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Caps start slow, but win it in OT thanks to Kuznetsov tally

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Caps start slow, but win it in OT thanks to Kuznetsov tally

Notes from the Caps 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday:

How it happened: For the first time in the regular season, the Caps went to overtime and the new 3-on-3 format. Rather than trading quick odd-man rushes with the Panthers, the Caps played a very deliberate, possession-heavy style in the Panther's zone. As they cycled, Evgeny Kuznetsov faked a drop pass to Alex Ovechkin. Defenseman Brian Campbell took the bait only for a moment, but that was all Kuznetsov needed. Before the defense could blink, Kuznetsov was behind them and beat Montoya underneath the right blocker for the game-winner.

What it means: The Caps won their second game in as many nights to improve their record to 8-2-0 on the season. That matches the 1991-92 and 2011-12 seasons for the best start in franchise history. The Caps now sit tied for the Metropolitan Division lead with their next opponent, the New York Rangers.

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A 'challenge'-ing goal: Midway through the third period, Jay Beagle tied the game at 1 when he knocked a deflected shot from Ovechkin past the sprawling Al Montoya. Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant challenged the goal for goalie interference, cue Caps fans everywhere thinking, "here we go again." 

"The way the goaltender was, there's no way he could have covered," Barry Trotz said. "There was a third of the net open no matter what. I was pretty confident once I saw it up on the big screen, but I won't take anything for granted because I've been wrong a few times this year."

Replay showed contact between Montoya and Justin Williams, but it appeared to be instigated by Montoya who reached out with his glove hand at Williams. After a lengthy review, the goal was upheld.

Shuffling: The Caps have been pretty consistent with their lines this season, but that changed on Saturday as Trotz changed things up early and often as the team did not look sharp to start the game. Tom Wilson appeared to take shifts will all four lines while Beagle and Williams took shifts with different players on the left.

"We sort of put a worker on each line and said hey we can skill around all we want until we start getting into the interior and putting pucks there we're not going to score," Trotz said. "So we switched up every line and away we went. We tried to catch everybody's attention."

The shuffling appeared to spark the Caps as it was the Ovechkin-Beagle-Williams line that tied the game in the third period.

"Just wanted to get some people to go to the net and see if we could drum up some business there," Trotz said.

Feeling Gruby: Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer made his second start of the season and looked phenomenal in net, turning aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced including all 10 of the Panthers' shots in third period. He looked very comfortable and made key saves throughout the night. He is now 2-0 on the season and is showing why he deserved to make the full-time jump to the NHL this season.

"Gruby stood on his head and kept us in it and we were able to get the win," Beagle said.

What's next: The Caps head to the place where it all ended last season, Madison Square Garden, for a tilt with the New York Rangers on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

MORE CAPITALS: D Matt Niskanen joins STL after the Caps' win over Columbus

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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