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Gonchar scores winner for Senators against Caps

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Gonchar scores winner for Senators against Caps

OTTAWA (AP) Sergei Gonchar scored on the power play with 2:30 left in regulation as the Ottawa Senators battled back from a sluggish start to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Tuesday.

Jim O'Brien and Milan Michalek also scored for the Senators (4-1-1), who got 31 saves from Craig Anderson.

Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks scored for the Capitals (1-4-1). Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 shots in taking the loss for Washington, which blew a 2-0 lead.

Gonchar's winner came after Erik Karlsson wove through the Capitals' defense on a man advantage before finding his partner, who fired a one-timer that deflected of Hendricks in front and past Neuvirth with Ottawa's Chris Neil screening on the play.

Then with time winding down and Washington pressing for the tie, Anderson made a great save on Alex Ovechkin before robbing Mike Ribeiro from in tight.

Trailing 2-0 late in the second period and looking for a spark, Senators coach Paul MacLean chose to double-shift the one line that showed any jump.

The gamble paid off as O'Brien, who celebrated his 24th birthday, cut the lead in half with 1:23 remaining in the period on a setup from Erik Conda and AHL call-up Mika Zibanejad.

The Senators then quickly tied the game at 2:20 of the third. Kyle Turris won a faceoff in the offensive zone and pushed the puck ahead to Michalek, who scooped it passed a surprised Neuvirth.

Playing without Jason Spezza because of an undisclosed upper body injury, the Senators struggled and the Capitals owned much of the momentum in the first period and jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

A turnover by Guillaume Latendresse midway through the period at the Senators' blue-line allowed Wojtek Wolski to jump on the puck and feed Brouwer, who caught Anderson moving the wrong way.

Washington then made it 2-0 as Hendricks tipped Jay Beagle's shot home.

The Senators continued to struggle in the second and seemed incapable of breaking through the Capitals' forecheck as Washington pinned the home side in its own end for nearly two minutes, leading to a chorus of boos from the 19,267 on hand at Scotiabank Place.

Notes: LW Kaspars Daugavins and D Andre Benoit were healthy scratches for the Senators. Apart from Spezza, D Jared Cowen (hip, out for season), D Mike Lundin (finger, two weeks) also missed out. ... C Brooks Laich (strained groin, out indefinitely), D Jack Hillen (upper body, out indefinitely) sat for Washington with injuries, while C Marcus Johansson, D Tom Poti and D Roman Hamrlik were healthy scratches.

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Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Caps' MacLellan says this is the best team of the Ovechkin Era

Is this the best Capitals team of the Alex Ovechkin Era?

The guy who played a key role in constructing the roster believes it is.

“I think so, yeah,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said this week. “You can make an argument. To me, it is the most complete team.”

“We’ve added guys every year that have worked out,” he said. “We’ve added two defensemen [Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen], it worked out. We added two wingers [T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams], it worked out. We added a third line this year. Things have kind of evolved to a good [place] where I think we should be playing at our highest level we’ve ever played at.”

If anyone is qualified to make that statement it’s MacLellan, who has filled many roles during his 15 years with the organization. He witnessed the 2009-10 that obliterated the league to the tune of 121 standings points. He presided over last year’s team, which also finished atop the NHL standings.

But this year’s edition, in MacLellan’s estimation, feels a little different…in a positive way.

“It’s good,” he said. “The goaltending is deep. Defense is pretty good. Four good lines, scoring lines. Good [penalty kill], good power play.”

Indeed, the Caps have been the league’s most dominant team since the calendar flipped to 2017. And it hasn’t really been all that close.

They have scored more 5-on-5 goals than anyone else this season. Meanwhile, they’re allowing the fewest goals per game (2.07). Braden Holtby is making an argument for a second straight Vezina Trophy, Nicklas Backstrom is tied for fourth in points, the special teams units are clicking and they've been dominant on home ice. Meanwhile, Coach Barry Trotz has managed his top players’ minutes in an effort to ensure they are healthy and fresh for the postseason.

So, yeah, the Caps are in good shape as the stretch run begins. They sit atop the league, three points clear of the Wild in the overall standings and five points ahead of the Penguins in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

In fact, things have gone so well that MacLellan isn’t sure if he’ll add anything at the March 1 trade deadline.

“This year I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said. “We’re exploring opportunities. If something makes sense we’re going to pursue it. [But] we’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes we might do it.”

Another reason MacLellan is so confident this year's group will do something no previous Capitals’ team has managed: He senses the players understand and embrace the importance of maximizing their opportunity this spring, an "urgency" that's underscored by the uncertain contract status of several key veterans.

“We’ve tried to create a sense of urgency here, even starting last year that this is it—you’ve got two years to figure it out [with] this group,” MacLellan said. “That’s not to say that going forward we’re not going to be good, but something’s got give because of the roster we have. Something’s got to fall out, and I’m not sure what it’s going to be. But it’s not going to be the same.”

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Injury and maintenance day force Capitals to make two more call-ups

Injury and maintenance day force Capitals to make two more call-ups

The Washington Capitals are in the heart of the NHL season, which means their key players have logged plenty of minutes and the injuries continue to take a toll.

On Wednesday, defenseman Matt Niskanen suffered an apparent lower body injury in the second period of the Capitals' road win over the Flyers.

While the injury is not expected to be severe, head coach Barry Trotz is not going to rush him out and Niskanen could end up being held out of the Capitals' Friday home game against the Oilers.

As a precautionary measure, the team called up Hershey Bears defenseman Aaron Ness on Thursday afternoon.

Ness has scored five goals and registered 11 assists in 41 games with Hershey this season. Ness was previously recalled in December when Niskanen sat out with a minor injury, ending his lengthy consecutive games played streak.

Ness appeared in eight games last season, registering two points.

In addition to the call up of Ness, the Capitals also called up 23-year-old Riley Barber. who was tabbed as the 2015-16 Hershey Bears Rookie of the Year. Barber replaces Brooks Orpik, who Trotz is giving time off to for "maintenance."

The Capitals host the Oilers on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on CSN Mid-Atlantic. 

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