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5 reasons why the Caps beat the Oilers

5 reasons why the Caps beat the Oilers

Things did not start well on Saturday, but the Capitals escaped Edmonton with a 5-2 win. Here's why.

1. The Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly line

Were you confused when you saw Devante Smith-Pelly would be playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov? It’s okay to admit it. With injuries throughout the lineup and in the midst of a slump, Barry Trotz had to shake up his lines and Smith-Pelly found himself on the top line. He may well have saved the game with his first goal as a Cap. Down 2-0, Smith-Pelly got Washington on the board with just 17 seconds left in the first period. That goal was the first of five unanswered scored by the Caps. It wasn't just Smith-Pelly, however, as the whole line seemed to have instant chemistry. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two incredible goals in the third period to put the Caps in control. Ovechkin, meanwhile, recorded three assists for the first time since Nov. 2, 2014.


2. Eller had his best game of the season

Lars Eller came to play on Saturday. He was flying all over the ice and he was finally rewarded with his first goal of the season, a one-timer with so much power behind it that the shot actually sent Eller airborne.

That goal tied the game at two. Washington would not trail again.

3. Holtby’s third period

Braden Holtby always rebounds after a tough performance and he did again on Saturday. After getting pulled in Thursday’s game against Vancouver, Holtby returned to the crease in Edmonton and turned aside 38 of the 40 shots he faced. Early in the third period with the Caps protecting a one-goal lead, John Carlson was just a bit too casual retrieving a puck behind the goal line and it was stolen away by Connor McDavid and fed to Jussi Jokinen for the one-timer. Holtby stopped the initial shot and two more on the resulting scrum to keep the Caps ahead. Those were three critical saves to bail the team out after a sloppy turnover.


4. Backstrom shutting down McDavid

McDavid had one assist on the night but he was largely a non-factor in the game thanks to the efforts of Nicklas Backstrom. In his return from an illness, Backstrom spent much of the night battling McDavid and the Oilers’ top line. If Backstrom was going to campaign for the Selke Trophy, this would game would feature prominently in the highlight reel.

5. A shutdown effort by the penalty kill

Washington had allowed six power play goals in its last three games. They faced four power plays on Saturday, but this time walked away unscathed. Both of Eller’s delay of game penalties came at critical times. Had Edmonton scored on either of them, it could have swung the momentum back in their favor and the Caps could easily have been handed the loss.

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


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.


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!

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again


Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.


Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.


But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.