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Brooks Orpik returns to practice for Caps, game status not as clear

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Brooks Orpik returns to practice for Caps, game status not as clear

When Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik stepped on the ice at Kettler on Tuesday morning his teammates greeted him with hoots and hollers.

About an hour later Orpik came off the ice with a smile and without a trace of a limp.

“I felt good,” Orpik said. “Obviously, I haven’t played a game in a while, so I’ve got to get some good practices in and then get more conditioning. Hopefully, I’m ahead of the curve a little bit.”

Orpik, 35, has not played for the Caps since Nov. 10. He suffered a lower body injury in that game and said Tuesday he returned to practice too early (on Dec. 7) and suffered a setback.

MORE CAPS: WHO WILL REPLACE OVI ON TOP LINE 

“After a month (of trying to skate) I had to shut it down completely and just let the bone heal,” Orpik said. “If I kept skating on it the bone was never going to heal. They told me I had to stay off it for eight weeks. It was a long eight weeks.”

Asked if his bone is completely healed, Orpik paused.

“It feels like it,” he said. “They told me it’s kind of pointless to do another picture (X-ray) because it will show up for a while. It’s more off your symptoms. You go off how you feel and not be stubborn about it. I just had to wait it out.”

Orpik admits he tried to play through the pain and said it was “probably a good lesson” to learn that’s not always the best course of action.

“Obviously, you’re a lot smarter looking back in hindsight, but you don’t like missing games, so you just try to play through things,” he said.

Without Orpik in the lineup the Caps have gone 15-4-4 and have built a 15-point cushion in the Metropolitan Division standings. Much of that success can be credited to defensemen Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov and Taylor Chorney, who saw their ice time increase, as well as Aaron Ness, who played well during his eight-game callup from AHL Hershey.

“I think you feel more pressure to get healthy as quick as you can when your team is struggling,” Orpik said. “And when your team is doing well it definitely takes a little pressure off you. It’s been amazing.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said every player is different when it comes to how much practice they need following an extended absence, but it seems like a week or so of practices would be enough to get Orpik back into game shape.

“He’s had a long haul here in terms of skating by yourself,” Trotz said. “It gets boring and it plays with your mind. You feel like an outsider. He’s a big part of our accountability.”

Trotz said there is no timetable for Marcus Johansson, either. Johansson will sit out tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers with an upper body injury. He skated on his own before practice on Tuesday.

With Johansson and Alex Ovechkin (one-game suspension for missing the All-Star Game) out for tonight’s game, Stan Galiev will play on a top line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, while Mike Richards steps into the role of third-line center between Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson.

Zach Sill will play fourth-line center between Brooks Laich and Michael Latta.

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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