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Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

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Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

WASHINGTON (AP) Chris Kunitz scored a hat trick in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Super Bowl Sunday visit to the nation's capital, leading a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals that reflected both teams' fortunes so far in the lockout-shortened season.

Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Matt Cooke also scored, Sidney Crosby had three assists, and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves against his former team for the Penguins, who have won three straight and four of five to lead the Atlantic Division.

Mike Green, John Carlson and Mike Ribeiro scored for the Capitals - and Carlson's goal was an accident that took a weird carom off a stanchion along the glass. Two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who said before the game that he was somewhat embarrassed to have only three points on the season, contributed a secondary assist on a third-period power-play goal with Washington trailing by three.

Washington has lost seven of nine games to start the season. Hosting the Penguins as a Super Bowl warm-up for the third straight year, the Capitals no longer look like the formidable team that beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime with a hat trick from Ovechkin in 2010 and shut out the Penguins 3-0 a year ago - both feisty games that included punches thrown by Ovechkin.

Ovechkin was overly physical in this game as well, getting a roughing call in the final two minutes.

Under new coach Adam Oates, the Capitals are feeling their way around the ice, especially on defense. Braden Holtby stopped only 20 of 26 shots, allowing Letang and Kunitz to beat him glove side 37 seconds apart in the second period to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.

Vokoun, who shut out the New York Rangers on Thursday, made a successful return to the Verizon Center. He was signed to be the Capitals' No. 1 goalie last season but hurt his groin and was eclipsed by Holtby during the playoffs, prompting Washington to trade him to Pittsburgh.

Martin scored from the point after Crosby won a faceoff in the Capitals' zone to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period. Washington tied it less than two minutes later after a nice sequence in which Ribeiro won the puck along the boards and passed it to Wojtek Wolski, who then sent it along to a wide-open Green.

After Cooke made it 2-1, Carlson tied it on a bizarre goal in the second period. The Capitals defenseman was merely trying to dump the puck along the boards, but it rose up and took an odd deflection. Vokoun had already started to retreat behind the net to intercept the puck and tripped trying to change direction to get back to the crease.

Notes: Ovechkin said before the game that the Capitals were in a ``desperate moment.'' He noted that he and other NHL players who spent the lockout playing in Russia should be doing better. ``Right now I'm standing here, I have only three points, and, you know, it kind of embarrass me.'' ... The Capitals played the first of three games without D John Erskine, who was suspended for three games for elbowing Wayne Simmonds in Friday's win over the Philadelphia Flyers. ... Washington had been 12-1-3 in its pervious 16 regular-season meetings vs. Pittsburgh.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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Braden Holtby officially named one of three finalists for 2017 Vezina Trophy

Braden Holtby officially named one of three finalists for 2017 Vezina Trophy

Braden Holtby is officially in the running to repeat as the top goaltender in the NHL.

On Saturday afternoon, the Capitals' goalie was named as a finalist for the 2017 Vezina Trophy, per the NHL release.

The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL's top netminder based on regular-season play.

Holtby — who won the award in 2016, joins Canadiens goalie Carey Price — the 2015 winner — and with Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky.

The sixth-year Saskatchewan native finished the regular season with a 42-13-6 record in 63 starts. He recorded nine shutouts and had a 2.07 goals against average and entered the postseason with a .925 save percentage.

Holtby finished the regular season with the league lead in shutouts and wins, and ranked second in GAA and third in save percentage.

RELATED: HOLTBY FINALLY SHINES IN GAME 5

 

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Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Thanks to the indestructibility of Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner remains the only Capitals' player out of the lineup due to injury. Alzner has not played since Game 2 on April 15 of Washington’s series against the Toronto Maple Leafs due to an upper-body injury. His absence in Game 3 was significant because it snapped an iron man streak of 599 consecutive starts for the veteran defenseman.

In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Barry Trotz said that Alzner is “day to day and he’s improving.” That’s good news, but it does present an interesting dilemma for the Caps. Who comes out if Alzner goes in?

Nate Schmidt has played in relief of Alzner and played well. He has two assists in three games this postseason and scored a goal that was called back because of a controversial goalie interference call. His speed has also proven to be an asset against the speedy Maple Leafs and, should they get there, would also be useful in a second-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, another team that likes to push the pace.

RELATED: Capitals-Maple Leafs Game 6 how to watch

Alzner, however, is one of the team’s best defensive players. Washington’s play in the defensive zone has been suspect all series long and the Caps have allowed nine goals in the three games Alzner has been out.

To solve this dilemma, Trotz may make a fairly drastic change to the lineup when Alzner is finally ready to return.

When asked if he would consider using seven defensemen, Trotz did not hesitate with his answer, “Yes, I would.”

A typical lineup consists of 12 forwards (four lines of three) and six defensemen (three pairs of two). Dressing seven defensemen would mean dropping a forward and would represent a pretty dramatic shift considering Washington has not tried this sort of lineup at any point this season.

The benefit of dressing seven defensemen is flexibility. Trotz could use three pairs and use the extra as a situational player for power plays or penalty kills. He could also switch up his pairs depending on zone starts.

Someone would still have to come out of the lineup, but it would have to be a forward and, judging by ice time from the last two games, it’s not hard to figure out who that would be.

Brett Connolly played only 4:26 in Game 3 and 6:12 in Game 4.  He is the only player who did not get any playing time on special teams on Friday. When asked about Connolly’s playing time, Trotz said Thursday, “I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”

The downside of going with seven defensemen is that it creates uneven pairs and lines, but with Trotz essentially only utilizing 11 forwards anyway it is perhaps no surprise that Trotz would consider the move.

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz updates Ovechkin's status for Game 6