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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.

RELATED: EVGENY KUZNETSOV COULD HAVE CHANGED TUESDAY'S GAME, HERE'S HOW

Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN TUESDAY'S DEFENSIVE BATTLE?

What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.

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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

El-Bashir: Through the Caps' first 45 games, there have been some great goals, scintillating saves and thrilling overtime sessions. But the biggest moment, to me, wasn’t really moment at all. It was the day or so after the Caps cratered in Colorado, 6-2, on Nov. 16, because they came back a totally different team vs. Minnesota on Nov. 18.

Following that blowout loss to the Avalanche, Coach Barry Trotz had a “man-to-man talk with the group” and challenged each individual to look himself in the mirror. When a coach does that, there are typically two ways a season will go—to the top or down the drain. Trotz wasn’t sure which response he’d get, but he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “The way they came out [against the Wild] told me everything I needed to know,” Trotz said to me and Rob Carlin on the Caps Extra Podcast (11/29).

RELATED: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON SO FAR?

The really good stuff begins around 13:00, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it:

    

Including that 3-1 win over the Wild, the Caps are 18-5-2 in their last 25 games and have shot straight to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 38 points are tied with the Golden Knights and Bruins for most in that time frame. 

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has accrued 15 goals and 15 assists in those 25 games. Only four players—John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—have more points during that time period.

Indeed, every season has a turning point. For the Caps, it happened, collectively, after bottoming out in the thin air of the Mile High city.

Regan: There have been several moments that have stood out from the first 45 games of the season, such as Nathan Walker becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL and scoring in his first game on a night in which Alex Ovechkin also scored four times. Jay Beagle’s buzzer-beater against the Carolina Hurricanes will also stand as one of the best moments of the season when it is all said and done.

But I will go a bit more sentimental with my pick and choose Ovechkin’s hat-trick performance in Toronto for Alex Luey.

That night could not have been any more special. Ovechkin invited Luey, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, to attend the game with his family after he heard his story. Luey and Ovechkin were virtually inseparable for the night as Luey was on the bench for warmups and then was with Ovechkin for all of his postgame interviews.

That alone would have been a touching story, but it got so much better.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS!

Ovechkin promised Luey he would score for him before the game. He more than delivered with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 win over Toronto in what was a magical night for both him and the Luey family.

You couldn’t write a story so perfect and if you did everyone would think it too unbelievable. Yet it happened and it was by far the best moment of the season.

We may be only 45 games in, but this one will be hard to top.

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

Capitals prospect defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended three games by the AHL for a high hit he delivered to Danick Martel of Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Per a statement released by the league on Tuesday:

Hershey Bears defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended for three (3) games as a consequence of an illegal check to the head of an opponent in a game at Lehigh Valley on Jan. 13.

Williams was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 21.1 after being assessed a match penalty. He missed Hershey’s game vs. Lehigh Valley on Jan. 14, and will also miss Hershey’s Wednesday (Jan. 17) at Springfield and Saturday (Jan. 20) vs. Lehigh Valley.

The hit came in the second period of Saturdays' game. Martel skated after a loose puck in the neutral zone, but Williams cut him off with the brutal hit. The hit appeared high and Martel was down on the ice for several moments. He ultimately had to be helped off by trainers. Hobbs was assessed a match penalty and ejected from the game.

You can see the hit here.

Martel suffered a broken jaw on the play.

The suspension is a tough one for Williams. He was held out of Sunday's game and will also miss Hershey's games on Jan. 12 and the Outdoor Classic on Jan. 20 at Hersheypark Stadium. Missing that game will certainly sting.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • Riley Barber scored his 12th goal of the season on Saturday. He is now tied for the team lead in goals with Chris Bourque.
  • Travis Boyd picked up an assist in Sunday's loss to Lehigh Valley. The assist is the 100th career assist for Boyd who has played in 193 AHL games.
  • Garrett Pilon made his debut with the Everett Silvertips after getting traded from Kamloops last week. Head coach Dennis Williams offered glowing praise after his first game on Wednesday saying, "I think Pilon is going to get better and better. I think I might have to harp on him to shoot pucks a little bit more." Pilon responded with a hat trick on Saturday, just his second game with the Silvertips. In four games over the week, he recorded four goals and one assist.
  • Brian Pinho scored a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday. He now has 10 points in his last six games. “Brian always does the right thing,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “That’s part of him coming in and playing the wing the first year and learning what it takes. Having a lot of older guys ahead of him. But he had a lot of older guys to look up to when he got to the program. Now, I think Brian is that older guy and I think he’s doing a terrific job being that leader that our team needs. He’s really comfortable with that right now.”

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.