Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

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Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

“His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

“It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

“It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Not this season.

While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

“I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

Capitals re-sign Trevor van Riemsdyk to 3-year, $9M deal

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — The Washington Capitals re-signed defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk to a three-year contract worth $9 million.

General manager Brian MacLellan announced the extension hours before his team took on the New York Islanders. The deal through the 2025-26 season carries a $3 million annual salary cap hit.

Van Riemsdyk, 31, and forward Conor Sheary were the only two pending unrestricted free agents Washington did not trade before the deadline. It was not immediately clear how close the Capitals and Sheary might be to a contract.

But they made it clear van Riemsdyk is part of their future blue line, along with Nick Jensen, who got a three-year, $12.15 million contract to stay. Van Riemsdyk has a career-high 19 points through 66 games this season.

The Middletown, New Jersey, native and Jensen have stepped up and played more minutes since No. 1 defenseman John Carlson took a slap shot to the head in late December.

Capitals have new look after bevy of trade deadline changes

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Va. — When the Washington Capitals departed for a four-game road trip in late February, players knew change was afoot.

Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway had been traded away to NHL-leading Boston, and there were many more pending free agents still on the roster with a few days remaining until the deadline. One by one, they were gone: Marcus Johansson to Minnesota, Lars Eller to Colorado and Erik Gustafsson to Toronto.

The team who showed up to the first home practice since all of those moves looked very different. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ core remains in place to chase fading playoff hopes, but it’s also a rare period of transition in Washington after the organization’s first deadline selloff in more than a decade.

“You hate to see guys leave,” said defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, one of just two players unsigned beyond this season not traded. “It happens quick. Obviously, this time of year when you’re not in the position you want to be, it seems to be more changes than you’d like.”

Because of a combination of trades and injuries, more than half of the skaters expected to play against the New Jersey Devils were not in the lineup on opening night – four of them weren’t even with the organization.

Chief among the new faces is Rasmus Sandin, a Swedish defenseman who just turned 23. Acquired from the Maple Leafs for a first-round pick and Gustafsson, Sandin is part of the Capitals plan to try to quickly reset from a difficult year and win again next season.

“I think we want to be competitive next year,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I still think we wanna be competitive this year. I still think we got a pretty good team.”

This banged-up team will attempt the uphill climb of extending the Capitals’ streak of playoff appearances to nine.

Five points back of the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference left is not a small gap to close with 17 games left. But Washington is close enough, even after the trades, to still feel a part of the postseason race.

“You keep looking up the standings and we’re only a few points out, and we play a lot of those teams that are in front of us a bunch, so if you can win those games it can change a lot,” van Riemsdyk said.

“We have a lot of guys that have played playoff hockey, know what it’s like to be in big games, so it seems like we’re going to have a lot of those down the stretch and hopefully we can draw on that experience and use it to our advantage.”

And an important player could be returning to the ice before the end of the month: Top defenseman John Carlson practiced with teammates for the first time since taking a slap shot to the head Dec. 23.

Carlson skated in a no-contact jersey and is still at least a couple of weeks from returning, but his presence on the ice alone is a sign of progress.

“This is an off-in-the-distance thing,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “But there’s a process that goes with where he’s at and what he’s gone through, and this is the beginning of the process as far as him joining our team.”

Washington’s slide down the standings coincided with Carlson’s absence and the toll it took on the players asked to make up for it. The team has since lost 17 of 30 games.

More injuries on the blue line over the past week, plus the trades of Orlov and Gustafsson, have put the onus on Sandin, the newcomer who’s so new he wasn’t initially recognized walking into the practice facility for the first time. But with veteran Swede Nicklas Backstrom around – and plenty of other new faces – Sandin is trying to fit in quickly with the Capitals.

“Just getting in here, you see how tight this group is,” Sandin said. “Since I just came in to the first breakfast, all the guys on this team have just welcomed me in with open arms. They’ve been making it very easy for me, and it’s just a lot of fun being here.”

NHL-leading Bruins acquire Orlov, Hathaway from Capitals

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BOSTON – The NHL’s best team just got bigger and tougher.

Already on their way to one of the best seasons in hockey history, the Boston Bruins acquired defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Garnet Hathaway from the Washington Capitals on Thursday in exchange for forward Craig Smith and three draft choices. It’s the latest big acquisition by an Eastern Conference contender as the league approaches the March 3 trade deadline.

“Let’s hope we stay healthy and try to take a run, play our best hockey at the right time,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said in a call with reporters. “It’s going to be a hard path. It’s a hard path to get in. It’s even harder once you are in.”

Boston sent a 2023 first-round pick, a 2024 second-rounder, a 2025 third-rounder and Smith to Washington. The Capitals retained half of Orlov’s salary and Minnesota will pay 25%; the Wild will receive a 2023 fifth-rounder for helping Boston stay under the cap.

Sweeney said Orlov and Garnet were arranging travel so they can join the Bruins on on their four-game trip, which began Thursday night against Seattle. They will join the team with the NHL’s best record after leaving one that won it all in 2018 but hasn’t gotten out of the first round since and is struggling to get into postseason position this season.

“They’ve been a ridiculously competitive and successful part of the (Capitals) organization,” Sweeney said. “So (they’re) a little bit shocked. But once they hear the excitement in our voice in bringing them on board, it quickly shifts.”

With a 43-8-5 record and 91 points heading into the Kraken game, the Bruins have shown few weaknesses. But the memories of recent playoff disappointments left Sweeney worried about depth – especially on defense – heading into what he hopes will be a long postseason run.

“I think we were trying to attack two different areas,” Sweeney said. “Dmitry and Garnet can bring some attributes in our group. Now we try to stay healthy and take a run.”

The Capitals are selling at the trade deadline for the first time since Alex Ovechkin‘s rookie year more than a decade and a half ago.

“This trade allows us to acquire draft capital, infuse youth and restock our system,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “While this season has proven challenging with injuries to our significant players, we are in a position to use some of our current assets to retool our club and build a competitive team moving forward.”

The Bruins have topped 100 points for four straight non-pandemic seasons but have made just one long playoff run, losing to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. After falling in the first round last year, Sweeney fired coach Bruce Cassidy and replaced him with Jim Montgomery.

Despite starting the year without top scorer Brad Marchand and top defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who were both recovering from offseason surgery, the Bruins zoomed to the top of the NHL standings. They won 17 of their first 19 games and did not lose in regulation at home until Jan. 12.

“Our roster is battle-tested,” Sweeney said. “I think we can play any type of game against any type of team and we’re able to react accordingly or dictate accordingly. We were trying to complement and add to that.”

Orlov, 31, was a homegrown player for Washington and helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2018. Hathaway, 31, has played on the Capitals’ fourth line for the past four seasons.

“Dmitry has been with our organization for almost 14 years and was a key contributor in helping us win the Stanley Cup,” MacLellan said. “Garnet has been an important part of our team and a role model off the ice for his contributions to our community. We wish both players all the best with Boston.”

Orlov was officially traded from Washington to Minnesota and then on to Boston, with the Wild sending 2017 pick Andrei Svetlakov to the Bruins. Sweeney said he didn’t have any indication that Svetlakov, who’s playing in the KHL, would be leaving Russia.

The Wild got a draft pick for helping facilitate a trade for the second time in less than a week. The Wild got a 2025 fourth-round pick from Toronto for retaining salary in the deal that sent Ryan O'Reilly and ex-Bruins forward Noel Acciari from St. Louis to the Maple Leafs.

Alex Ovechkin returns to Capitals following death of father

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin is back with the Washington Capitals, eager to play hockey again while he and his family are still mourning the death of his father, Mikhail.

Ovechkin missed four games to fly to Moscow. He went straight from the airport to the team’s practice facility after landing to take part in practice with an eye on returning to game action.

“Obviously it was a hard week mentally, physically,” Ovechkin said after skating for roughly 45 minutes to get his conditioning back. “It was probably toughest situation I’ve been through my whole NHL career. But it’s life, and we move on.”

Ovechkin thanked the Capitals for their moment of silence dedicated to Mikhail prior to a game last week and for the support shown by members of the organization and fans. He said he got the chance to speak to his dad by video call before his death at age 71 last week and expects his mother and brother to visit him in the U.S. soon.

“We try to do the best we can in that kind of hard moment,” Ovechkin said.

In his hard moment, Ovechkin wanted badly to get back on the ice. After only skating once during his absence, the 37-year-old captain said this season felt like training camp.

But there also wasn’t time to waste. The Capitals went 0-4 during Ovechkin’s absence and have lost five in a row in regulation for the first time in nine years.

“I just want to come back right away, put my mind in a different position,” Ovechkin said. “We’re struggling right now, so I just want to try to do my best to bring energy, bring something to the team.”

Having been outscored 20-8 during the franchise’s longest skid since 2014 – the previous time the Capitals missed the playoffs – they’ll gladly take the lift that comes with Ovechkin returning.

“He’s our leading scorer,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He helps in a lot of different areas: offensively, power play, leadership, size, physicality, presence, so there’s a lot of things that Alex brings to the table. I’m glad he was able to get home and be with his family, and we’re certainly glad to have him back.”

Tears welled in Ovechkin’s eyes when talking about his dad getting him into the sport, being along for his journey to second on the NHL goal-scoring list and getting to share a day with the Stanley Cup together in the summer of 2018 after he and Washington won it after several years of disappointment.

“He give me everything: all his health, all his time,” Ovechkin said. “He traveled with me all over the world and (was) at every practice when he had a chance.”

Mikhail Ovechkin was a familiar face at practices for years until his health kept him back in Russia. Longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom and other Capitals players remembered Ovechkin’s dad for his smile and support around the rink, even though his English was limited.

“He had a great sense of humor,” Ovechkin said. “Even when he don’t understand people, he always tried to ask something. But, yeah, the people who know him, they’re going to miss his smile. They’re going to miss his energy.”