Trump hosts Stanley Cup champion Capitals at White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump welcomed Alex Ovechkin and the reigning NHL champion Washington Capitals to the Oval Office on Monday to congratulate them for winning the Stanley Cup in June.

Trump said it was an honor to host the team because he is a hockey fan and a Capitals fan. The president called the Capitals ”winners” and said there is ”an awfully good chance” they will repeat this season.

”You brought the Stanley Cup home,” Trump said. ”Thousands of adoring fans greeted you. They were all over the place. And I have a feeling you’re going to be doing it again. You’re champions. You have a champion’s heart.”

Players, coaches and staff members took a private 45-minute tour of the White House and met with Trump in what was a last chance to be around hockey’s sacred trophy as defending champions.

”It’s a good reminder of the special things that our group did,” coach Todd Reirden said after practice earlier Monday. ”That will kind of put a wrap on it and the final chapter of that moving forward into finishing up the regular season here and moving some of that success into playoffs this year.”

Two players on the current roster, Canadians Braden Holtby and Brett Connolly, and Devante Smith-Pelly, who is in the minors, did not visit the White House. Smith-Pelly in June cited Trump’s rhetoric, and Holtby last week said he had to stay true to his values and respectfully decline.

In the days since the team scheduled its visit, Holtby and his teammates explained their stances on going or declining while also shifting the focus back to the ice where the Capitals are trying to repeat as champions like the rival Pittsburgh Penguins did.

”The more important thing is we’re just gearing up for a playoff run, and (different decisions on going or not going are) not going to hurt team unity,” Holtby said Friday. ”I hope they have a good experience there and then we can get back to hockey.”

The rest of the team was in attendance, along with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, who wore a Capitals Stanley Cup champions hat. Trump called daughter Ivanka a friend and fan of Ovechkin’s, compared him to Babe Ruth and also singled out owner Ted Leonsis and American defenseman John Carlson during his remarks.

Trump called Ovechkin a ”very special athlete, a great player.”

”It’s huge honor for us to be here and meet you personally,” said Ovechkin, the Capitals’ Russian-born captain and playoff MVP. ”We’re going to try to (win) again. We have same team, experienced team, very good group of guys and we’re going to try to do it again.”

The visit comes a day after Attorney General William Barr released a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that found no evidence Trump’s campaign ”conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Trump did not take questions from reporters.

Several Capitals players said going to the White House wasn’t about politics. American Brooks Orpik, who went in 2009 with the Penguins to visit then-President Barack Obama, said the decision to go is ”not an endorsement of whoever’s in the office.”

The Capitals presented Trump with a red No. 45 jersey and a gold, engraved stick. Trump took individual pictures with players and staff and gave them pens and M&Ms before they left.

Leonsis called visiting the Oval Office a ”true thrill for all of the players and the organization.”

Carlson said: ”It’s an honor to be here. I think all of us looked very much forward to it.”

The Capitals’ White House visit came nine-plus months after their first title in franchise history and with six games left in the regular season before the playoffs begin. Washington is in first place and again is a top contender.

”I think you’re going to be successful,” Trump said. ”Very proud of you guys. Good luck. We’re going to be watching.”

Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Capitals accept differences of opinion on White House visit

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The news is constantly on television at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility, and like any workplace, there’s no shortage of opinions.

”We’re human beings, and people share different opinions and different political views,” veteran team leader Brooks Orpik said. ”It’s no different than anybody else. People that are friends vote for different people.”

Those differences were on public display the last week when two players said they would not join their teammates in visiting President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship. Canadians Braden Holtby and Brett Connolly said they’d respectfully decline the invitation.

Several other players, including Russian captain Alex Ovechkin, Americans T.J. Oshie and John Carlson and American coach Todd Reirden have said they’re going. A vast majority of the team that won the first NHL title in franchise history is expected to tour of the White House and meet Trump in the Oval Office in a private ceremony.

The Capitals are accepting of each other’s differences of opinion on going to the White House and say this isn’t a divisive issue and won’t be a distraction.

”You’re a team and you want to stick together no matter what,” Holtby said. ”For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in, and in order to stick to those values, I think I have to do what I feel is right, but that doesn’t make a difference on everyone else’s decision. We stick by every single teammate we have and their decision.”

Playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly, who is black, told Canada’s Postmedia in June he would not go to the White House, citing Trump’s rhetoric. Smith-Pelly has been with the minor league Hershey Bears since late February.

Without specifically naming Smith-Pelly, Connolly said he’s ”in full support of an old teammate that I am really good friends with and I agreed with.” Beyond Holtby and Connolly, it is not clear how many players or team officials will not go to the White House.

Owner Ted Leonsis has said he’ll go if the team chose to. A spokeswoman said Wednesday that Leonsis did not have any comment about the Capitals’ decision to go.

Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when Washington won last season and has succeeded him as coach, said he has thought about visiting the White House while driving by it on Constitution Avenue, the same road the Capitals paraded down with hockey’s historic trophy.

”I was really excited about the invitation and will be going and be happy to be going,” Reirden said. ”I understand our players and their decisions, and I respect it. They’re allowed to make their own decisions. It’s important that we support them in whatever decision that they make.”

Holtby and his wife, Brandi, have marched in Washington’s pride parade and are advocates for LGBTQ rights. Holtby said that was a factor in his decision and that he and his family ”believe in a world where humans are treated with respect regardless of your stature.”

The Trump administration has taken steps to roll back protections for LGBTQ individuals, including rescinding guidance for schools on how to treat transgender students and attempting to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military.

”Sometimes you’re forced into situations where you have to stick by what you believe,” Holtby said. ”But in the end, I think there’s more important things I can do in the future. Trying to make a stand this way, I don’t think it does the most in terms of creating change. In the future, I just want to stick by what I believe in and trying to push towards a world where people are created equal.”

Orpik said the White House visit is not a point of contention among the defending champions like some on the outside are trying to make it. He’s quick to point out that even players who are going can agree with Holtby, but still want to experience one last Stanley Cup celebration.

”There’s a lot of guys that share a lot of the same values that Holts does, but they’re going to the White House and it’s not an endorsement of whoever’s in the office,” Orpik said. ”Whether you go to the White House to celebrate a championship, I don’t think says anything about your values or your character.”

In 2012, playoff MVP Tim Thomas decided not to join his Cup champion Boston Bruins teammates in seeing then-President Barack Obama at the White House, citing the ”out of control” growth of the federal government. Team president Cam Neely released a statement saying, ”We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization.”

The Bruins lost to the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs in 2012, which was Thomas’ last season with Boston because he was traded to Florida.

Thomas’ individual protest predated by many years the NBA’s Golden State Warriors’ team decision not to see Trump. Holtby said that as soon as the first championship team decided not to keep up the tradition of being honored by the sitting president at the White House, it became a topic for other professional athletes and he’s not surprised this has become such a hot-button issue.

Capitals players have been unflinchingly supportive of each other’s decisions in recent days and insist the White House is not a controversial topic internally.

”Guys are mature about it,” said Tom Wilson, who is Canadian. ”It’s like when we’re not playing well, guys aren’t yelling at each other and getting upset with each other. That’s something about our group that’s helped us with our success. We’re mature, and we deal with it as adults. This has been a similar outcome on discussions. I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve talked to Holts about it and I’ve talked to guys about it. You have that discussion, it’s cordial and you move on.”

The Capitals are in first place and figure to again be among the top contenders when the playoffs begin April 10. Despite their White House visit coming so late in the season, in the middle of a crucial stretch, they don’t believe it will negatively affect team chemistry or unity.

”We’re so respectful of each other and we’re so tight in this locker room that this won’t be a wedge or anything like that,” Oshie said. ”Guys get a chance to go to the White House. If that’s something they want to do, great. If it’s something they’re not comfortable with or something they don’t want to do, that’s fine, too. We’ll show up the next day ready to work and we’ll be just as close as we were the day before.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Capitals extend Metro lead by beating Flyers

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The Washington Capitals can enjoy the rest of their Sunday knowing that they won’t have to be worried about being overtaken in the race for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

A 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on NBC ensured they’ll have at least a one-point lead on the division. For the time being, it’s a three-point advantage, with the New York Islanders facing the Arizona Coyotes later on Sunday.

Washington had lost two straight coming into this one, including a 5-4 overtime defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey. That game was one of the best of the season between two powerhouses and the Capitals showed they could still run with the dominant Lightning.

Washington then dropped a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.

So stopping the bleeding in Sunday’s matinee was paramount.

Tom Wilson‘s deflection put the Capitals ahead 1-0 in the first period, a lead that was padded in the second by Travis Boyd on another re-directed shot.

The Flyers, with their playoff hopes all but mathematically gone, battled back to 2-1 through Jakub Voracek on the power play to keep things interesting into the third. The Flyers put up 20 shots in the second period but Braden Holtby was up to the task, finishing with 35 saves in the game

A breakaway goal nearing the mid-way point of the third period by Jakub Vrana sealed it for Washington.

The pursuit of another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin will have to wait, meanwhile.

Ovi has hit a bit of a dry spell as of late, now having gone four games without a marker. With six games remaining, it’s unlikely The Great 8 will be held at bay for the rest of the regular season.

He nearly had an empty netter, but it was defended well by the Flyers and Ovechkin ultimately chose to pass the puck and the play never materialized into anything.

Washington now gears up for a home and home with the Carolina Hurricanes before another test against the Tampa Bay Lightning next Saturday.


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

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

If the Washington Capitals want their fourth consecutive Metropolitan crown, they’re going to have to stop this little skid that they’re on.

They currently lead the division, but that lead is only one point ahead of both the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. and two straight losses have prevented them from opening up a gap between themselves and the other two clubs.

Sunday’s game against the Flyers, who are all but mathematically out, is an opportunity for the Capitals to get back on track.

“We didn’t play our game at all,” said Alex Ovechkin after their 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday. “We knew they were going to play desperate — they need points, as we do — but I think the sense of urgency was on their side, not on our side…everybody needs points right now. It doesn’t matter who you play against; it’s not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It’s playoff hockey. I don’t think we were ready tonight, and the blame’s on us.”

Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 48 goals, will be on 50-watch once again. He hasn’t scored in three games.

T.J. Oshie will be Washington’s featured player on Star Sunday. He has just one goal in his past 10 games but three points in his past two.

The Flyers, meanwhile, need to win, pray, repeat. They lost 4-2 to the Islanders on Saturday and are in tough against a rested Capitals team. Philly is seven points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the final wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Claude Giroux will be the Flyers’ rep for Star Sunday.

He leads the Flyers with 80 points this season and is on a five-game point streak with seven assists during that stretch.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Sunday, March 24, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Flyers-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS

Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Michael RafflScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Phil VaroneCorban KnightRyan Hartman

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Brian Elliott

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Carl HagelinLars Eller — T.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaTravis BoydBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdChandler Stephenson

Christian DjoosJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Washington D.C. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

The Buzzer: Silfverberg plays OT hero; Donato helps Wild

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Three Stars

1. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Silfverberg was involved in three of Anaheim’s four goals during their 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks. After helping set up the Ducks’ first two goals, Silfverberg put the game to bed 38 seconds into overtime to clinch the victory for Anaheim.

2. Ryan Donato, Minnesota Wild

One-third of Minnesota’s “Kid Line” set up both Wild goals during a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals. The two points earned helped move Minnesota back into Western Conference wild card spot with seven games to go. Donato now has 13 points in 14 games since being dealt to the Wild.

3. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell tallied twice and assisted on the OT winner, helping the Ducks to go two-for-three on the power play. The goals were Rakell’s first in seven games. He now has 13 on the season.

Highlights of the Night

• Silfverberg has five multi-point games this season and four in his last 18 games:

Jordan Greenway powered his way to the net for his 12th of the season and finished off with some nice stick handling:

Factoids of the Night

• Donato’s assist on Greenway’s goal was the 10,000th point in Wild franchise history.

Scores
Wild 2, Capitals 1
Ducks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.