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Capitals now allow fewest goals per game in NHL, which is a pretty big deal

Capitals now allow fewest goals per game in NHL, which is a pretty big deal

After Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Senators, the Capitals are allowing just 2.06 goals per game, which is tied for tops in the league.

Minnesota and Columbus have also permitted 2.06 goals per contest.

“It’s a team thing,” Coach Barry Trotz said ahead of Tuesday's game against the visiting Maple Leafs. “What we’ve seen is our team values both sides of the puck more.”

“They [understand] that if they take care of business in their own end, they have the puck more and it makes for an easier game for us,” he added. “I think they’ve bought into that part, even more so. It’s been a process over the three years.”

Just how good have the Caps been defensively through 36 games? Consider:

  • They are second in the league in goals allowed 5-on-5 (48). Only the Blue Jackets, winners of 15 straight, have allowed fewer (47).   
  • The penalty kill (87.3-percent effectiveness) ranks second in the league. Since Dec. 1, the Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner-led unit is tops in the NHL.
  • The Caps are sixth in shots allowed per game (28.0).
  • Goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer lead the league in goals against average (2.02) and are third in combined save percentage (.927). The tandem is also tied for third in shutouts with four.

“Goaltending is one reason,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “Our two goaltenders are pretty top-tier. With that, you look at our blue line, even the guys that can’t play each night. You got [Taylor Chorney] and [Nate Schmidt] that are NHL players and should be in the lineup. So we have a lot of depth back there. The [defense] is also very good at ending odd-man rushes before they get going. That plays a big part in it. Our penalty kill has been outstanding. So there’s a lot of things. Obviously, you want to keep building on those things and we certainly take pride in the things we’re good at.”   

As pleased as Trotz is with how his team is playing on the defensive side of the puck, he’s also aware that his group needs to pick it up in the offensive end and, in particular, on the power play.

The Caps have improved to 13th in goals scored per game (2.72), but that still lags behind last year’s production (3.02) and is lower than what the team expects of itself. The power play, meanwhile, is in a 0-for-17 slump over the past six games after showing signs of improvement in the previous 15 contests.  

“Now the offensive part of our game is starting to take off, hopefully,” Trotz said. “And if we can get the power play numbers to creep up to where we hope they will be, then that will be a pretty good game plan for us.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps' top priority against Toronto: Shutting down Auston Matthews

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE