the Flyers lead when Derek Grant wisely kicked a fluttering puck toward the other side of the crease for the tall center to finish. It was the 23rd goal and 40th point of the season for Hayes, his first with Philadelphia after signing a lucrative seven-year deal this summer.

Eller opened the scoring for Washington with a skillful backhand-forehand combination at 14:09 of the first period. Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin assisted on the play.

Hathaway helped the Capitals cut the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 with a bar-down wrister from just above the crease in the second period.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals visit Wild on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the first of two meetings between these teams this season, facing each other again in Washington on April 2. The Wild won their last meeting against the Caps in March of last season, having lost eight straight games against Washington prior to that win.

Washington is coming off a 3-0 loss at Winnipeg on Thursday, just the second time the Caps have been shut out in this season (3-0 loss at CBJ on Dec 16). Minnesota has won five of their last six games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak. They have scored five-plus goals in each of their last three wins (17 goals total) and are coming off a 5-0 win at Columbus on Friday night. Their 17 goals scored are tied most in a three-game span in franchise history (April 2009).

While the Capitals have 21 road wins this season (second most in NHL) they have lost four straight on the road, being outscored 12-5 in that span. After starting the season 10-1-1 in their first 12 road games, the Caps have fallen back down to earth, now 11-9-0 in their last 20 on the road.

Kevin Fiala leads the Wild with 47 points this season and has had three straight multi-point games. After scoring just nine goals in his first 46 games this season, Fiala now has 10 goals in his last 13. With 19 goals on the year, Fiala is set to hit the 20-goal mark for just the second time in his career (23 goals for Nashville in 2017-18)

After facing Washington, the Wild host the Predators on Tuesday, who currently sit one point above Minnesota in the West. They then go on a three-game California road trip against the three worst teams in the Western Conference.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Washington Capitals at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerIlya Kovalchuk
Richard PanikNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden DillonJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMichal Kempny
Jonas SiegenthalerNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

WILD
Gerald Mayhew – Eric Staal – Kevin Fiala
Zach PariseJoel Eriksson EkJordan Greenway
Marcus FolignoAlex GalchenyukMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Brad HuntGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Kathryn Tappen will host Sunday night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Anson Carter and Mike Johnson.

Capitals storm back to beat Penguins, regain top spot in Metropolitan

Capitals
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It still probably wasn’t the exact way they want to play, but the Washington Capitals found a way to end their four-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to a four-goal third period they were able to rally for a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins to regain the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Washington now sits in sole possession of first place in the division with 82 points, two points ahead of Pittsburgh.

The Penguins still have one game in hand while the two teams will meet two more times this season with both games in Pittsburgh.

In the end, this was a gutsy win for Washington. Despite being outshot 36-23 and struggling to find much sustained offensive zone time, they still managed to cause enough havoc around the Pittsburgh net and feasted on a couple of glaring mistakes by the Penguins in the third period.

After Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby scored two goals less than 30 seconds apart in the second period, the Penguins entered the third period holding a 2-1 lead. But Washington quickly struck for a pair of goals early in the third period.

Tom Wilson scored the equalizer on a breakaway following a brutal turnover by Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson.

Carl Hagelin responded moments later when he scored on a net-front scramble in front of Penguins goalie Matt Murray to help the Capitals regain the lead.

The Penguins seemed to steal momentum back thanks to a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, but a T.J. Oshie goal just a few minutes later ended up being the game-winner. Hagelin added an empty-net goal (his second goal of the game) in the final minute.

A few other takeaways from this game:

1. It might get lost in the madness that was the third period, but Braden Holtby played a great game in net for the Capitals. He did give up the three goals, but two of them were great individual efforts from two of the best players in the world (Sidney Crosby and Malkin) and, well, sometimes that is just going to happen. That also should not take away from how strong he was overall. He stood tall on a couple of Penguins power play opportunities, while also shutting down a handful of odd-man rushes. His overall production has rapidly declined the past couple of years but he is still capable of getting hot and taking over a game.

2. Malkin’s third period goal will not be showing up on John Carlson‘s Norris Trophy highlight reel this season, but it was still a big day for the Capitals’ defenseman on Sunday. His assist on Hagelin’s first goal was the 475th point of his career, making him the highest scoring defenseman in Capitals franchise history, passing Calle Johansson.

3. As for the Penguins, this is their third consecutive loss and it is becoming obvious that the injury situation is finally starting to catch up to them defensively. There is not a single trade that general manager Jim Rutherford can make before Monday’s trade deadline (3 p.m. ET) that will do more to help the team than the return of injured players Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Dominik Kahun, and Zach Aston-Reese. That quartet represents two of their top-four defenseman (perhaps their two best defensive defensemen) and two outstanding defensive forwards. That is a lot to overcome, and it is not a coincidence that their injuries have coincided with a downward trend in their defensive performance.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.