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Alex Ovechkin has a vintage performance on a night when the Caps needed one

Alex Ovechkin has a vintage performance on a night when the Caps needed one

Alex Ovechkin called his one-timer a “muffin” because he whiffed a bit on the shot.

But a goal is a goal is a goal. Especially when you’re the NHL’s four-time defending goal scoring champ and you’re mired in the longest drought of your career.

“It was kind of [a] not perfect shot,” Ovechkin cracked of his second period strike in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Wild, “but sometimes I have pretty good opportunities before and it didn’t go in.”

The goal was Ovechkin’s first of any kind in 11 games. It also came as a Minnesota penalty expired, so it marked his first 5-on-5 goal since Jan. 26, a span of 21 contests.

RELATED: Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Ovechkin acknowledged that he was relieved to see the puck settle into the net behind Devan Dubnyk. But he also reiterated that he’s been focused on the team’s recent performance, not his goal totals.  

“Yeah,” he said, asked if it felt like a weight had been lifted. “But obviously right now we in a position where we was losing four in a row. I kind of feel like you don’t have to worry about your personal stats. …[Tonight] was pretty good challenge and we did right things and we win the game. Everybody was connected. Everybody was on the same page.”

Everybody was indeed dialed in. But Ovechkin’s focus, energy and execution were especially noticeable.

In addition to scoring, No. 8 earned a primary assist on Nate Schmidt’s goal, drew the penalty that led to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power play tally, drew a another penalty and logged a game-high four hits.

It was vintage Ovi. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the previously scuffling Caps.

“A lot is made of him not scoring the last little while, but I’ll tell you what: he’s playing pretty good hockey,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s become a force again. And when he’s becoming a force, then you know those goals are going to come.”

Trotz also went out of his way to praise how Ovechkin has handled the slump. In years past, he may have brooded a bit. Or worse, he may have shirked his defensive responsibilities. None of that, however, has happened.

“He’s doing a lot of good things right now; I don’t think he needs to change anything,” Trotz said. “He’s got to get a couple to find the back of the net and then you’ll see, he might get 20 in the next 10 games.” 

“He’s playing good hockey,” Trotz continued. “Unfortunately, we’re taking a lot of penalties and it does cut into the rhythm. But I like that he’s staying positive and playing really well. Because a lot of time when you’re not scoring—especially a goal scorer—you start to cheat. He’s not and I have a lot of respect for that. He’s maintaining a real even keel and working his butt off.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

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Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Braden Holtby critical of his performance Saturday night

Caps Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Braden Holtby wasn’t “as sharp as he can be” in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Penguins.  

Trotz also said he hasn’t given any thought to his Game 3 starter.

“Way too early to talk about that,” Trotz said, asked if he planned to return to Holtby on Monday night. “I haven’t really thought about it at all.”

Holtby allowed three goals on nine second period shots in Game 2 and was pulled at the intermission. Saturday's performance followed a Game 1 effort in which he allowed three goals on 21 shots and a first round series that saw him surrender 14 goals in the first four games.

RELATED: 3 observations: Missed opportunity leads to tough questions

Philipp Grubauer entered Saturday’s game at the start of the third period and promptly allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced.    

“I thought we just had to chance the mojo in that situation,” Trotz said of pulling Holtby. “He’ll tell you he could be better…and he will be.”

Pressed on what he thought of Holtby’s night, Trotz added: “I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. And when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit, that’s all.”

“Braden is our backbone and he has been all year,”Trotz continued. “We got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby. We got to find some goals in our room right now, and we haven’t found enough.”

Holtby said he didn’t like the Penguins’ third goal, scored by Jake Guentzel, who finished a 2-on-1, sniping a shot over his left pad and under his glove.

“The playoffs are made of big moments and on that third goal, that’s a big moment,” Holtby said. “That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t. Obviously, I was frustrated that I didn’t do that.”

Through eight playoff games, Holtby has a .911 save percentage—13th out of the 14 goalies who’ve played at least 5 postseason games. Holtby entered the playoffs with the best postseason save percentage in league history at .938.

So, yeah, it’s fair to say that none of this was expected...getting pulled as the Caps fight for their postseason lives or being asked by a reporter whether he thinks he'll be in net for the next game. 

“I expect to start every game until I’m told otherwise,” an exasperated Holtby said.

MORE CAPITALS: Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps fall 6-2

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3 key observations from Game 2: Missed opportunity leads to questions for Caps

3 key observations from Game 2: Missed opportunity leads to questions for Caps

A devastating Game 2 loss has the Caps facing a massive 2-0 hole in the series. Here are three key observations from Saturday’s game.

1. This game was lost in the first period

The Caps dominated Pittsburgh through the first 20 minutes in every statistical category save the most important one, the score. Despite leading in shot attempts 30 to 8, shots on goal 16 to 5 and scoring chances 12 to 5 through the first, the score was still knotted at zero. The biggest difference in this series is that every time the Caps give Pittsburgh an opening, the puck ends up in the back of the net. The first period was Washington’s chance to take control and they couldn’t.

RELATED: Penguins fans take over near Verizon Center

2. Was making the switch in net the right move?

Braden Holtby has now allowed six goals on 35 shots this series for a save percentage of .829. Obviously, that’s not very good. Barry Trotz made the switch to Philipp Grubauer to start the third period, but that didn’t seem to work out too well either as he allowed two goals on just eight shots finishing whatever hopes the Caps had of a comeback. Whether Trotz made the right call in taking out Holtby was a hotly debated topic among the media after the game. Look, with all due respect to Grubauer who has been great this year, the Caps cannot win the Stanley Cup if Holtby is not the backbone of the team. So what do you do? Let him try to play his way out of the slump or make the change to Grubauer and  open the door for speculation as to who will start Game 3?

3. You’ve got to give it to him

Caps fans don’t want to hear this, but Sidney Crosby put on a show, declaring himself to still be the best player in the NHL. With the score tied 1-1, it was Crosby’s two assists that made the difference turning a tight game in which the Caps had dominated into a 3-1 lead for the Penguins. On the first goal, he took a pass that was a bit behind him, tapped it through his own legs to gain possession, and then fed Phil Kessel as the Caps collapsed on him. The next goal was set up by a shot-block from Crosby which he then fed to Jake Guentzel with a diving play to set up the 2-on-1 on the goal. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the guy. This was one of those games.

MORE CAPITALS: Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps fall 6-2