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Despite shootout win, Capitals defense still has a lot to sort out

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USA TODAY Sports

Despite shootout win, Capitals defense still has a lot to sort out

The biggest question mark for the Capitals heading into the 2017-18 season was their defense.

After one game — a 4-4 shootout win over the Senators — it is safe to say it remains a question mark, albeit an early one.

A training-camp competition led to Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney getting the first game as the bottom pair. The results were not exactly encouraging. But such is life for a new partnership in Game 1 of an 82-game season.

The two seemed to struggle immensely looking lost at times in their own end. The game looked especially big for Ness, who took two penalties on the night, one for holding the stick and another for slashing.

Barry Trotz also did not seem sold on the pairing based on their playing time.

RELATED: OVECHKIN NETS HAT TRICK IN THIRD PERIOD ALONE

Ness got only 11:12 of playing time and Chorney got 12:41. The other defensemen were leaned on heavily with 25:03 for Niskanen, 26:06 for Orlov, 27:45 for Carlson and 24:47 for Orpik.

The five penalties the team had to kill impacted the playing time as Chorney only logged 38 seconds shorthanded while Ness had no time at all. 

But that also further highlights the point. Of the team’s six defensemen, Trotz felt comfortable with only four of them on the penalty kill.

Interestingly, however, while all eyes were on the Capitals’ third pair of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney, it was turnovers from the top two pairs that nearly cost Washington the season-opener.

In the second period, Carlson attempted an ill-advised pass off the wall in the neutral zone that was immediately gobbled up by Mark Stone. That launched a play Stone was able to finish with a goal to make it 2-1 Ottawa. Later, in the third period, facing pressure from Derick Brassard, Matt Niskanen’s pass in the defensive zone was intercepted and Brassard was able to bury it past Braden Holtby for the 3-1 lead.

With the questions this team faces with its third pair, it cannot survive if its top two pairs are giving up egregious turnovers. But again, it's very early, and concerns can be erased in a hurry.

But it would not be a surprise to see defensive prospect Christian Djoos — who was a healthy scratch for Thursday’s game — get a sweater for Saturday’s home opener as Trotz tinkers to find the right combination.

Madison Bowey is also waiting in the wings in Hershey. He had a strong camp and looked like one of the team’s top six defensemen, but because of his waiver status he found himself to be the odd man out. His return to Washington could come sooner rather than later if he plays well and the Caps’ defense continues to struggle on the bottom pair.

Ness and Chorney will get more time to adjust. It is the start of the season and it is unlikely Trotz will abandon the pair altogether after just one game.

But they will certainly need a better performance than what they showed on Thursday if they hope to stick.

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Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Bruins will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Bruins game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals (19-12-1) take on the Bruins (15-9-4) Thursday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Boston.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Bruins game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Capitals GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington following the game for Caps Extra, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Bruins
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals-Bruins game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR CAPITALS-BRUINS?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Alex Chiasson
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury), Taylor Chorney

CAPITALS-BRUINS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?