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Why the Caps' road trip may have been successful despite losing two of three

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USA TODAY Sports

Why the Caps' road trip may have been successful despite losing two of three

Earning two points in three games on their Western Canada road trip can hardly be labeled a success.

Yet, there was a positive mood around the team on Tuesday as they returned to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

While the Caps had not earned the points they were hoping to get in the standings, the overall feeling was that the team took a big step towards finding more consistent success this season. How? Because the players finally recognized this team needs a new identity in order to win.

Let’s face it, this is not the same team as last year.

The roster is different and because of that, the team has to play differently in order to succeed. The team has struggled with that realization in the early season, but the message seems to have finally sunk in.

"The identity I think we're definitely figuring out,” Madison Bowey said. “I think this weekend was huge. I know we have to win those hard games, those close 3-2, 4-2 battles or 2-1 battles and I think once we really bear down and get those games in and get those wins I think that's the mindset we're going to have to have and then move on from there.”

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 “I think we've seen what works and what doesn't work so try to do what's working for us as far as managing the puck,” T.J. Oshie said.

The turning point was the win against the Edmonton Oilers. The takeaway was more about the way they played than the win itself.

“We try to prod them in each game to do certain things, but they have to have success at it,” Barry Trotz said. “The Edmonton game was a good example. We were diligent of playing a, you know, we're not a small team and so let's be hard to check, let's defend hard and you got a good result and it felt right.”

The Caps have focused more in recent years on a faster, highly skilled style of play. Having that much skill on the roster, however, allowed for the team to cover up its mistakes. There was enough talent throughout the lineup that they could play their way out of a big mistake or a poor turnover and they could rely on their high-scoring offense to produce at a high rate.

This year is different. This year, mistakes are ending up in the back of Washington’s net and the goals have been hard to come by. They don’t have the skill to play the same way. Change was needed.

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What does that change in identity look like on the ice?

“Not giving the other teams free offense,” Trotz said. “Making sure and making good decisions at the blue lines and not just throwing the puck loosely to the middle of the ice when maybe a play's not there. Maybe hanging on to it, maybe wearing people down then being able to create some offense.”

“It will be easier for the [Lars Eller], [Tom Wilson] line, for instance,” Trotz added. “That will be more of their game than maybe the [Evgeny Kuznetsov] line or the [Nicklas Backstrom] line, but they've got to find a balance that their game has to fit into what we do. So find your game within our game and have our philosophies in place and our protocols in place and execute them consistently.”

This new identity, however, remains very much a work in progress.

“It's hard to grasp an identity sometimes,” Trotz said. “But it's coming, it's coming. I thought this trip it started to come. We'll see if we can go forward. First 12 games hasn't been that easy.”

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers

Here's how the Caps lost.

An emotional start for Robert Luongo

Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

Another shaky start for Braden Holtby

This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.

Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.

A late penalty to Lars Eller

With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.