Joel Ward Hides in Weeds, Scores 20th Goal of Year

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Photo: Paul Frederiksen

Only one line on the Capitals is made up entirely of double-digit scorers: the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward. As we’ve mentioned before, they have been Washington’s top scoring threat outside of Alex Ovechkin this season. Sunday, Ward tallied 20 goals for the first time in career, while also assisting on Chimera’s foot-goal earlier in the first period.

“My karma paid off,” Ward told me after the game. “For me, I just hide in the weeds and try to look for some loose pucks.”

Ward had already topped his previous career high of 17 goals on the first of the month in Boston. Always a solid checking line forward, the 33-year-old has taken off as an offensive force this season. He already has six more goals this year than he did in his first two seasons with the Caps combined (six in ’11-’12, eight in ’13). Caps head coach Adam Oates has also given Ward a prime spot down low on the power play this year, which accounted for his goal against the Leafs. Per your boy Mike Vogel, members of the third line have been on the ice for 10 of Washington’s last 13 goals.

“I’ve counted on Wardo and Chimmer all year long,” Oates. “They penalty kill, power play. Big bodies that we count on for a lot of minutes to get territory for us. It’s good to see them rewarded because you don’t get a lot of accolades based on that, doing grunt work.”

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Nicklas Backstrom to IOC: FedEx Me My Silver Medal

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When the International Olympic Committee banned Nicklas Backstrom from the Sochi gold medal game last month, it seemed doubtful the Swede would receive the sliver medal awarded to the rest of his teammates.

Following an appeal, however, the IOC has relented under pressure. Announcing the news Friday afternoon, they ruled that Backstrom had no intention of taking Zyrtec D as a performance enhancer and decided to award him a silver medal after all.

Following the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Canucks, Backstrom spoke about the decision for the first time.

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Photo: Rob Carr

In Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first NHL game on Monday, he skated a little over 10 minutes on the fourth line, briefly seeing time on the power play. It was clear the young Russian was an NHL rookie playing on a team he had yet to practice with. Things got better the next day though. In Pittsburgh, Kuznetsov registered nearly 15 minutes of ice time, collecting three shots on goal. If not for a confounding leg save by Marc-Andre Fleury, the 21-year-old Russian would have scored his first NHL goal.

On Friday, Kuznetsov continued the trend. He picked up the first three points of his North American career. The 2010 first round pick collected the first two in just over three minutes, assisting on successive goals by Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson in the second period. He added the third on Washington’s go ahead goal in the third period. The Caps won 4-3.

“I hope we win today,” he told 15 members of Washington Capitals press corps gathered around his locker. “That’s first for me.”

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Photo: Justin K. Aller

It is silly to compare Evgeny Malkin (500+ games, Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, Hart, two Art Ross Trophies) to Evgeny Kuznetsov (one game, 10 minutes on ice)–  even if they were born a couple hundred miles away from one other– basically the same neighborhood by Russian standards.

Then again, it’s also fun, which is why people have been doing it for awhile– including Valery Belousov, Kuznetsov’s old coach at Traktor and the man who oversaw Malkin’s development at Magnitogorsk.

In our brief conversation on Sunday, Kuzya flatly dismissed all comparisons to his much more famous namesake. But what does Geno think about it? Well, let’s take a look at today’s edition of Sovetsky Sport, where we find Dmitry Chesnokov’s interview with the Penguins’ star after Monday’s game.

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Photo: @katie_brown47

Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s debut as a Washington Capital was a little like that first crepe, which, according to Russian proverb, tends to come out as a lump. The Capitals came agonizingly close to victory in Monday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but walked away with no points to show for their effort. In the end, that loss had little to do with how well the 21-year-old Russian rookie played.

Playing for a team on the wrong side the playoff line, Kuznetsov seemed to understand the gravity of his situation as he spoke in Russian after the game to Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo Sports, Igor Tichonenko of Voice of America, and yours truly. Zhenya didn’t really want to talk about his individual performance, no matter how much it probably meant to him. The team lost, he wasn’t able to help, and that’s what was on his mind.

Here is the translation of our short conversation.

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Eric Fehr celebrates his goal on Monday. (Photo: Rob Carr)

The Capitals have scored 185 goals this season. Alex Ovechkin has 44 of them. For most of the season, the team has struggled with secondary scoring. Lately, however, some of their complementary players are coming alive.

Troy Brouwer has eight goals in 11 games. Brooks Laich had goals in two straight games coming into Monday. Though Laich has being missing practices and morning skates due to a lingering groin injury, he played great against the Penguins, scoring a goal that was later credited to Nick Backstrom. Laich did register an assist, marking his third straight game with a point.

Monday, the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward provided half of the Capitals’ offense in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh. They greatly titled the ice in their favor, scoring the Caps’ first goal early in the game.

“I thought Fehrsie’s line might’ve had the best game they’ve had all year,” head coach Adam Oates said. “You feel it on the bench. You hear the guys talking on the bench. Your job is to try to have the next line follow and keep it going.”

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Photo: Chris Gordon

At Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Sunday morning, a dozen reporters and three photographers watched Evgeny Kuznetsov skate around for 45 minutes. It was eight in the morning and he was the only player on the ice. Fans held up signs welcoming him in Russian and wore his KHL jersey in the stands. The day before, Kuznetsov had signed a two-year entry-level contract with Washington, ending a four year battle to bring him over from the KHL after being drafted 26th overall by the Capitals in 2010.

“My contract is over,” Kuznetsov told reporters gathered in the Kettler conference room. “I’m excited. All is good.”

“Any hockey player wants to play in the NHL, wants to win the Cup,” he added. “It’s my dream to play in the NHL. I’m happy to see you. I’m ready 100 percent. I want to play.”

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Photo: Rob Carr

If the Caps squeak into the playoffs, you might have to thank Karl Alzner. Not for his defense — something a bit lacking on the Caps lately — but his offense. With 10:15 left in an important game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Karl unleashed a wrist shot from the near point, which went through traffic before beating Mike Smith over his right shoulder. Though Washington looked lifeless for the first 50 minutes, that goal ignited an incredible comeback, featuring two goals in 32 seconds and two points in the standings.

“I was excited,” Alzner told reporters after the game. “Everyone seemed really excited. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was me who scored it and not a guy who normally scores, but people seemed really up after that. It was the perfect momentum swing and the perfect line to come out right after that. It was the perfect storm for us.”

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Photo: Carolyn Kaster

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On June 25 2010, the Washington Capitals selected Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall. They saw him as one of the top players in the draft. He had only fallen so low, the Capitals thought, because some teams were uncertain when or if he would come to North America. George McPhee thought he could bring the 18-year-old Russian over within a year. One thousand three hundred fifty-two days later, Kuznetsov signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Caps.

“We’ve been working on it for four years,” McPhee told reporters before Washington’s game against Phoenix on Saturday. “It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness Monster when he walked in. We’ve heard of you, but we haven’t seen you. There he was and I found it hard to believe he was standing there after all this. It’s a pretty neat feeling that this kid’s in the fold and he’s a pretty darn good player.”

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Photo: Mark Buckner

(Photo: Mark Buckner)

Coming into the 2014 NHL trade deadline, some fans feared Caps general manager George McPhee would make a drastic move in the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Instead, he made three reasonable ones. The Caps got better this year without harming themselves in the future.

The biggest deal was the final one, with the Caps sending Michal Neuvirth and the newly acquired Rostislav Klesla to the Buffalo Sabres for Caps killer Jaroslav Halak and a third-round pick.

“I think we start with Neuvirth, and he wasn’t happy being a number two,” McPhee told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “We tried to accommodate him. We brought in an experienced guy. I think it’s an upgrade on the tandem which is what we wanted to accomplish.”

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