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Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties weren’t the main reason the Caps fell to the Panthers on Saturday night, but taking six minors, including four in the second period, sure didn’t help matters.

“Penalties have been a little bit of an ongoing thing,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the 4-1 defeat at Capital One Arena. “It took all the rhythm out. It forced a big portion of our bench to sit there, get cold. In the second period, it was back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and it just sort of took all of the momentum. And now you’re chasing the game big time.”

Evgenii Dadonov scored on the power play late in the first period to stake Florida to a 2-0 lead. Then Vincent Trocheck closed the door midway through the second, sniping a 5-on-3 shot over Philipp Grubauer to make it 3-0.

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“We shot ourselves again in the foot a little bit with the penalties,” Grubauer said. “We got to move our feet. I wouldn’t call it lazy, I would call it being behind the play.”

Lars Eller was whistled for holding and tripping. Nicklas Backstrom doubled up, too, with interference and tripping infractions. Madison Bowey got called for hooking and Evgeny Kuznetsov was cited for high sticking. All of the penalties were assessed in the game’s first 33 minutes.

The impact of penalties, particularly when they’re taken so close to one another, cannot be disputed. In addition to the obvious advantage they give the other team, penalties also disrupt the flow of the game and the lines, while keeping goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov stapled to the bench. And they’re even harder to kill off on the second night of a back-to-back.    

“We took it to them and did all the right things 5 on 5 …but again all the penalties, it’s disrupting the flow of our team,” Eller said. “It’s hurting us a lot. I am guilty and other guys too. That’s a little thing that will make a big difference for us if we can improve on that.”

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The veteran center added: “It’s an easy fix. It’s a question of being a little bit more smart, taking an extra step [instead of reaching with the stick]. That will improve our game a lot.”

In nine games this season, the Caps have been assessed more penalties than their opponent five times. They’ve only taken fewer penalties than an opponent once.

“We have to nip the penalties in the bud,” Trotz said. “We seem to stack ‘em up. You’ll take the odd one but when you start stacking them up it’s a recipe for disaster for us.”

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Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.

On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.

That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.

The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.

"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."

Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.

Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.

The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.

For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.

Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.

"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.

"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about  Braden."

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 3

3 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 3

Down 0-2 in the series, the Capitals desperately needed a win Tuesday over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3.

They gave up a 1-0 and a 2-1 lead, but this time it was Washington who came away with the 3-2 victory at Nationwide Arena.

Here's how the Caps won Game 3 and got right back in the series.

Three Reasons Why The Capitals Won Game 3

1. Two slashes on Jakub Vrana

Columbus apparently has something against Vrana because the Blue Jackets spent much of the first period hacking the limbs of the young Capitals defenseman. It finally caught up to Columbus in the second period.

Brandon Dubinsky gave Vrana a two-hander that broke Vrana’s stick that drew a slashing penalty. Just 1:07 later, Vrana drew another slashing penalty, this time from Ryan Murray giving Washington a two-man advantage.

John Carlson scored just 28 seconds later to put the Caps up 2-1.

2. Braden Holtby

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a goal in the second period that Holtby should have had. Other than than, Holtby was stellar in his first playoff start of 2018.

The Caps were sloppy all night long, giving up numerous turnovers that turned into Grade A opportunities for Columbus.

Holtby saved his teammates' bacon time and time and time again with big save after big save. He was easily the Caps’ best player on the ice and his performance should remove any doubt as to who is the team’s playoff starter is for this team going forward.

3. An ugly game-winner

Time after time, Sergei Bobrovsky gave up some big rebounds that trickled harmlessly away with no Capitals player anywhere near it. Simply put, Washington did not get much pressure in front of the net in Game 3.

When they needed a goal, however, it does not get much uglier than Lars Eller’s overtime winner. The Caps rushed in on a 3-on-2. Brett Connolly took a quick shot which Bobrovsky easily stopped, but the rebound was up for grabs. Zach Werenski tried to clear the puck away, but it hit Eller as he crashed the net, hit back off Werenski, hit off the toe of Eller and into the net.

The lesson here is that if Bobrovsky is going to give up those rebounds, the Caps need to be in a position to take advantage.

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