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Caps give up game-winning goal because of NHL's vague possession rule

Caps give up game-winning goal because of NHL's vague possession rule

Sports leagues work very hard to eliminate grey areas from the rule books in order to avoid instances like what happened between the Caps and Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

In the third period of a tie game, the Caps were awaiting a delayed penalty on Tom Wilson. As the offending team, that means the next time they took possession of the puck, the play would be called dead and the penalty would be assessed to Wilson.

But what is possession? That is one of the remaining grey areas in the NHL and it cost the Caps dearly.

RELATED: 4 reasons the Caps lost to the Hurricanes

While on the attack, Carolina’s Justin Faulk fired a shot on Braden Holtby. Holtby made the initial save and the rebound bounced into the air and back out to the slot. Defenseman Brooks Orpik tried to bat the puck out of the air and clearly made contact with it, but the play was allowed to continue. The puck bounced to Victor Rask who shot what would be the game-winning goal past Holtby.

You can see the play here.

“[The referees] didn't really want to give us an explanation and they moved on from it pretty quickly, but a lot of us were pretty frustrated with it,” Orpik said.

There is no real answer in the NHL rules as to what qualifies possession so it is left to the discretion of the referees. In this case, they allowed play to continue.

From their standpoint, however, the Caps were assuming the play would be called dead and that led to hesitation that may well have cost them the goal.

“Probably we hesitated for a half second,” Holtby said. “That's a play where I thought everyone thought it was going to be blown down.”

The question is whether or not the play should have been whistled when Orpik touches the puck.

“That's the whole question of possession and I think intentionally whacking a puck is possession because you're directing it,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Now if you're just tipping a pass, that's not possession.”

Orpik had an interesting argument as to why the play should have qualified as possession.

“If I make that same play and it goes over the glass, that's a delay of game penalty for sure. If that's a delay of game penalty then I think you have to call that possession. That was the argument we had and they didn't really give us any clarification.”

“That one's tough because it's in the air and the rule can't sort of go both ways so technically that would be control,” Trotz said. “It just doesn't look like control.”

Trotz also said he intended to ask the league for clarification. Whatever explanation he may get, however, it won’t change the outcome or the frustration the team feels after getting burned by a rule that no one seems to really understand.

Said Orpik, “We all were confused by it and frustrated by it especially when that winds up being the winning goal.”

More Capitals: Capitals sound off on John Carlson's All-Star snub

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

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USA TODAY Sports

Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.

RELATED: HERE'S WHY THE CAPS LOST TO PHILADELPHIA

Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-FLYERS

But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.

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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Flyers

4 reasons the Caps lost to the Flyers

The Capitals never gained possession of the puck in overtime on Sunday before Travis Konecny scored the game-winner. Despite playing better than they had in their previous two games, Washington still walked away with a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers and only one point to show for their effort. Here are four reasons why.

A blown 2-on-1

Alex Ovechkin made a great defensive play in the first period with a steal high in the defensive zone to launch himself and Evgeny Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1. Ovechkin took the first shot which was saved by Brian Elliott. The rebound went right to Kuznetsov who was in position to tap it into the empty net, but instead, he sent the puck right back to Elliott. To be fair, it was a bit of a difficult angle for Kuznetsov, but that's a play that has to result in a goal, especially in a game as close as this one.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-FLYERS

Brian Elliott

Elliott had a fantastic game as he denied the Caps on 27 of their 28 shots, many of which were very quality scoring opportunities. Two saves in particular stood out starting with a save on Ovechkin in the first period. The Great 8 was all alone in the slot, but Elliott managed to get in front of the puck and send up and over the net. In the second period, he made another dynamic save as he denied Nicklas Backstrom with the pad when the Caps' center managed to get his stick on the puck in the slot.

A lost faceoff in overtime

Many people wondered why Alex Ovechkin was not on the ice to start overtime, but it was another player's absence that really cost them: Jay Beagle. Beagle's faceoff win percentage of 57.5-percent puts him among the top faceoff men in the league, but Kuznetsov was the first center for the extra session. Sean Couturier beat Kuznetsov on the faceoff to start overtime and the Caps never gained possession at any point before Travis Konecny fired the game-winner past Holtby. Beagle is not the type of player you would typically want out on overtime, but when one possession can cost you the game as it did on Sunday, perhaps the Caps need to get him out there just for the opening faceoff to give themselves a better shot at gaining the first possession and thus a better chance of winning the game.

A neutral zone misplay by John Carlson

If you are going to try to hit a player with the puck in the neutral zone, you better make sure he doesn't get past you or you have put your team in a tough position. That is exactly what happened in overtime when Carlson attempted to pin Konecny along the boards. Konecny squeezed his way through the hip check immediately creating a 2-on-1 opportunity for the Flyers which he would turn into the game-winning goal.