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Caps still looking for ways to improve despite record start


Caps still looking for ways to improve despite record start

When you have more wins (39) after 52 games than any NHL team that has ever come before you, well, you have to start looking for thorns on the rose you’re holding.

And that’s what the Capitals were doing Tuesday night after improving their record to 39-9-4 with a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators.

While the Caps are happy to be leading the rest of the Metro Division by 17 points, the rest of the Eastern Conference by 12 points and the rest of the NHL by six points, they haven’t been perfect.

And so, on their way from Nashville to Minnesota, they highlighted a few things they can work on. Things like better starts, better killer instinct, and a more efficient power play.

“The whole night felt like we were under pressure,” Capitals right wing Tom Wilson said after the Caps’ win in Nashville to begin a three-game road trip. “It seemed like they had three guys all over us. We could have managed the game better. They cashed in some net-front goals.”

Justin Williams agreed, saying that although the Caps scored the first two goals of the game – from Jason Chimera midway through the first period and Tom Wilson early in the second – they came out of the gates slowly and were forced to rely on Braden Holtby, who kept the Predators off the board with 14 first-period saves.

“We were warned,” Williams said. “We were aware they’re a fast- starting team. It took us a couple minutes to realize we were in a game.”

MORE CAPS: 'He's my best friend'

It also took the Caps a couple minutes to realize the game didn’t end after they had taken a 4-1 lead on the Preds with 8:03 gone in the third period on a goal by Marcus Johansson. Less than four minutes later the Predators had climbed within 4-3 on goals Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg.

“We’d like to shut it down with a 4-1 lead,” Williams said. “I didn’t get a block on their third goal.”

And then there’s the power play, which until recently was nearly unstoppable. The Caps went 0-for-2 on the man-advantage Tuesday night before Alex Ovechkin scored into an empty-net on the power play to break an 0-for-19 drought. During that stretch they also received a goal by Nicklas Backstrom one second after a penalty expired.

It should be noted that Alex Ovechkin missed a game against the Florida Panthers in which the Caps went 0-for-8 on the power play and that Marcus Johansson missed four of those games with an upper body injury.

“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, ‘Our power play will work against everybody,’” Capitals coach Barery Trotz said on Sunday. “But we do make lots of adjustments.

“If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because, to me, if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”

Trotz also noted the Caps were playing their third game in four days Tuesday night and may have shown signs of fatigue. They’ll return to playing every other night when their schedule resumes Thursday night in Minnesota against a team that is 1-7-2 in its last 10 games. 

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.


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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.