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Backstrom's milestone assist proves the difference in narrow win over Ottawa

Backstrom's milestone assist proves the difference in narrow win over Ottawa

Nicklas Backstrom's 500th career assist set up what would be the only goal of the night in a 1-0 Capitals win over the Ottawa Senators.

How it happened: The Caps struck less than two minutes into the game as Backstrom set up T.J. Oshie with a backhand pass on the rush that he fired into the top corner of the net. Braden Holtby did the rest as he turned aside all 30 shots he faced for his second straight shutout.

What it means: Saturday’s victory extends Washington’s win streak to five games and improves the team’s record to 12-2-2 in its last 16. The Caps are 2-0-0 against Ottawa this season and 7-0-1 against the Senators in their last eight meetings.

Turning point: Clinging to a narrow 1-0 lead late in the third period, Karl Alzner took a boarding penalty after cross-checking Mark Stone head first into the boards. The penalty killers coolly killed off the minor penalty, shutting the door on Ottawa's hopes for a late comeback.

500 for Backstrom: Backstrom’s first period assist was a big one as it was assist No. 500 of his career. He is now the first player in Capitals franchise history to reach the 500 assist plateau. You can read more about the milestone here.

Scare for Oshie: Oshie took a hard shoulder-to-should hit from Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf in the second period that clearly stung. You can see the hit here. Oshie slowly made his way off the ice and was doubled over on the bench before going down the tunnel to the locker room. He returned later in the period and left for the locker room again before the end of the second. Oshie missed seven games with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 18. The Caps went 3-3-1 during that stretch. Phaneuf's hit struck Oshie on the same shoulder he had previously injured.

Unbeatable: The Capitals' penalty kill has been putting the "special" in special teams lately and that continued Saturday as they killed all three man advantages they faced on Saturday. Washington has now killed off 52 of the last 55 power plays they have faced over the last 13 games.

Nothing to worry about: Holtby had a rare off night on Tuesday as he was pulled against the Toronto Maple Leafs after giving up three goals on eight shots. In his two starts since, the Caps netminder has shutouts in both contests with 29 saves against the Columbus Blue Jackets and 30 against the Senators. Hotlby is now tied for the league lead in shutouts with five on the season.

Look ahead: Washington remains north of the border for a game in Montreal on Monday. They then return home for a murderous three-game home stretch starting Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers.

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS