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Capitals hope to learn a lesson from drubbing

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Capitals hope to learn a lesson from drubbing

The Capitals are learning that too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing.

That was the lesson coming out of Sunday night’s 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Consol Energy Center, where the Caps started strong, fell behind by a pair of goals, battled back to tie, then had the wheels come off by surrendering four unanswered goals.

The loss was the Caps’ most lopsided since a 5-0 beat down against the San Jose Sharks back on Oct. 13 in the second game of the season and served as a reminder that the Caps’ 19-point lead over the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings will mean nothing when the playoff begin a little more than three weeks from now.

“You can talk all you want about how many points you’ve accumulated during the regular season,” said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who dished out four hits in the loss to his former team. “But once you get to the playoffs that’s all out the window. We better start playing a little bit better.

“The Nashville game (a 4-1 win Friday night) was probably the best we’ve played in a while and you’d like to think we would roll some momentum from that game into this one.”

At the start, they did. The Capitals controlled play against the Penguins in the opening seven minutes, but an aggressive step-up by Caps defenseman Mike Weber led to a goal by Bryan Rust and a giveaway by defenseman Dmitry Orlov led to a goal by Trevor Daly to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead after one period.

“I liked our start,” Caps coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. “I think the first 7 or 8 minutes we were fine and then we got away from what we were doing. We had some good looks real early, we didn’t score and then we got impatient and started cheating and mismanaging pucks. We started opening up.”

In the second period the Caps battled back to tie on a goal off Jason Chimera’s helmet and a breakaway goal by Andre Burakovsky, but the Penguins answered back just 42 seconds later with a goal from Tom Kuhnhackl, who got past Orlov and avoided a check by Justin Williams to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead.

“I think when we tied it up we weren’t playing very well,” Caps goalie Braden Holtby said. “We kind of got lucky in tying it up. Maybe we got a little complacent thinking that if we keep doing this it’s going to go the right way again without pushing to do the right things and it bit us. They’re a hungry team over there and we need to be more prepared and more realistic in what we’re doing.”

Everyone in the visiting locker room agreed the Penguins’ third goal stole away the Caps’ momentum and tilted the game in the Penguins’ favor, leading to their sixth straight win.

“A turnover, a lost battle and one of our D was lazy coming back,” Trotz said, referring to Orlov losing Kuhnhackl. “Those little mistakes get magnified. I just thought they stayed with it longer and harder than we did. They were in playoff mode. They wanted it more and we got what we deserved tonight.”

With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Caps will have another opportunity to clinch the Metropolitan Division title when they visit the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. (The team was given today off). But clinching a division title is not nearly as important to the Capitals as manufacturing the desperation they will see from their opponents over the final weeks of the regular season.  

“I’m not going to let guys off the hook,” Trotz said. “There’s no excuse for the sloppy play and lack of execution when the heat was on. We had some guys I felt were not strong tonight and you can’t do that against a decent team that’s trending well. They’re the hottest team right now. They’re in playoff mode and we weren’t and you can see the difference between playoff mode and not playoff mode.”

Trotz said that is the inherent danger of a team clinching a playoff spot with 13 games remaining in the regular season.

“We’ve been fighting that for a while,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re at playoff mode, that’s for sure. It has been a challenge, but one thing we do is we respond all the time. We have a very strong group and they respond well. We’re going to have to respond after that one. That was not a good effort by our standards and I expect them to rebound.”

The Caps are an impressive 13-0-1 following regulation losses this season.

As for the Penguins, the Capitals will get their shot at revenge when the two teams meet again on April 7 at Verizon Center.   That game could turn out to be a playoff primer for a future meeting in the post-season. If the playoff started today, the Caps and Red Wings would meet in the first round, with the Penguins facing the Rangers in Round 1.

“Barring some disaster I think both of us will be in the playoffs in the East and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll either start with each other or play against each other, hopefully, at some point,” Orpik said. “I think guys are aware of that.”

RELATED: Pens roll over Caps with third-period outburst

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night. putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

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