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Barry Trotz moves Aaron Ness...to the right

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USA TODAY Sports

Barry Trotz moves Aaron Ness...to the right

It was clear after the Capitals’ loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday that change was needed on the blue line. Barry Trotz did indeed change the third defensive pair ahead of Wednesday’s rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was perhaps not the change many expected.

It will be Taylor Chorney, not Aaron Ness, who comes out of the lineup as Christian Djoos is set to make his NHL debut. That is a bit surprising considering Ness has taken four minor penalties in three games this season and Trotz limited his playing time Monday to less than nine minutes.

But despite not coming out of the lineup, Ness will still see a change. With Djoos coming in to play on the left side, Ness, a left-handed shot, will move to the right. Chorney, who is also a left-handed shot, had previously played on the right the first three games with Ness on the left.

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Trotz explained the move after Wednesday’s morning skate saying Chorney had hit a “rough patch” of late and that Ness has played both sides previously.

Despite a reprieve from the press box, however, both Trotz and Ness know he has to play better going forward.

“There's a couple games where you'd like to see his skating stand out more and I think early in the first couple ones you didn't see that,” Trotz said. “…I really like Ness when he's come up in the middle of the season both years where he's got his game really in order and he's getting lots of minutes and he's flying around, we bring him up and it's slower. It's early in the season so he'll get there. I think if you talk to Nesser he could be a little bit better as well.”

“I think there's another level for me,” Ness said. “I think I can play better and contribute more offensively and just continue to be reliable as much as possible and continue to get better and better every game. That's always the goal I think throughout the season and it's a challenge, but it's a fun one.”

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Step one will be taking fewer penalties, something Ness has not struggled with in the past.

“I don't even know if I had five penalties all year last year so it's not something I'm worried about,” he said. “I'm just going to keep playing hard and as physical as possible and hopefully cut down on the minutes obviously.”

While the Capitals may have earned five of a possible six points through their first three games, the defensive struggles have been troubling. With Madison Bowey playing in Hershey waiting for his crack at the NHL, Ness, Djoos and Chorney have to justify their spots on the Caps’ roster.

Ness and Chorney got the first chance on the third pair and they struggled. Now we will see what Djoos can do and if Ness can handle playing on the right.

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3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

The Caps battled through the rust on Thursday to earn a point in New Jersey. On Friday, rust cost them yet again as they fell 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens.

Here's why they lost.

4 shots on goal in the first period

Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi has had his struggles this season. Yes, he has played better since getting claimed off waivers by Montreal, but getting to play against Niemi instead of Carey Price wass a golden opportunity for the Caps to generate some offense. Washington, however, had very little offense to speak at the end of the night. How did they respond with Niemi in net? By getting only four shots in the first period. Four. They finished with 26 shots on goal for the game, but had they come out swinging in the first and put pressure up early on Niemi, they could have gotten a much different result.

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Bad passing

After the game, Lars Eller said "It was one of the sloppiest games we've played if not the sloppiest. I don't think we've given up so any odd-man rushes or chances in one game." In no aspect were the Caps more sloppy than with their passing. Here are just a few examples.

A cross-ice backhand pass in the defensive zone? Really? You are not going to be successful trying to make those type of plays and it cost the Caps. They could not maintain possession of the puck or breakout of their zone and it led to several odd-man rushes for Montreal.

Rust

It's not an excuse. The Caps should have played better on Friday regardless, but there's no arguing the fact that rust was a factor. It was abundantly clear that the Caps were out of sync. That will happen when you are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back with no practice time.

Saturday's practice will be absolutely critical since Washington faces a matinee game on Sunday, their third contest in four days.

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3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

The first time the Caps hosted the Montreal Canadiens this season, Alex Ovechkin tallied four goals as the Caps dominated in a 6-1 thrashing.

Friday's game featured considerably less offense as Montreal just managed to squeak by Washington 3-2.

Philipp Grubuaer got the start and did everything he could to keep Washington in it, but the Caps struggled to find much offense.

Alex Ovechkin did manage to register assist No. 499 as he set up John Carlson on the power play and Lars Eller scored late, but it would not be enough for the Caps to come back.

Here are the three stars of the game.

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1. Max Pacioretty: The Canadiens struggled to get anything past Grubauer in this one, but Pacioretty finally did in the second period on the power play. It was simple enough, he found the puck at his feet, turned and shot.

When goalies start to frustrate teams, we see a lot of players respond by looking for the perfect play and give up good opportunities for more difficult passes. Pacioretty was smart, he just shot. He also added an assist on Paul Byron's goal as the puck bounced off the board and off Pacioretty's skate right to Byron.

He ultimately put the exclamation point on the win with an empty-net goal as well to complete a three-point night.

2. Philipp Grubauer: Grubauer certainly didn't look like a backup goalie in this one. He was strong in net all night long, but his best save came in the first period. Pacioretty hit the side of the net to Grubauer's left on a pretty passing play, but the puck bounced out to the slot and Charles Hudon passed it over to Paul Byron on Grubauer's right. Grubauer dove with his arm outstretched and managed to corral the puck into his body to keep it out of the net.

He would finish the game with several more fantastic saves, 23 in all despite the loss.

3. Andre Burakovsky: It would be hard to draw up a better return to the lineup for Burakovsky.

He started on the fourth line, but he wasn't there for long. He had four shot attempts in a first period in which the Caps struggled to get anything going offensively at all. He also had a breakaway opportunity in the third period as he came out of the penalty box. He had Antti Niemi beat, but hit the post.

It was the second time Burakovsky struck iron in the game. Hedid just about everything right, but just couldn't light the lamp.