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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.

Here’s how everyone lined up:

Forwards

Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana

Connolly – Graovac – Wilson

Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

Walker

Defense

Orpik – Bowey

Djoos – Carlson

Orlov – Chorney

Ness

Goalies

Holtby

Grubauer

RELATED: Caps destroyed by Flyers in lopsided road loss

Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:

  • Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”

 

  • The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”

 

  • If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”  

 

  • Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”  

 

  • As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”

 

  • As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.

 

MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.

No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.

Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.   

“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”

RELATED: Andre Burakovsky's first NHL fight

Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.

First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.

On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.

MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly

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Insider's Take: Christian Djoos has a big night in debut, but Caps fall to Pens, 3-2

Insider's Take: Christian Djoos has a big night in debut, but Caps fall to Pens, 3-2

Rookie defenseman Christian Djoos recorded a goal and a primary assist in his NHL debut on Wednesdaynight. But it wasn’t enough for the Capitals as their previously stellar penalty kill surrendered three goals to the Penguins, who skated away with a 3-2 victory at Capital One Arena.

How it happened

Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist scored power play goals as the Penguins seized a 2-0 midway through the second period.

Djoos’ first career shot—a one-timer—in his first career game gave the Caps hope, cutting the Pittsburgh lead in half with 53 seconds remaining in the middle frame.

The Pens’ potent power play, however, was not done.

Conor Sheary struck on the man advantage just 38 seconds into the third period to give the Pens all they would need.

Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading eighth tally—Djoos set it up with a nifty cross crease pass—pulled the Caps to within 3-2 with 7:09 left to play. But that’s as close as Washington would get, despite a late push.

MORE: WHY YOU SHOULDN'T BE MAD ABOUT THAT CROSBY HIT ON HOLTBY

What it means

Given the history between these rivals, nothing really matters until they meet in the postseason. The loss was, however, Washington’s first in regulation this season.

The Djoos is loose

It was, shall we say, an eventful night for 23-year-old Swede. He was in the box for tripping when Hornqvist scored. But the left shot blue liner atoned for the error by firing a one-timer past Matt Murray (20 saves) from the right side.

“We know he’s a good hockey player,” Trotz said. “He’s got to continue to get stronger and continue to play at this level. You can see the instincts are really good. He’s got a real good sense for the game. His IQ is really good. But it’s a process; it’s one game. We’ll be patient, for sure. But his first game was real good.”

Trotz added: “Whenever he was on the ice, we seemed to have the puck a little bit more.”

Djoos became the second Capitals rookie to score in his debut in just four games, joining Nathan Walker, who tallied against Montreal. Djoos was the third leading scorer among blue liners in the AHL last season, racking up 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games.  

“I thought he was awesome,” veteran Matt Niskanen said. “A lot of confidence. Wasn’t afraid. Moved the puck really good out of his own zone. And scored his first goal in his first game—pretty unbelievable.”

Other than the loss, Djoos felt his debut went well.

“First game in the NHL and you get a goal and an assist? That wasn’t my plan when I showed up at the rink,” he said. “I wanted to play a good, structured game, detailed game.”

Penalty problem?

The Caps took six minor penalties, marking the third time in four games that they’ve taken at least five. They lost Monday in Tampa because they gave up a power play goal in OT. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s first two goals came on the man advantage. Interestingly, the Caps were the most penalized team from Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season last year (180). But they also accumulated more points (71) during that same span.

“Every time we started getting any rhythm we took a penalty,” Trotz said. “The first four games I said to the guys, let’s be real: We got to get our penalties down. …Today they got three power play goals.”

Holtby did what? 

In the first period, Holtby made the gutsy decision to bolt out of his crease and challenge the speedy Carl Hagelin, who had turned on the afterburners and in pursuit of a potential breakaway. Holtby and Hagelin got to the puck around the same time and the Caps’ netminder executed a perfectly soccer-style tackle on Hagelin. Holtby, however, was given a minor penalty for “delay of game—illegal play goalie”. In keeping the puck away from Hagelin, he landed on the puck and, after pulling it from underneath his body, then used his catching glove to pass it to a teammate.

The referee told Trotz “if there wasn’t a Penguin around him, I probably wouldn’t have called it,” Trotz told reporters. Asked what he’s thinking when Holtby is racing out of the net, Trotz cracked, “Get to the puck before them. That’s it.”

RELATED: HOLTBY WAS NOT PLEASED WITH CROSBY'S HIT ON HIM

Welcome to the league, rook

Before Djoos aced his first test on the ice, he came onto the ice alone. The Capitals got the rookie with one of the oldest, but best, and funniest, and easiest, tricks in the book:


What’s ahead

The Caps are slated to practice Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. On Friday, Tom Wilson, who sat out the fourth game of a four-game suspension against the Penguins, will be eligible to return to the lineup in New Jersey. The Caps come right back Saturday night in Philly.