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For the second straight game, Caps' leaky penalty kill delivers in critical moment

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For the second straight game, Caps' leaky penalty kill delivers in critical moment

In Thursday's win over the New York Islanders, the Capitals penalty kill allowed two goals on just four power plays. While that's not good, Barry Trotz defended his unit for a critical kill in the third period when the score was tied.

“I'm not going to beat up on the PK because the PK, when it mattered most, they got it done,” he said.

You may have dismissed Trotz's comments as overly optimistic considering the penalty kill unit has struggled all season. But, after another critical kill on Saturday against the Boston Bruins, there may be something to that "bend but don't break" mentality.

RELATED: 4 REASONS WHY THE CAPS BEAT THE BRUINS

Washington entered the third period in Boston with a 3-1 lead, but Brooks Orpik took a double-minor for high sticking David Pastrnak less than a minute in. WIth four full minutes of power play time in front of them, it was the perfect opportunity for the Bruins to retake momentum and push to tie up the game.

Yet, the penalty killers buckled down and managed to kill off both ends of the double minor in impressive fashion. Over the four minutes, the Bruins managed just three shot attempts and two shots on goal. A suddenly very aggressive Capitals penalty kill was credited with four shorthanded shot attempts and three shots on goal including a Tom Wilson breakaway. Lars Eller also had a breakaway just as the penalty expired.

In four minutes, the Capitals actually had the better offensive chances than the Bruins despite being down a man.

"Our penalty kill was huge tonight," Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. "I think actually the special teams had a big impact on the game."

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON'S BIG NIGHT ON OFFENSE FUELS CAPS TO THE WIN IN BOSTON

Boston's top offensive players were on the ice for an extended amount of time as they pushed to even up the score, but the Caps were able to maintain their two-goal lead. That meant that even after the power play, Boston still needed big minutes from those same players to continue to push offensively. Those minutes can really start to add up in the latter stages of the game.

"You don't know how big that was until the end of the game because I know they had that power play and that big unit out there for a long extended time," Trotz said. "... They were out there for awhile and then they had to come back again so that can be real taxing. That might have been a real key for us."

Washington was not able to escape the game with a perfect night on the PK as Pastrnak scored on the power play with less than three minutes remaining to pull Boston within one. The big takeaway, however, was that the Caps were again able to shut down an opponent when it mattered most. Though Washington's penalty kill ranks only 28th in the NHL at 74.6-percent, it may well have won the game on Saturday and that's what ultimately counts.

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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.