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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: A tale of two teams

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NHL Power Rankings: A tale of two teams

If it seems like the Caps have been inconsistent of late, you’re half right.

In their last 10 games, the Caps have gone 6-4-0 with 25 goals for and 27 goals against. They dominated Pittsburgh and ended Minnesota’s win streak, but also suffered an ugly two-game road trip in Nashville and Colorado. They lost to Buffalo, but just barely managed wins over Edmonton and Arizona.

All of this makes it hard to figure out just what sort of team the Caps are.

There is one pattern, however.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

In those same 10 games, Washington is 5-0-0 at home with 15 goals for and eight against. On the road, they are 1-4-0 with 10 goals for and 19 against.

Washington has enjoyed a lot of success in recent years in the friendly confines of what is now called Capital One Arena. Even with the roster turnover this team saw over the offseason, the Caps are still getting a boost on home ice.

What makes them play so differently at home vs. on the road? Besides rules meant to favor the home team such as last change, energy may also play a big factor.

In Nashville and Colorado, the Caps struggled in the first period. Washington really seemed to wait for their opponents to come to them. They played a reactive game, not a proactive one and they paid the price for it. In both games, they found themselves down 2-0 after 20 minutes. Back at home on Saturday, there was a different energy at the start of the game. The Caps scored first and then responded with a second goal just 44 seconds after Minnesota tied the game.

How much of that energy at the start of the game had to do with the home crowd? It's a question with no quantifiable answer, but clear difference between the team's success at home vs. the road seems to suggest the crowd has at least some effect.

Here’s another stat to show you how important energy is for this team: in back to back games this season, the Caps are 0-4-0. In all four games, they gave up the first goal and never lead in the first period.

If Washington wants to improve its record, a major key to that will be getting better starts. If they feed off the energy of the home crowd, great, but they need to find something else to boost them on the road.

After their ugly road trip, the Caps took a hit in this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Find out where they land here.

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Nicklas Backstrom is trying really hard not to get frustrated with lack of goals

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Nicklas Backstrom is trying really hard not to get frustrated with lack of goals

Nicklas Backstrom has made a career out of setting up other players, but what many forget is that he is a pretty darn good scorer in his own right. Just not these days.

Backstrom had three goals in the first six games of the season, but since then he has been held scoreless. His last goal game on Oct. 14 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

RELATED: LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST ON THE CAPS' WIN OVER MINNESOTA!

Offense, in general, has been hard to come by for the veteran center who also underwent a career-long seven-game pointless streak.

While Backstrom has managed to get back on the score sheet with three assists in his last five games, he still can’t seem to get a goal.

“Obviously you want to score,” Backstrom said. “That's a no brainer, but at the same time you've just got to stick with it. I mean, at least I created chances tonight.”

While the goals may not be there, however, the chances are. For Barry Trotz, that’s an encouraging sign.

“Backy was on the bench, I gave him a little tap I said you know the hockey gods will even that out,” Trotz said. “You probably could have had three tonight and he'll probably get one of those leaky lizards go through the legs or through the arms and one from a bad angle. They'll even it out for him.”

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With Backstrom taking on a more defensive shutdown role this season, his offensive numbers have taken a hit. The Capitals, however, do not have the same scoring depth as in recent years and need Backstrom, still arguably their best center, to produce offensively in order to be successful. He is just too good of a player to not produce.

But given his recent play, Trotz is not all that concerned and believes the goals are coming. Backstrom seems to agree.

“The sun goes up the next day anyway even if I don't score,” he said, “So you've just got to stick with it, work hard and hopefully you'll get rewarded.”