Over the weekend, we reported on something that felt gross, weird, and terrific all at once. Caps defenseman John Carlson scored on Caps goaltender Braden Holtby during the second of a back-to-back exhibition series between Team Canada and Team USA.
Monday morning, Team USA held their practice at Verizon Center and Matt Niskanen was asked about the awkward goal.
Last week, Barry Trotz said he envisions Dmitry Orlov playing in the Caps’ top four this season, paired with either Matt Niskanen or John Carlson. If Orlov were to be deployed as a top-four defender, it would have a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. For one, Brooks Orpik would likely be playing on the third pairing. It could also mean a reunion of Carlson and Karl Alzner, a pairing we’ve seen much less of since Niskanen and Orpik came to town.
But the part of this possible deployment I’d be most interested in seeing is Orlov paired with Niskanen. Doing this would not only mean more minutes for Orlov, who drove shot attempt differentials better than any other defender on the team last season, but it would mean minutes with a player whose steady defensive style could be a great compliment to Orlov’s high-risk, high-reward style.
Photo: Drew Hallowell
On Thursday, the Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss another season that ended prematurely. The players were more visibly emotional than in years past at the annual end-of-season confab with reporters, promising Stanley Cups to the fans and articulating their frustrations with plenty of “failures” and “sucks.”
The news, however, came in the form of injuries revealed publicly for the first time. Karl Alzner’s ailment was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Referred to by Braden Holtby as the team’s most important player, Alzner missed most of the final game with a torn groin. He played just two shifts early in the second period before being pulled from the game.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot, Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning in the game. That’s when you know you can still do things, but once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”
He watched the Capitals penalty kill, a unit he normally plays big minutes on, give up two power play goals in 33 seconds after Brooks Orpik took a double minor for high-sticking. Later, Alzner sat helpless on the bench as the Penguins won it in overtime.
Lovejoy celebrates his goal (Photo: Rob Carr)
Capitals defensemen Dmitry Orlov went for the big hit, hoping to take Penguins center Nick Bonino out at the blue line. Instead, Orlov missed, colliding with Nate Schmidt. Bonino was left with an unfettered path to the net. He shot the puck on Braden Holtby before Ben Lovejoy cleaned up the rebound at the midway point of Game One on Thursday, tying the score at one.
Orlov, who, like Schmidt, is playing in his first postseason in the NHL, didn’t see the ice for the rest of the game, save for a brief 25-second shift early in the third period. He finished with less than six minutes of time on ice.
Photo: Rob Carr
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
The Washington Capitals’ special teams units have been at or near the top of the league rankings all year. While the number of power-play chances certainly goes down once the playoffs begin, the relative rarity of goals and chances makes converting those opportunities all the more important. Look none other than to the last President’s Trophy run. In that playoffs first round match-up the Montreal Canadiens scored six PP goals to the Capitals one, the Canadiens prevailed. Last year in the first round, the Islanders did not score a PP goal while the Caps scored two. Then in the very next round the New York Rangers tallied three PP goals to the Capitals one.
Photo: Maddie Meyer
This morning, Peter and Pat wrote two posts pointing out the worrying trends of the best team in hockey. The Washington Capitals have seen their possession fall off a cliff, they’re getting dominated in first periods, they’ve seen their god-like goaltender become a mere mortal, and they’ve watched their two best players, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, struggle. On top of that, the Caps suffered arguably their worst loss of the season Sunday against the Penguins, watching their defense have breakdown after breakdown against the Pens’ speed game.
Monday, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun joined the Caps at a team-building event in Ottawa. Matt Niskanen told LeBrun he believes the team has motivation issues.
Saturday, the Capitals almost completed an improbable comeback against the second-best team in the league, the Dallas Stars. To put it succinctly: the third period was good times for the Caps. Washington scored three consecutive goals and looked to be the better team. But before that, the Caps were miserable.
In the game’s first two periods, the Stars jumped out to a 4-0 lead, outshooting the Capitals 25 to 11. That left some players frustrated. And angry.
My favorite meltdown moment came from Tom Wilson.
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