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After a rough night in Tampa, it is time to talk about the Capitals' third defensive pair

After a rough night in Tampa, it is time to talk about the Capitals' third defensive pair

It was a rough night for the Capitals’ third defensive pair. With their biggest test of the season, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney clearly struggled against the high-powered offense of the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 overtime loss on Monday

Ness’ rough night started in the first period when he took two minor penalties, one for a cross check and another for hooking. He now has four minor penalties on the season. He also gave up a number of turnovers as he struggled against the pressure of the Tampa offense.

You can see an example here:

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Ness found himself boxed into the defensive zone by Tampa’s forecheck. He then attempted an ill-advised pass to Devante-Smith Pelly that was easily stolen away by Ryan Callahan forcing Philipp Grubauer to make a very good save at the top of the crease on Victor Hedman.

But it wasn’t just Ness who struggled. In the third period, Ness and Chorney were put on the ice with the task of protecting the team’s 3-2 lead. A slick pass by Alex Killorn put Nikita Kucherov in a one-on-one situation with Chorney. The result was not good for the Caps as Kucherov was able to use his speed to easily turn the corner on Chorney and backhand the shot into the top shelf for the game-tying tally. Chorney would not see the ice again for the rest of the game.

If you are into the fancy stats, the numbers for this third pairing are not good at all.  One could potentially dismiss those numbers as simply being a small sample size, but you cannot dismiss Barry Trotz's apparent distrust of that pair and the tangible impact it had on Monday's game.

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If you thought it looked like the Caps were worn down as the game went along, you're right. The ice clearly titled in Tampa Bay’s favor in the third period and it was not hard to see why. Here is the playing time for the Caps’ defensemen on the night:

Matt Niskanen - 25:55
Dmitry Orlov - 27:33
Brooks Orpik - 22:47
John Carlson - 26:15
Taylor Chorney - 10:17
Aaron Ness - 8:56

The Capitals were virtually playing with four defensemen and the team ran out of gas in the third, getting outshot by a whopping 17-6 margin in the final frame.

So what are the Caps' options? Christian Djoos remains on the active roster and has been a healthy scratch for each of the Capitals’ first three games. Madison Bowey meanwhile was sent down to Hershey despite looking like one of the better defensemen in training camp and the preseason. It would not be surprising if one of those players found their way into the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night. putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

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