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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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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Avalanche

The Caps were handed an ugly 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday and Washington will now return home with zero points on their two-game road swing. Here's why they lost to Colorado.

Another early goal

The Capitals had a rough start to their game Tuesday against Nashville. The Predators hit the post with their first shot and scored their first goal at 11:48. Their start on Thursday was worse. Washington did not get any help from the post and Gabriel Landeskog made Colorado’s first shot count just 17 seconds in. That set the tone for the entire game.

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The late first period goal

Despite the bad start, the Caps kept it 1-0 through the first and looked like they would have a chance to regroup in the locker room before the second…but they allowed a Nathan MacKinnon goal with just seven seconds left in the first. That is a backbreaker.

Mistakes with the puck

For years, the Capitals were criticized for being “too cute,” for not making the simple plays. As a highly skilled team, they could pull off some of those beautiful plays. They are not that team anymore. Washington made a lot of mistakes on Thursday and a lot of them came because they would not make the simple, easy play.

You can read more about Washington’s mistakes with the puck here.

The Caps frequently turned the puck over because they would not make easy passes electing instead to go for the home runs. They could not get sustained offense because they kept turning the puck over in the neutral zone.

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Missed third period power play opportunity

It looked like the Caps would trail 4-1 heading into the third period, but Washington somehow won a coach’s challenge on a goal by Nikita Zadorov for goalie interference. With a second chance at life and down by only two heading into the third period, the Caps had a golden opportunity less than three minutes into the final frame when they were given a power play opportunity. They did not take advantage. A goal in that situation would have pulled Washington within one with a lot of time left to play. T.J. Oshie came close as he hit the post, but the Caps ultimately failed to score and gave up a fourth goal on a penalty shot just 16 seconds after Colorado returned to full strength.

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Tarik's three stars: Caps buried by Avalanche

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Tarik's three stars: Caps buried by Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each had huge performances for the Avalanche, who jumped out to an early lead and thumped the Caps, 6-2, at Pepsi Center.

The loss was the Caps’ second in a row overall and fourth in their last five games away from Capital One Arena. Colorado, meantime, snapped a six-game losing streak against Washington with the win, their first victory in four contests.

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Tarik’s three stars of the night:

1-Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche

MacKinnon got off to a poor start this season, producing just one goal and a minus-8 rating in his first 10 games. Lately, however, the 2013 first overall pick has been hot…as the Caps found out. With seven seconds remaining in the opening frame, MacKinnon turned Brett Connolly inside out, then stuck a shot underneath the crossbar to put the Avs ahead 2-0. MacKinnon also recorded a trio of primary assists and a secondary helper, giving him a five-point performance.

2-Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Landeskog, who recorded a hat trick, struck on the Avs’ first shift, sniping a shot past backup goalie Philipp Grubauer just 17 seconds into the contest. The top-line winger’s second score came on a penalty shot early in the third period, staking the home team to a commanding 4-1 lead. Landeskog put home his own rebound with 25.2 seconds remaining in the game for his third goal of the night.

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3-Tom Wilson, Capitals

Wilson blocked a slap shot from close range in the second period, leaving him limping for the remainder of his shorthanded shift. Then, a short while later, No. 43 set up the Caps’ first goal with a nifty pass from the corner right to Connolly at the doorstep. The primary helper was Wilson’s second in three games.