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Barry Trotz isn't happy about the 'soccer mentality' creeping into the NHL or his team's lack of power plays

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Barry Trotz isn't happy about the 'soccer mentality' creeping into the NHL or his team's lack of power plays

Barry Trotz says the Capitals are frustrated by the low number of power plays they've been awarded and the way some opponents have gone about drawing penalties this season.

“I despise diving, and our guys know it,” Trotz said. “We don’t try to go down easy. We’re not getting any penalties. …We’ve got to keep our legs moving, which will help. But we’re getting a little bit frustrated because some of the soccer mentality is back in our league a little bit—go down easy.”

A moment later, Trotz cracked: “All of the soccer fans will be happy about that one. …It’s a sell. Some guys sell it better. We’ve got to stay out of the box and draw some more penalties.” 

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The Caps’ power play unit has been good though 12 games, clicking at a 21.6-percent rate. But Nicklas Backstrom and Co. are just 25th in power play opportunities (37), including a grand total of two over the past two games (none in Edmonton and two in Calgary).

For comparison’s sake, the Wild is dead last (29) and the Blackhawks are first (55). Twenty teams, meantime, have been on the man advantage 42 or more times.

In addition to resisting the urge to dive, Trotz said, the Caps have also been hurt by their own game. As he noted, his players can draw more whistles by possessing the puck more, generating longer shifts in the offensive zone and keeping their feet moving when engaged with opponents—all of which tend to lead to trips, hooks and holds.  

“We’ve been pretty good the last couple of years at extending shifts and drawing those 'tired' penalties on teams,” Trotz added. “We haven’t been able to do that as much. That’s partly on us, partly on our game.”

MORE CAPITALS: JAY BEAGLE IS STILL CONFIDENT IN THE CAPS, KNOWS THE TEAM IS 'BUILDING TOWARDS SOMETHING'

The power play has converted on eight of its 37 opportunities. Backstrom has the most points (7), while T.J. Oshie and Ovechkin are first and second in goals with 4 and 3, respectively.

So it’s going okay. The Caps just need to find a way to get the unit more time on the ice.

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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.”

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ LIKES WHAT VRANA BRINGS EVEN IF THE ICE TIME ISN'T THERE

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!