“Killer” Turnovers Cost Caps Victory Over Red Wings

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

For the last few games, Washington’s offense has been lacking. Alex Ovechkin has struggled to score — going five games without a goal — while the rest of the lines have struggled to click as Barry Trotz’s looks for line combinations that will gel. On Wednesday, they got the offense. Washington clearly outclassed the Red Wings but made a few inexplicable mistakes. They hurt.

“They’re not playing overly poor,” Trotz said after the game. “You’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone and plow through it.”

“Every turnover we did have ended up in the back of the net a little bit,” he added.

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kuznetsov-goal

This screengrab looks like it could be an action shot on a hockey card.

Washington Capitals rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov has had an uneven season thus far. He’s spent most of his time on the team’s fourth line, learning the center position as he goes. He’s also seen a bunch of time on the team’s second power play unit.

On Wednesday, after tallying three points in his first eight games, Kuznetsov finally broke through for his first goal of the season.

It was a beauty. And it was all because of Braden Holtby.

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After the Caps lost 3-2 to Edmonton on Wednesday, Caps coach Barry Trotz changed the lines. He broke up the Joel Ward/Jason Chimera “gang green” line (which is seriously the worst nickname for a lot of reasons).”Last couple games I can’t say they’re a great line for us,” Trotz told the Washington Post.

“Yeah, green line got blown up,” Ward said. “We got scored on last game. It was a tough loss for sure. I guess a little shake-up can’t hurt. We’ll see what happens.”

Crazy things happened. The Caps fourth line, which had been dormant all season, went nuts with Wardo on the right wing on Saturday night. Ward scored two goals (one on the power play), the latter of which was credited as the game-winning goal. And Ward would have had a hat trick, but he put himself into the net instead of the puck.

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ChimeraGoal

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Last season, Adam Oates tried to reinvent Eric Fehr. Instead of being an auxiliary winger, Oates turned Fehr into a checking line center. Actual hockey isn’t NHL 15, so the role was uneasy for Fehr. Center is a  greater responsibility than being a scoring winger, offensively and defensively. Pivots are, perhaps, a little smarter than the rest of us. Fehr never quite settled into the position and bounced around the lineup and the press box under Oates. He did, however, find success with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, inspiring a cult following for the line.

This season, it looked like Barry Trotz put an end to the Eric Fehr 3C experiment, placing the Manitoban on the top trio with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. After Tuesday’s histrionic 6-5 loss to San Jose, Trotz’s shifted his lineup. Fehr was back with Ward and Chimera. On Thursday, the line was Washington’s best. While they only registered one of Washington’s five goals — and it was barely even a goal — the trio shut down the opposition and earned praise from Trotz. Against the Panthers, the third line was again inspired. Chimera had a myriad of chances while scoring Washington’s lone goal of the night. It was set up by a brilliant pass from the corner from Fehr.

“With that line, I think that Fehrsie’s got really good hockey IQ,” Trotz said. “He can read off those two guys.”

“That whole line’s been really good the last couple games,” he added.

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O'Brien signs his first NHL contract.

O’Brien signs his first NHL contract.

It always seems there’s one player at every camp who comes out of nowhere to make the team. Last season it was Connor Carrick. This season it was undrafted free-agent invitee Liam O’Brien.

The forward, who managed just 42 goals in 261 junior games, did not get signed by Brian MacLellan to a three-year entry-level contract because of his scoring prowess. It was his tenacity and grit.

All of O’Brien’s strengths came through during Tuesday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks. O’Brien tallied his first NHL point in his third NHL game and also got a bunch of media coverage for taunting bear-on-skates John Scott.

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Two summers ago, Andre Burakovsky came to Capitals Development Camp as a skinny but skilled winger a few years away from the NHL. He made friends with Tom Wilson, about 11 months his senior, and the Canadian introduced him to life in North American and the “cinnamon rollers” that come with it.

Wilson made the Caps roster as a 19-year-old three months later, playing in every one of the team’s 82 games but barely getting on the ice. He registered 15 times more penalty minutes than points. Connor Carrick, another 19-year-old, also made the team out of camp. Though Carrick impressed early with manifest skill, he struggled as the season went on. Thanks to the Caps barren defense, Carrick was playing minutes he wasn’t ready for. Like Wilson, Carrick was ill-served by his rookie experience.

“It’s tough for a young kid,” new Caps GM Brian MacLellan said in his introductory press conference, admitting the team should have handled the players differently.

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Photo: @WashCaps

The always-stylish and always-awesome Eric Fehr took over the Washington Capitals Twitter account on Wednesday. It went about as well as you could imagine. The first-line right wing/children’s book author unveiled an odd nickname the players have for Tom Wilson, discussed the Baltimore Orioles (heated rivals of his beloved Toronto Blue Jays), and talked a heck of a lot about country music.

Minus him rooting for Lemieux as a kid (which we’ll give him a pass on), this was perfect.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

With the final preseason game in the books for the Capitals, the team’s opening night line-up is shaping up: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Eric Fehr will be on the top line. Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer will man the second. Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward will be on the third. The fourth line looks set, though scrappy free-agree invitee Liam O’Brien looks to have earned his way into a contract with Hershey or a two-way deal. Michael Latta, though, appears ready to play alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chris Brown on the fourth line. That might change when Jay Beagle comes back from injury.

“That would be a question for Mac[Lellan],” Trotz said of O’Brien. “He’s been as good as anybody especially in that role.”

“He’s a player that demanded to be noticed,” the coach added.

19-year-old rookie Andre Burakovsky appears to have also made the team, beating top prospect Kuznetsov to center the team’s second line. At least initially.

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Photo: @courtlaugh22

During Wednesday’s Capitals preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres, Courtney Laughlin, daughter of long-time Caps color commentator Craig Laughlin, announced that she is joining CSN Washington’s pre-game show, Caps Central.

Courtney will make her TV debut next Thursday before the Capitals home opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

I spoke to Courtney via email Wednesday night, and she explained her new role.

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CapsTrainingCampDay2 (6 of 10)

Photo: Chris Gordon.

Day two of Capitals training camp was Saturday, and the team continued the tough pace set by Barry Trotz on Friday. Each of the three group of players spent about an hour and the half on the ice, focusing on drills designed to simulate game situations and learn the system. With the first preseason game just hours away, three groups of Caps battled along the boards for loose pucks and charged at the net. Unlike previous regimes, Trotz is throwing the players into the fire quickly.

“This is the one day we had to prepare to play tomorrow,” the coach told reporters. “We tried to get a lot of stuff in that was situational.”

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