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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Golden Knights

4 reasons the Caps lost to the Golden Knights

The Caps' first trip to Vegas did not go the way they planned. Washington trailed 3-0 after the first period and that score would stand through the rest of the game. Here's how the Caps lost their first game against the Golden Knights.

The first period

This game was decided in the opening 20 minutes as Vegas jumped all over Washington to take a 3-0 lead. Just moments after Braden Holtby stopped an early breakaway from Brendan Leipsic, Christian Djoos took the puck off a defensive-zone draw and tried a pass right up the middle. Alex Tuch got a stick in front of it to generate a turnover and a mini-break for the Golden Knights which led to Tuch tucking in a rebound to give Vegas an early 1-0 lead. Oscar Lindberg finished off a four-on-two break just five minutes later. The backbreaker came when William Karlsson scored what was virtually an empty-netter as Reilly Smith hit him with the nice pass on the back door.

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Vegas’ forecheck

With no superstars on their team, the Golden Knights know every line has to give 100-percent effort every time they are on the ice in order to be successful. In no aspect of Vegas’ game was that mentality more evident than on the forecheck. They were relentless and the Caps really struggled against it, especially early on. They eventually adjusted to it somewhat, but the forecheck gave them fits all night.

The Caps’ power play

If Washington had any chance to get back into this game, it came in the second period when Vegas took two penalties in the first five minutes. But a scuffling power play continued to struggle as the Caps failed to score on either chance. One goal there would have put them back in the game. Instead, they failed to score and went back to the locker room down by three with only 20 minutes remaining. Washington finished the night with no power play goals on four opportunities. The Caps now have only one power play goal in its last eight games.

Marc-Andre Fleuy’s third period

Fleury was not tested much in the first 40 minutes of the game. Washington's best opportunities came in the third period when they fired 10 shots on goal on the former Penguins' netminder. Fleury looked like his old Pittsburgh self as he made a number of key saves to snuff out any possibility of a late-game comeback.

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

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Barry Trotz explains why returning from a bye week is harder than you think

The biggest storyline surrounding the Capitals coming out of the bye week is how much the team seems to hate lengthy breaks.

By now you probably have heard Washington has lost three straight out of the bye. In addition to that, there have been three stretches this season in which the Caps have had to wait at least five days for their next contest. They lost two of those three games and they did so in decisive fashion.

Caps played Oct. 21, lost next game on Oct. 26 at Vancouver 6-2
Caps played Nov. 25, lost next game on Nov. 30 vs. Los Angeles 5-2
Caps played Jan. 2, won next game vs. St. Louis 4-3 in overtime

This also is not a new problem. Coming out of the bye week last season, Washington lost its first two games back and then went on to lose eight of 14 before they finally got back on track.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS LAND IN THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS?

But why? Aren’t breaks in the schedule a good thing? After all, the bye week was negotiated for by the Players’ Association.

On Tuesday after practice, Barry Trotz tried to explain the difficulties of returning from the bye.

“The best way I can describe it is it's not different than someone going on a 2-week vacation. You come back to work and the first couple days, not really productive, right?

“You know how it is, when you get back, it's hard to get back in that routine.”

The bye week in hockey is different than what we see in football. In addition to no games, the players do not even practice. They do not get the benefit of a having a week of practice before the next game like in the NFL.

This year in Washington’s case, the Caps did not even get a chance to practice before returning to game action as they were forced to cancel practice the day before their game in New Jersey due to travel issues.

“You lose a little bit of that edge, a little bit of that sharpness,” Trotz said. “You lose a little bit of everything and then when it's over 20 guys, then all of a sudden it's difficult.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov also noted how the team struggles in January and February as an additional explanation.

“Physically we're pretty good and emotionally we're pretty good,” he said. “It's just those moments. If you look at the last 3 years I've been here, it's every year the same [expletive], same time. Always those 10-15 games in late January, early February it's always been wasn't great for us.”

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You do often hear about the “dog days” of a season when it suddenly becomes hard for teams to stay motivated every single night with half the season still to go. Now add in a bye week and you can understand why it may be hard for the players to ramp up the intensity level.

The added obstacle for Washington is they now face another break with the All-Star Game. Thursday’s game in Florida will be the team’s only game in a nine-day period.

With the Metropolitan Division standings as tight as they are, the Caps likely cannot afford another stretch of eight losses in 14 games like they suffered last year.

It’s interesting to see a team struggle after having too much time off. It’s a problem most people reading this probably wish they had. But it’s one that’s not quite as easy to overcome as you may think.

“I just think from the last couple years with the breaks in it, you understand that it's not just, hey you had a break, you should be fresh when you go on the ice,” Trotz said. “Unless you've played the game, it's hard to explain to people.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!