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


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.


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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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

How much better would your work environment be if you had a chance to pin a coworker or get them in a chokehold? Probably a lot. That's what the Caps are banking on.

The team visited the FBI Academy on Wednesday in a team building exercise that included raming doors and, of course, hand to hand combat.

Let's break down some of these wrestling matchups.

Braden Holtby appears to be thanking John Carlson for playing 27:33 on Tuesday.

It seems dangerous to pit a goalie against a defenseman. Carlson spends all of his time on the ice trying to protect Holtby. Just how hard was Carlson really trying to take down Holtby?

It's no surprise seeing Tom Wilson enjoying himself with the hand to hand combat. Whoever went up against him (it looks like Jay Beagle) certainly drew the short straw.

And then there's this.

Nicklas Backstrom is having way, way too much fun. Maybe Andre Burakovsky was getting a bit chesty in the locker room after his first NHL fight. Well, it seems Backstrom certainly put him in his place.

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss


There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.


Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”


What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.