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Capitals @ Hurricanes Recap: Caps Weather the Storm in 4-2 Win

Protas scores his first NHL goal Ovechkin scores number 749 in this afternoon’s victory in Raleigh.

Washington Capitals v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck /NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes are two of the best teams in the NHL right now, and they play this afternoon in the first of four meetings this season. The Metro Division rivals have not faced each other since January 13, 2020 because of last season’s rearranged divisions.

Today’s big news: Lars Eller is back, folks! After missing six games in COVID protocol and quarantining in Anaheim, the Great Dane has rejoined the lineup. However, this means that a forward had to come out of the lineup to make room, and that forward was...Daniel Sprong? That certainly is A Choice. With those changes in mind, the lines looked like this:

Ilya Samsonov is getting his third consecutive start tonight for the first time in his NHL regular season career. The only other time Samsonov started three consecutive games was in last year’s postseason. Additionally, Dennis Cholowski drew into the lineup once again as Justin Schultz landed on IR today.

Here’s Sunday afternoon’s Protas/Contas:

Protas: Aliaksei Protas scored his first career goal this afternoon, making him the sixth Capital to score their first NHL goal this season.

Contas: Until they scored on the power play, the Capitals had a rough third period. The Hurricanes tilted the ice heavily in their favor, and the Caps were holding on for dear life.

And now, you know, this nonsense:

Twelve more notes on the game:

1. After a very quick start to the game, the Hurricanes got the afternoon’s first power play when Evgeny Kuznetsov took a seat for tripping Jordan Staal with 11:22 left in the first. Despite missing one of their top penalty killers — because yes, Kuzy has become one of Washington’s top penalty killers this season — the Caps’ PK held Carolina off the board.

2. Lars Eller was called for interference on Vincent Trochek 13:49 into the first. The game had been getting chippy leading up to this call, which probably should have been tripping and not interference, and it ended with the Canes getting their second power play. Fortunately, the Capitals’ strong penalty killing continued. Well, a combination of that and the Canes’ power play struggles — their power play has been scoreless in their last five games.

3. Aliaksei Protas had one heck of a first period. He recorded two of Washington’s seven shots on goal, was absolutely flying on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and was generating some excellent chances. It really does feel like it is only a matter of time before he converts and finds the back of the net for his first NHL goal. (Spoiler alert: it was, see note number six.)

4. The Capitals got their first power play only 40 seconds into the second period with Teuvo Teravainen taking a seat for hooking Aliaksei Protas. They struggled to get set in the first minute of the power play, but they looked much better in the second half. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill has been stingy as of late and kept Washington’s PP off the board.

5. With eight minutes to go in the second, who else but Alex Ovechkin got the Capitals on the board. Dmitry Orlov made an excellent no-look pass that fooled absolutely everyone, leaving Ovechkin with an open net behind Freddie Andersen. Any time you can leave the greatest goalscorer of all time wide open next to the net, you simply have to do it! This is Ovi’s 19th goal of the season and number 749 of his career — watch out, Jagr, he’s coming for you.

6. 59 seconds later, Aliaksei Protas finally got his first NHL goal. He had been buzzing all game, which is consistent with his last few games, and he was finally able to cash in. He was trying to pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of the net, but Tony DeAngelo had clipped Kuznetsov up high and Kuzy was unavailable to receive the pass. No matter, because the puck ended up ricocheting off DeAngelo’s skate and past Freddie Andersen. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was still a goal. And the puck going in off That Guy’s skate is just the icing on the cake.

An underrated highlight of this goal: Kuzy popping up and immediately turning to chirp DeAngelo after the goal.

7. Brady Skjei was called for interference on Kuznetsov with 2:51 left in the second period. 70 seconds later, Tom Wilson and Brendan Smith took offsetting minor penalties for slashing and roughing respectively, which kept the Caps on the power play for another 50 seconds. This scuffle was the most exciting thing that happened on the Capitals’ power play, as the Caps once again did not convert.

8. Only 46 seconds after the puck dropped for the third period, Skjei took his second penalty of the game for holding Protas. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the Caps could not get much of anything going on the power play. A power play tally to start the period would have been a nice way to further tilt the momentum in Washington’s favor, but it was not in the cards.

9. Jesperi Kotkaniemi cut the Capitals’ lead in half with 13:38 left in the third. The Hurricanes had been pushing all period, and they were able to capitalize on a sloppy defensive moment from the Caps to gain possession in the Washington zone. After the Capitals turned the puck over at the blue line, Jordan Martinook set up Kotkaniemi, who did not miss with a top shelf shot from the slot. 2-1 game.

10. The Capitals went shorthanded for the third time this afternoon when Martin Fehervary was called for hooking on Sebastian Aho with 8:30 to go. This was a huge power play opportunity for Carolina, and they did not let it go to waste. Lars Eller tried to pass to Hagelin to get a shorthanded chance going, but Brett Pesce intercepted the sloppy pass. After a very nice passing sequence that had the Caps looking silly, Nino Niederreiter tied things up. It was technically not a power play goal, as the puck crossed the goal line two seconds after Fehervary’s penalty expired, but it might as well have been. 2-2 with 6:28.

11. The Capitals got their own huge power play opportunity with five minutes left on the clock after Seth Jarvis took a holding penalty on Nick Jensen. Just 30 seconds later, Sebastian Aho took a slashing penalty after he broke the stick of Aliaksei Protas. If you thought a power play felt like a must-score opportunity, this 5-on-3 seemed pretty vital. They did not score on that two-man advantage, but Dmitry Orlov got the Caps’ power play on the board a few seconds after Jarvis returned to the ice. The Capitals set up a beautiful passing play, with John Carlson passing the puck to Wilson from the slot to the left of the net and then Wilson finding Orlov on the doorstep for his fourth goal of the season. 3-2 Caps with less than three minutes to go.

12. John Carlson put the game on ice with 1:41 to go with an empty net tally. 4-2 Capitals, who are now sitting at the top of the league standings.

Up next for the Caps: a quick trip to Sunrise, Florida to face the Florida Panthers this Tuesday at 7pm.