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Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Heading into the 2017-18 season, defense was a question mark for the Capitals. That question mark grew even bigger with Matt Niskanen on LTIR. Now, in the wake of an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and with Niskanen out until at least early November, Barry Trotz knows the team needs to fix the blue line and they need to do it fast.

“We've got to be better,” Trotz told reporters after Tuesday’s morning skate. “But there’s areas of our game that we can be better. We can be better in our own zone. We can take care of business defensively. That’s got to be our security blanket. We had too many holes in our d-zone. It was like Swiss cheese.”

RELATED: TROTZ HAS SHUFFLED THE DEFENSIVE PAIRS. WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE NOW?

The team’s first response to Niskanen’s injury was to recall Madison Bowey, a player who impressed in training camp and who likely would have started the season on the team if not for a salary cap crunch and his waiver exempt status.

Bowey’s first game did not go well with the lasting memory being a highlight reel deke Jakub Voracek delivered to turn Bowey around before setting up another Philadelphia goal.

Trotz took ownership of Saturday’s game saying the team did not “insulate” Bowey very well in his NHL debut.

The problem is that it will difficult to insulate him or anyone on the Caps’ defense given how thin the blue line currently is. Washington’s defense currently features two rookies in Bowey and Christian Djoos and Bowey is only one of three right-handed shots. Plus, both Bowey and Djoos are likely better options than either Taylor Chorney or Aaron Ness so it will be tough to take either rookie out of the lineup.

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Given Washington’s salary cap constraints as they are right back up against the cap when Niskanen returns from injury and his salary is back on the books, it will be difficult for the Caps to make any sort of trade to bring in outside help. Many may point to goalie Philipp Grubauer as a trade chip, but his salary cap hit is only $1.5 million and you can subtract $650,000 from that as the team would have to recall Pheonix Copley to serve as backup. What kind of help can you really get with less than $1 million to play with?

If the team is going to turn things around and shore up its defense, it will mean improving from within.

Said Trotz, “We're in this for the long haul with our defense.”

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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Avalanche

The Caps were handed an ugly 6-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday and Washington will now return home with zero points on their two-game road swing. Here's why they lost to Colorado.

Another early goal

The Capitals had a rough start to their game Tuesday against Nashville. The Predators hit the post with their first shot and scored their first goal at 11:48. Their start on Thursday was worse. Washington did not get any help from the post and Gabriel Landeskog made Colorado’s first shot count just 17 seconds in. That set the tone for the entire game.

RELATED: BARRY TROTZ ON THURSDAY'S GAME, 'IT WAS ALL JUNK'

The late first period goal

Despite the bad start, the Caps kept it 1-0 through the first and looked like they would have a chance to regroup in the locker room before the second…but they allowed a Nathan MacKinnon goal with just seven seconds left in the first. That is a backbreaker.

Mistakes with the puck

For years, the Capitals were criticized for being “too cute,” for not making the simple plays. As a highly skilled team, they could pull off some of those beautiful plays. They are not that team anymore. Washington made a lot of mistakes on Thursday and a lot of them came because they would not make the simple, easy play.

You can read more about Washington’s mistakes with the puck here.

The Caps frequently turned the puck over because they would not make easy passes electing instead to go for the home runs. They could not get sustained offense because they kept turning the puck over in the neutral zone.

MORE CAPITALS: WHO WERE THE 3 STARS OF CAPS-AVALANCHE

Missed third period power play opportunity

It looked like the Caps would trail 4-1 heading into the third period, but Washington somehow won a coach’s challenge on a goal by Nikita Zadorov for goalie interference. With a second chance at life and down by only two heading into the third period, the Caps had a golden opportunity less than three minutes into the final frame when they were given a power play opportunity. They did not take advantage. A goal in that situation would have pulled Washington within one with a lot of time left to play. T.J. Oshie came close as he hit the post, but the Caps ultimately failed to score and gave up a fourth goal on a penalty shot just 16 seconds after Colorado returned to full strength.

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Tarik's three stars: Caps buried by Avalanche

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Tarik's three stars: Caps buried by Avalanche

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog each had huge performances for the Avalanche, who jumped out to an early lead and thumped the Caps, 6-2, at Pepsi Center.

The loss was the Caps’ second in a row overall and fourth in their last five games away from Capital One Arena. Colorado, meantime, snapped a six-game losing streak against Washington with the win, their first victory in four contests.

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Tarik’s three stars of the night:

1-Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche

MacKinnon got off to a poor start this season, producing just one goal and a minus-8 rating in his first 10 games. Lately, however, the 2013 first overall pick has been hot…as the Caps found out. With seven seconds remaining in the opening frame, MacKinnon turned Brett Connolly inside out, then stuck a shot underneath the crossbar to put the Avs ahead 2-0. MacKinnon also recorded a trio of primary assists and a secondary helper, giving him a five-point performance.

2-Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Landeskog, who recorded a hat trick, struck on the Avs’ first shift, sniping a shot past backup goalie Philipp Grubauer just 17 seconds into the contest. The top-line winger’s second score came on a penalty shot early in the third period, staking the home team to a commanding 4-1 lead. Landeskog put home his own rebound with 25.2 seconds remaining in the game for his third goal of the night.

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ EXPLAINS WHY VRANA WAS A HEALTHY SCRATCH

3-Tom Wilson, Capitals

Wilson blocked a slap shot from close range in the second period, leaving him limping for the remainder of his shorthanded shift. Then, a short while later, No. 43 set up the Caps’ first goal with a nifty pass from the corner right to Connolly at the doorstep. The primary helper was Wilson’s second in three games.