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NHL Power Rankings: Have the Caps turned things around?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Have the Caps turned things around?

There was plenty of hand-wringing in Washington after the first month of the season. We all knew this would not be the same Capitals team we have seen in recent years, but perhaps many were not anticipating just how stark the contrast would be.

In their first 12 games of the season, Washington managed only a 5-6-1 record. Last year, the Caps jumped out to a 5-2-1 start in the eight games they played in October.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Three major problems have held this team back thus far. One, they lost a lot of players over the course of the offseason and did not have the money to effectively replace them. Two, the major changes to the lineup also changed the team’s dynamic meaning they had to play differently to be successful, a lesson they clearly struggled with. Three, their luck in terms of health finally caught up with them. There were, of course, other factors, but these seemed to be the main issues.

But now there is reason for hope as Washington has won three of its last four games and the team looks settled into its new identity. The Caps are getting more depth scoring and Braden Holtby has looked tremendous in net. They aren’t all the way there just yet – their top offensive performers have been relatively quiet, the blue line is still a work in progress and both sides of the special teams have not been great – but this team certainly looks better now than it did in the first month of the seaosn.

Now, let’s be real. Four games is a pretty small sample size and the story may be very different next week. The fact is Washington did not drop as far in the Power Rankings as they could have because they are a better team than how they looked over the first month and the same holds true now. They did not shoot up the rankings after just one week because we need to see more.

So just where did the Caps land? Find out here in this week’s rankings.

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!

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

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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.