Desperate Bruins shut out by Holtby; is goalie coach Mitch Korn Caps’ best off-season addition?

Capitals goalie coach, Mitch Korn works with goalie Braden Holtby. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

The Capitals handed the desperate Bruins a 3-0 defeat Wednesday, solidifying their hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division and pushing Boston a little bit closer to the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The visiting Bruins once again were unable to solve Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who shut them out for the third time this season, and Washington is now 7-2-1 in their past 10 games.

Certainly, Holtby deserves the lion’s share of the credit for his play this season. And certainly, Alex Ovechkin is the straw that stirs the drink for that franchise and has raised his game. But if we’re talking about the biggest difference in Washington this season – the biggest acquisition/change the organization made last summer – we’re not talking about either of Brooks Orpik or Matt Niskanen, their two high-priced free agent signings. We’re also not talking about the first full season from rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov, although he’s a nifty little player himself.

No, the person who has made the biggest difference this year for the Capitals only gets on the ice during practice, and has a salary that isn’t governed by the league’s salary cap. His name is Mitch Korn, and since joining the Caps after leaving Nashville, where he spent the previous 16 years in the same role for the Predators, Korn has had a significant calming influence on Holtby in a year when a poor showing from the 25-year-old could have spelled the end for him as a starter In Washington. Read more

Caps’ Evgeny Kuznetsov sets up goal with dazzling behind-the-net, behind-the-back pass

Adam Proteau
Evgeny Kuznetsov (Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals and their fans are pleased with the play of more than a few team members this season – and Wednesday night against Boston, rookie center Evgeny Kuznetsov endeared himself to them thanks to what is one of the best goal setups you may ever see.

The Capitals were up 2-0 on the Bruins late in the second period when the 22-year-old Kuznetsov took the puck deep into Washington’s zone; the Russian began skating behind Boston goalie Tuukka Rask with the puck on his backhand, only to shift it to his forehand and curl a pass backwards toward teammate Marcus Johansson, who made no mistake and scored his 20th of the season: Read more

Why the Washington Capitals are a nightmare playoff matchup

Matt Larkin
Matt Niskanen, Alex Ovechkin and Joel Ward. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

We completed our Stanley Cup power rankings for THN’s Playoff Preview magazine a couple weeks ago, and we didn’t devote much air time to the Washington Capitals at our table debates. We slotted the Caps 13th. Their hot-and-cold play wasn’t blowing us away. Amid a pile of wins in February and March, they had letdowns against non-playoff teams Philadelphia (twice) and Dallas.

I tweeted March 3 that the Eastern Conference parity was incredible, and that I could see any of Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Montreal, Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh reaching the Stanley Cup final. Apologies for including Pittsburgh in that group – yikes – but that’s not the point. As a reader named Angelos asked: where was Washington? I had deliberately omitted them.

And that looks more like an oversight every day. The Caps have quietly usurped the Pens and Isles to grab the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan division and look like a darn scary team to face in the post-season. Why?

Read more

Watch Marek Zidlicky send Tom Wilson sailing with huge hip check

Jared Clinton
Marek Zidlicky (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Yes, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Marek Zidlicky got whistled for clipping on this hip check. And yes, the legality of the hit can certainly be questioned. What can’t be questioned, however, is that Zidlicky’s hit sent Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson for a pretty good ride.

With Washington leading 2-0, Wilson went to chip the puck into the Detroit end and give chase. Just one quick second after flipping the puck into the attacking zone, however, Wilson was met by the hip of Zidlicky, who lowered his body and sent Wilson flipping forward and crashing to the ice. Read more

Eastern Conference playoff race tightens up; which team has the hardest road to the post-season?

Ottawa Senators players celebrate their overtime win against Tampa Bay. (Jana Chytilova/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Eastern Conference playoff race – which some of us a couple months ago thought wouldn’t be much of a race at all – got a lot tighter after the events of Thursday night. (The Western Conference playoff race did, too. But that’s another story for another deadline.) The Washington Capitals pulled out a crucial 5-4 shootout win over Montreal that pushed them out of the first wild card berth and into second place in the Metropolitan Division; the Caps were able to vault that high because the New York Islanders only got one of two points out of a 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus; the Boston Bruins won their fourth straight and pulled even in points with Detroit by beating the Red Wings 3-2 in Joe Louis Arena (Detroit, who has a game in hand, remains in third place in the Atlantic Division); and the Ottawa Senators clawed their way to a 2-1 overtime win over Tampa Bay to remain three points behind the Bruins (and now the Wings) with five games left to play.

At the end of the evening, only three teams in the East (Montreal, Tampa Bay and the Rangers) had locked up a playoff berth. Otherwise, the post-season picture is muddier than ever, with six teams within six points or fewer of one another. There’s still a possibility the Pens or Red Wings miss the playoffs, which would’ve seemed nearly unthinkable a few weeks back. And that’s why the schedule each team has left to play is so important: a handful of games against soft-touch teams would seemingly be a blessing, but not every team still in the playoff hunt is blessed in that regard. Let’s look at the schedules of the six teams (sorry, Florida) still aiming to lock up one of the five open playoff spots and see who has the toughest road ahead: Read more

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin hits 50-goal plateau for sixth time in ten NHL seasons

Alex Ovechkin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In his previous nine NHL seasons, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin reached or surpassed the 50-goal plateau five times. And the 29-year-old winger made it six times in 10 years with his 50th goal of the 2014-15 campaign.

The Capitals were home in Washington hosting the Carolina Hurricanes when their captain went to work 11 minutes into the first period, wiring a wrist shot past goalie Cam Ward: Read more

For the first time in years, are the Pittsburgh Penguins actually – gasp – playoff underdogs?

Evgeni Malkin (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Hockey News this week revealed its collective pre-playoff pick to win the 2014-15 Stanley Cup (hint: team name rhymes with Grandpa Jay Whitening), but as an individual who was part of that process, I can tell you I wasn’t leading the charge for the team we selected (hint: my pick rhymes with…uh, to hell with it – I picked the Blackhawks). That said, I think this season’s playoffs will be like those that have preceded it in the salary cap era in that you can make excellent arguments for about two handfuls of teams, assuming each benefits from good health and solid chemistry at the right time of the year.

And that said, I think this post-season is particularly fascinating, because it’s the first playoffs in a long time in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming in as underdogs – or at least, as much of an underdog that any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on it can be. Read more

Which save was better: Gibson’s Hasek impression or Holtby’s miraculous reach?

Jared Clinton
John Gibson (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s not often two goaltenders are forced to make incredible paddle saves, but Anaheim’s John Gibson and Washington’s Braden Holtby both made stick saves Sunday that will find their way onto end of year countdowns.

Holtby’s save, which came earlier in the day during a matinee between the Capitals and New York Rangers, was made off the stick of Rangers rookie Jimmy Hayes.

With Washington up by one on their division rivals midway through the first period, and with New York on the power play, Hayes received a beautiful cross-ice feed and had just about the entire net to shoot at. After quickly settling the puck, Hayes fired and Holtby, extending as much as humanly possible, robbed a sure goal with the shaft of his stick: Read more