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Barry Trotz warns Caps about confident Coyotes calling Monday's matchup a 'trap game'

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Barry Trotz warns Caps about confident Coyotes calling Monday's matchup a 'trap game'

The Caps will be looking to win three games in a row for the first time this season when they host the league-worst Coyotes on Monday night.

Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz had the players lined up for the morning skate:

Forwards
Vrana – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly
Stephenson – Eller – Wilson
O’Brien/Walker – Beagle – Chiasson

Defense
Djoos – Carlson
Orpik – Bowey
Orlov – Chorney

Extra: Ness

So, yeah, the forward combos and D-pairs look awfully similar to what we’ve seen in recent games.

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Lineup aside, here's what we were talking about at the morning skate:

  • Braden Holtby is expected to start vs. Arizona, with backup Philipp Grubauer expected to get the nod Tuesday in Buffalo. Why? “We’re trying to establish some traction at home,” Trotz said, referring to the Caps’ 2-3-0 record on F Street. “And obviously Buffalo is sitting there waiting for us. So let’s make sure we take care of business at home. Most nights Grubi is going to get that back-to-back.”
  • Holtby (7-3-0, 2.70 goals against, .921 save percentage) will oppose Scott Wedgewood (1-1-0, 3.41 goals against, .900 save percentage).
  • It’s unclear who the fourth line left wing will be for the Caps as both Liam O’Brien and Nathan Walker came off the ice at the same time.
  • Trotz said he warned his players about overlooking the speedy Coyotes, who are a league-worst 2-12-1 but have won two of their last four games. “I think Phoenix is a very dangerous team. In some ways it’s a little bit of a trap game because you look at the record and go, ‘That’s not a very good record.’ …They’ve won two of their last four games. They look confident.” Trotz added that he thinks Arizona is one of the faster teams in the NHL and is more talented that the record reflects at the moment.
  • One area where Trotz wants to see his team improve is on special teams. The power play is 16th overall (18.6 percent) but just 31st at home (5.3 percent). The uber-skilled unit hasn’t scored a 5-on-4 goal since New Jersey, a span of 10 games. The penalty kill, meanwhile, is 27th with a success rate of 74.6-percent. “If you assess our special teams right now, the penalty kill has had big moments; it’s like a goaltender you make the big save when you need to,” Trotz said. “And they have for the most part [but] we probably have lost a point or two because we weren’t able to get a kill. And we’ve probably lost a point [because we didn't] get an extra goal from the power play.” Trotz added: “Our power play at home is 31st in the league. With that group of guys, it’s got to produce there. They will. We don’t have any worries about that, but it would make things easier.”
  • Brett Connolly (upper body) hit the ice before the morning skate but there is no timetable for his return. He’s missed the past four games.
  • Tyler Graovac (upper body) joined his teammates for the morning skate and is progressing, but Trotz said there’s no timetable for him, either.
  • Matt Niskanen is eligible to come off LTIR Tuesday in Buffalo but that doesn’t seem to be plausible given that he hasn’t started skating with his teammates yet.
  • No update on Andre Burakovsky (thumb surgery) but we know he’s out until sometime next month.

 

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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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