Capitals top struggling Golden Knights in Stanley Cup Final rematch

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Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup Final rematch between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights encapsulated much of that five-game series just four months and three days after the Caps lifted the Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Many of those key pieces were back on the ice in familiar roles, including Evgeni Kuznetsov tearing up the scoresheet, Alex Ovechkin sitting pretty in his on-ice office and the Capitals taking care of business on home ice.

The result was much of the same as well, with a 5-2 final in favor of the Capitals, who dressed 18 of the 20 players that featured this past spring in Rivalry Night’s game on Wednesday.

Kuznetsov continued his fine start to the season, scoring his third goal in as many games and adding three helpers. Nicklas Backstrom found his first of the season — the eventual game-winner — and added his fifth assist of the season on Kuznetsov’s power-play goal in the first period. Ovechkin, meanwhile, notched his third and fourth goals of the year as he chases the Rocket Richard once again.

Ovi’s 610th and 611th career goals now have him sitting in sole possession of 17th place on the all-time list, moving past Bobby Hull.

Washington is scoring at will to start the season with 18 goals in three games.

Vegas should take notes.

Run support for the Golden Knights has been poor, with just eight goals now in their first four games.

Paging William Karlsson (who’s yet to score this season).

The Golden Knights’ inability to win after Game 1 of the Cup Final has seemingly followed them into the 2018-19 season. Vegas’ start last season was historic, winning eight of their first nine games in their inaugural year. Their 1-3-0 record so far this season is what many expected to happen last year. Going back to the Cup Final, Vegas has now lost seven of their past eight games.

For a team that added some big names in the offseason — Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny — this isn’t where many thought the Golden Knights would be four games into the season.

It’s been a tough go. Just ask Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Golden Knights puck stopper wasn’t his unconscious self in the Final, and he hasn’t returned to that form this season yet, either. He came into the game with a .841 save percentage and allowed four goals on 28 shots in an effort on Wednesday that won’t be bringing that number up too much.

Does the sophomore jinx exist for teams as it does for players? Seems like Golden Knights have been stricken with it so far.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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

Tom Wilson ejected for high hit; another suspension coming?

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Oh boy, here we go again.

Tom Wilson was ejected from Sunday’s game between the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues in the second period for checking to the head.

The victim was Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

The principal point of contact appears to be Sundqvist’s head.

And here’s another angle of the hit:

Sundqvist needed help to get off the ice and hasn’t returned to the game. The Blues were leading 1-0 prior to the hit. Washington has since tied the game.

The Capitals should probably just sit Wilson any time they’re playing the Blues in the preseason.

Wilson was suspended not once, but twice last year in the preseason for two separate hits on Blues’ players. He received a two-game ban for a late hit on Robert Thomas and then was suspended for the first four games of the regular season after boarding Sammy Blais in Washington’s final preseason game last year.

This could be Wilson’s fourth suspension in just over a year, with his third coming on May 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.

The hit was particularly nasty, and the recipient, Zach Anton-Resse, suffered a concussion and a broken jaw as a result.

If the league deems the hit worthy of a suspension, the book is likely going to get thrown at Wilson. He’s a repeat offender, repeatedly.

Wilson signed a six-year, $31 million contract extension with the Caps over the summer after helping the Caps to their first Stanley Cup.

UPDATE:

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Washington Capitals.

2017-18
49-26-7, 105 pts. (1st in the Metropolitan Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Won the Stanley Cup in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights.

IN
Nic Dowd
Brooks Orpik (technically)

OUT
Alex Chaisson
Jay Beagle
Anthony Peluso
Tyler Graovac
Jakub Jerabek
Philipp Grubauer

RE-SIGNED
Tom Wilson
John Carlson
Travis Boyd
Devante Smith-Pelly
Michal Kempny
Madison Bowey

– – –

Stanley Cup champions.

Alex Ovechkin and others diving into the Georgetown fountain.

Two things that will never be forgotten in the nation’s capital.

In reality, it’s the first one that will be etched in history forever. The Capitals, a team that had always come up short, always underperformed when they needed their best performance, finally broke through, sent all their demons back to where they came from and hoisted Lord Stanley in June.

And in true Capitals form, none of it came easy.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

From dropping the first two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets to losing three straight after taking a 2-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals had to work for the Cup.

Beating Pittsburgh in the second round was historical. Not since 1994 had the team bested the Penguins in the playoffs, and they’d been plagued by the Penguins ever since, including the previous two seasons where they were stopped in their tracks by Crosby and Co. in the second round.

Furthermore, the window appeared to be closed on the Capitals. They had won the Presidents’ Trophy two years running, but couldn’t figure it out when it mattered most. Their roster also appeared to be dealt a serious blow with key departures during last offseason, including Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt.

They still had their core, but good cores need good complements and Washington lost several.

The team endured Braden Holtby losing his starting job for a time late in the season, only to regain it in Game 3 against the Blue Jackets and never look back. Holtby appeared to be his elite self, especially in the final two games to close out the series against the Lightning, where he posted back-to-back shutouts against the regular season’s most potent offense.

In the Cup Final, Holtby bounced back from allowing five goals in Game 1 to post four straight wins and a .938 save percentage during that span.

The Caps simply trudged along, taking every bump in stride and never wavering too far off course.

Ovi scored 49 to capture his one-millionth Rocket Richard Trophy and Evgeni Kuznetsov rebounded from his 59-point season (which followed a breakout campaign with 77 in 2015-16) to post career bests in both goals (27) and points (83). Kuznetsov’s form carried over into the playoffs where he paced the league with 32 points. Ovechkin finished second in scoring and first in goals with 15 and Nicklas Backstrom rounded out the top-three point producers.

There’s been a lot of partying this summer, nothing foreign to a team that’s won hockey’s greatest prize.

Keeping John Carlson is the most important thing the Capitals have done this offseason.

Signing Tom Wilson to a lengthy extension worth many millions of dollars is the most controversial decision they’ve made.

Not re-signing head coach Barry Trotz might be their biggest mistake. Assistant coach Todd Reirden takes over the reins while Trotz will be the bench boss in Long Island.

The Caps head into next season with much of the same team intact and a belief now that they can overcome anything. We know they’re going to score goals. We know their power play is going to be elite. A bounce-back regular season from Holtby should keep the Caps at the top of the Metropolitan once again.

A conversation involving the Caps and the Stanley Cup used to elicit laughter. Now, it emits chatter of a repeat.

How times have changed.

Prospect Pool

Ilya Samsonov, G, 21, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL) – 2015 first-round pick

Three years of elite numbers in the KHL has the hype train carrying Samsonov moving at full force. The 21-year-old signed an entry-level deal after Metallurg was bounced from the Gagarin Cup and will play in North America this. The only question now is, where?

Samsonov is expected to be given a shot to be Holtby’s backup with Philipp Grubauer now out of the picture. Samsonov will face competition from Pheonix Copley, who will also be vying for the bench job. Samsonov appears as ready as one can be to make the jump, but allowing him some time in the NHL to adjust and adapt to the American game wouldn’t hurt. He’s still going to see time with the Caps this year.

Alexander Alexeyev, D, 18, Red Deer (WHL) – 2018 first-round pick

The 31st and final pick in the first round this past June, Alexeyev had a breakout season with the Rebels with 37 points in 45 games.

He’s big, too, at 6-foot-4, 196 pounds and has plenty of room to fill out his frame. Alexeyev won’t be turning pro this year, and another season of development in the WHL will be good as he continues to adapt to the North American game. He’s got some good mentors in Washington, including fellow Russian defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

“He’s a really intelligent player, extremely patient with the puck, good shot, skates really well,” Washington assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. “I think he’s going to have a really bright future with us.”

Lucas Johansen, D, 20, Hershey (AHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Johansen made a nice transition from junior with the Kelowna Rockets to professional with the Bears last season, scoring six times and adding 21 assists in 74 games.

A second year in Hershey is in the cards for Johansen, the younger brother of Nashville Predators forward Ryan Johansen. Washington’s three defensive pairings aren’t going to change in training camp, but an injury could change all of that.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to play here,” Johansen told the NHL at the team’s developments camp in June. “But I know I have a lot of things to improve on and [for] the jump to the NHL you have to be strong, you have to be fast. But I’m looking forward to committing myself to getting better and I’m going to come to camp and do the best I can to make this team and whatever happens from there, I’ll be happy.”


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

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Reirden, Bowey give back during days with the Cup

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

Last week, the Stanley Cup returned stateside after a jaunt off in Europe.

Back in America’s heartland, the cup visited Matt Niskanen in his hometown of Virginia, Minn., and made its first-ever trip to T.J. Oshie‘s hometown of Warroad, Minn., where it took a ride in the same car that chauffered around a certain Franklin D. Roosevelt long ago.

So far this summer, the Stanley Cup has been to the World Cup, had caviar eaten out of it and got trotted around in a former presidential car.

Not too shabby.

Washington’s new head coach Todd Reirden, who won the Cup as the team’s assistant to Barry Trotz (who has since moved on to the New York Islanders) got his day with Lord Stanley this past Thursday.

Reirden, a native of Deerfield, Ill., brought the Cup to the Indiana towns of Crown Point and Valparaiso. the latter where he had lived for 12 years. There, he spent time with local police officers and firefighters.

“The real thing I wanted to bring to this area and share is that the people around here were always phenomenal to me,” Reirden told ValpoLife.com. “I wanted this to be a way to give back and also build the game of hockey.”

And give back he did.

The event also had a hockey equipment drive and Bauer stepped with a nice donation.

Staff from the town figured upward of 1,000 people showed up for their chance to see hockey’s most prized possession.

From there, the Cup headed north to Winnipeg on Saturday.

Winnipeg has seen its fair share of the Stanley Cup over the past decade, with Jonathan Toews bringing it back to his hometown no less than three times with the Chicago Blackhawks.

But it was a different Winnipegger who enjoyed his day with the Cup over the weekend in The Peg, with Capitals defenseman Madison Bowey spreading the joy this time around.

Bowey took the Cup to the Children’s Hospital where sick kids were able to spend some time with it.

Bowey’s next stop was the rink where he played hockey as a youth.

“I had to come back here and just show that support, show that love and just how appreciative I am to this community, and just help all those young guys who are striving to be where I am now and I think if I can just come back and give back to my community it goes a long way,” Bowey told the Winnipeg Sun.

He got a chance to throw out the first pitch at a local baseball game.

And then got a chance to eat something homemade of the Cup — his grandmother’s borscht.

On Tuesday, the Cup will travel to Lashburn, Sask., where Braden Holtby will be there to parade it around town. The Cup will then travel to Ontario next weekend where Tom Wilson and his shiny new contract await. Devante Smith-Pelly will also get his day before Lord Stanley makes another trip across the pond, this time to Scandinavia.

A full list of dates and where the Cup will be on them can be found here.


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

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: From Europe to the land of 10,000 lakes

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The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the Washington Capitals spend their summer celebrating

The Stanley Cup got a bit of a break last week after working its way through the World Cup, sampling a mug full of caviar and then taking a nice tour around the Czech Republic.

One would hope that the Cup got a chance to have a nice bath and maybe a massage.

The few days it did have off allowed it to travel back to North America, specifically The North Star State where it was given a hero’s welcome.

Lord Stanley’s first visit fresh off its European Tour was to Virginia, Minn., home of Matt Niskanen.

Niskanen was promptly handed the key to the city.

The Cup doesn’t make it around those parts too often, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the long lines waiting to get a glimpse of hockey’s holy grail.

From its day with Niskanen, the Cup then made its way north to the town of Warroad, which straddles the U.S.-Canadian border and is the hometown of T.J. Oshie.

Oshie isn’t the first NHLer from the minute town of 1,800 people. Warroad has produced quite a few stars across the sporting world over the years.

But Oshie is the first to bring the Cup to the northern Minnesota locale, and he did so in style on Tuesday.

Speaking of famous people from Warroad, 14 years ago Oshie and Olympic gold medalist Gigi Marvin in women’s hockey were crowned the king and queen at the 2005 Warroad Frost Festival.

They each showed off some different hardware 14 years later on Tuesday.

No Cup homecoming would be complete without a Cup stand, ie. someone drinking a large amount of alcohol out of it from an awkward position.

Oshie kept the tradition going, helping a couple fellow rookie teammates get in on the action.

Todd Reirden, the team’s newly minted head coach following the departure of Barry Trotz, will have his day with the Cup on Thursday before the mug heads north of the 49th parallel into Canada.

Trotz will still get his day with the Cup, of course, bringing it to Dauphin, Manitoba on Aug. 22. But first, the Cup will head to Winnipeg and the home of Madison Bowey this Saturday. From there it will make stops in Ontario for Todd Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly before heading back out to Europe for a couple weeks, including stops in Sweden, Russia and Germany.

A full list of dates and where the Cup will be on them can be found here.


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