Jamie Sabau 3

Photo: Jamie Sabau

The Capitals made it nearly halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season without suffering back-to-back loses, winning nine straight games in December. But with Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Jay Beagle missing from the lineup, the Caps dropped two games in a row against two of the league’s worst teams. The games were close, with Brandon Saad scoring with just over a minute left to send Saturday’s game against Columbus to a shootout after the Capitals almost came back against Carolina on Thursday. Still, the loses are disappointing for a team that desperately wants to raise the Stanley Cup this year.

“It’s going to have to be better, it’s that simple,” goalie Braden Holtby, who took just his sixth loss of the season against Columbus, said.

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The Other Streak: Jackets Beat Caps 5-4 (SO)

Jamie Sabau

Photo: Jamie Sabau

After defeating the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets looked to down one of the league’s top two teams for the second night in a row. They got right on that as Jack Johnson fired a power play marker from the Ovi spot just 1:32 into the game, the second quickest goal the Capitals have allowed this year.

The Caps evened up the score under six minutes later, when TJ Oshie converted on a slick pass from behind the net eight seconds into Washington’s opening power play. Forty-four seconds later, the Jackets took the lead again, with the Caps allowing a quick response goal like it’s 2014 all over again. Brandon Saad was all alone in front. But after Rene Bourque, who’s a jackass, took a phantom holding call, Washington’s power play got back to work. Evengy Kuznetsov did his thing, passing the puck off Jason Chimera’s stick and into the goal. Silly business.

In the second, the Capitals got another power play, but it was the Blue Jackets who converted. Brett Leonhardt, though, saved things from on high. The Capitals successfully challenged that ‘Lumbus was offside on the marker, the first time they’ve won a challenge this season. Later in the period, some great forechecking gave Tom Wilson the puck in the corner, who plopped it in Marcus Johansson’s lap for the go-ahead.

In the third, the power play struck again — this time for Columbus as Johnson added his second PP goal of the game. Just 40 second later, however, Kuznetsov converted on a two-on-one with Wilson to put the Caps back on top. It looked like the Caps were ready to start a new winning streak until Saad added his second of the game with just 1:08 to go. Uh oh.

After a flurry of OT PPs, the game went to a shootout.

Cam Atkinson was stoned by Holtby.

Oshie went slow-mo NHL 16 on Columbus’s ass.

Brandon Dubinsky fired a laser past Braden.

Ryan Johansson stopped and started and went top shelf on Braden Holtby.

Nicklas Backstrom was Washington’s last chance, but reserve netminder Anton Stralman closed the door for his first NHL win. Jackets beat Caps 5-4 (SO).

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Everybody Dies: Canes Beat Caps 4-2

Gregg Forwerck

Photo: Gregg Forwerck

Twenty hours after notching their ninth straight win, the Capitals slogged down to Raleigh, NC with a depleted lineup and groggy eyes. Washington weathered an early storm from the Hurricanes in the opening 20, with backup netminder Philipp Grubauer holding strong.

In the second, Phillip Di Giuseppe, who has the most pretentious name in the NHL, capitalized on some lazy and confused back checking by the second line and Alex Ovechkin. Carolina continued to pepper Grubauer with shots, but Nicklas Backstrom, in the lineup after leaving Wednesday’s game early, unleashed a laser wrist shot past Eddie Lack after some fancy feet by TJ Oshie.

The game was decided in the third. It did not go well for Washington. Eric Staal barely got the puck across the goal line for the go-ahead marker before Jeff Skinner added another four minutes later. Alex Ovechkin did his best to spark a comeback with an epic shot, but it was not enough. Andrej Nestrasil, who is not a cold medicine, added an empty netter. Canes beat Caps 4-2.

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As the Capitals finished off their ninth straight win on Wednesday, the sellout crowd roared in approval of the NHL’s best team. But 20 minutes later, there were only hushed gasps from the press corps as head coach Barry Trotz explained how costly Washington’s 28th had been.

Jay Beagle, who left the game with 5:52 left in the second period, will need upper-body surgery. Though Trotz refused to say what the injury was, the coach said Washington’s third line center, who has tallied six goals this season, will be out “for an extended period of time.” He is expected to be placed on injured reserve shortly.

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How We Play Hockey in Russia: Caps Beat Sabres 5-2


Photo: Patrick Smith

“I, for one, hope the Caps expend effort only on being the better hockey team. I don’t care about “the code” and I don’t care about sending any message other than we’re the better hockey team and we’re going to beat you.”

That was Pat’s message in the pregame, as Wednesday’s game looked poised to devolve into a fiasco after Monday’s theatrics.

But in the opening minutes, it was the Buffalo Sabres who decided that playing better hockey was the best way to win hockey game, with six unanswered shot attempts to start the game. The pressure led to the game’s opening tally, as Jack Eichel wiggled the stick on his XBOX controller before setting up Brian Gionta to beat Braden Holtby.

Soon after the Buffalo tally, the Caps put things back where they belonged, outshooting the Sabres 13-3 in the closing minutes of the frame.

In the second, the Capitals had extended zone time, a juicy power play, and plenty of great looks at the net, but Chad Johnson somehow kept them at bay. Then the Sabres netminder did something really dumb, reversing a pass to Justin Williams, who flipped the puck into the empty net. Towards the end of the frame, Braden Holtby couldn’t track the pop fly and Zemgus Girgensons whacked in the go-ahead tally.

After Nicklas Backstrom went down with an injury, Evgeny Kuznetsov returned to his old place on the TKO line. Just like that, Kuzy made magic happen from behind the net. Alex Ovechkin’s sealed the deal from in front. Tie game.

A few minutes later, Kuznetsov skated the puck in from the half way to hashmarks, allowing Marcus Johansson to deflect the game-winner. Andre Burakovsky added insurance before Ovi popped in an empty netter. This team is good. Really, really good. Caps beat Sabres 5-2!

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Jason Chimera is Flying High in 2015


Photo: Nick Wass

Last season, Capitals forward Jason Chimera was at times in open revolt against head coach Barry Trotz. The veteran winger tallied just one goal in his first 18 games. By December, he was a healthy scratch for the first time since 2013. He sat in the press box again later that month, a demeaning moment captured by EPIX’s Road to the Winter Classic crew.

“I think it’s embarrassing as a player when you get sat out,” Chimera said at the time. “I think as a player that’s played a long time, it’s embarrassing.”

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Photo: Patrick McDermott

The Capitals have the best record in the National Hockey League. They are playing their most impressive hockey in years. On Saturday, after not skating for four days during the Christmas break, the Capitals pounced on the hobbled Montreal Canadians for their seventh straight victory, with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera providing the scoring.

“I think it’s huge for us,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “I think with this team, we showed tonight, we don’t need everybody going. We have secondary scoring. It takes a lot of the pressure off some our top guys.”

One of those top guys, in fact, is Schmidt. Since Brooks Orpik went down with a lower body injury in early November, Schmidt has been called on to play on the top defensive pairing with John Carlson, one of the team’s stalwarts for the past five seasons. Against the Canadians, Schmidt tallied two assists, tying his career high in points and helpers.

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Winning Pretty: Caps Top Habs 3-1


Photo: Maddie Meyer

Ah, where were we? Yes, hockey! It’s like ballet on ice. You get the idea. Facing off against the Montreal Canadiens in their first game since Monday, the Washington Capitals got the jump early, showing no ill effects — but maybe a slight tan — from their Christmas break.

They pressed Habs netminder Mike Condon — minding the cage because Carey Price is out with a Michal Neuvirth — early, converting 6:45 into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov redirected Nate “Heart Eyes Emoji” Schmidt’s slapper from the high slot.

In the second, the Caps jumped back on the board when Jay Beagle fired a rifle from the near circle on a three-on-four after an excellent setup by Tom Wilson. Montreal cut the lead in half on the next shift, as Washington’s second line repeated failed to clear the defensive zone. Eventually, Daniel Carr popped in the rebound off Andrei Markov’s wrister from the faceoff dot. The Caps continued to shower Condon in pucks, but the Canadiens reserve netminder held strong as Washington took a one goal lead into the final 20.

In the third, Jason Chimera picked up a loose puck, shot forehand, and flew one-legged toward victory. Caps top Habs 3-1!

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Whole Latta Wins: Caps Top Canes 2-1

Gregg Forwerck

Latta sounds like lot of. No one has ever tried this joke before. (Photo: Gregg Forwerck)

One day after defeating the New York Rangers 7-3, the Caps headed down to Raleigh, NC looking for their second win in as many nights. Things got started poorly, with the Caps getting outshot 9-2 midway through the opening frame. The cause was clear: the lack of a morning skate, which is the most important part of any game day, including the game itself.

The Caps picked up the pace as the period wore on, getting on the board with just over four minutes left after Michael Latta put home Andre Burakovsky’s rebound to put the Caps up first for the 13th time in their last 16 games.

In the second, the Capitals opened up a two goal after a key faceoff win by Jay Beagle lead to a deflection by Jason Chimera’s foot.

Kris Versteeg was able to put the Canes within one with some magical stick work early in the third period, but the Capitals survived Carolina’s late push. Caps top Canes 2-1.

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Photo: Jared Silber

On Friday night, after allowing goals on back-to-back shots, Braden Holtby was pulled in favor of backup netminder Philipp Grubauer with the Capitals down 3-0. Those goals, however, were not the result of Holtby’s poor play. Instead, the Capitals’ defense was at fault, which head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged after the game.

“I was tired of our team leaving him out to dry,” Trotz said.

The change jumpstarted the Capitals. The team went on to score five unanswered goals, easing the three-goal deficit left by Holtby and earning a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Grubauer was perfect in relief, making a key save right before TJ Oshie scored to narrow the gap to one.

On Sunday night, Holtby once again allowed goals on back-to-back shots as the Rangers took 3-1 lead into the first intermission. Nevertheless, Holtby was back out to start the second period. This time, however, Trotz did place blame on Holtby.

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