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Caps still trying to solve Neuvirth after his phenomenal Game 5


Caps still trying to solve Neuvirth after his phenomenal Game 5

There's no secret to what went wrong for the Caps in Game 5. Michal Neuvirth went wrong. The Flyers netminder stoned his former team, turning aside an incredible 44 shots in a shutout effort.

No one can dispute it. The Caps out-shot Philadelphia 44 to 11. After taking too many penalties in the first half of the game, the Capitals took complete control. The Flyers had only five shots in the last two period combined and yet they still walked away with the 2-0 victory.

Only one thing stood between the Caps and the second round on Friday and Neuvirth was it.

"That's a great game by him from start to finish," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "He did his job and he made some huge saves for us."

When asked if this game could be boiled down to just goaltending, Caps head coach Barry Trotz said, "That's pretty well it. We had a couple good looks we didn't finish, he had a couple good saves."

In Wednesday's Game 4, the Caps were not able to generate enough shots early, allowing Neuvirth to settle in. He faced only two shots in the first ten minutes of the game. That was not an issue in Game 5 where the Caps' attack was relentless. Even when shorthanded Washington was able to generate opportunities.

But there was no shaking Neuvirth.

"He was a lot busier for sure," Matt Niskanen said.

RELATED: Capitals unable to solve Neuvirth in Game 5 loss to Flyers

Neuvirth's performance Friday was reminiscent of another goalie performance that most Caps fans would like to forget.

In 2010, the Caps ran into a brick wall in the form of Jaroslav Halak who backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to a stunning first-round upset over the Presidents' Trophy wining Caps. In Game 6 of that series, Halak turned aside 53 shots to earn the victory.

The comparison will be inescapable for the Caps until the Caps find a way to solve the Flyers' netminder.

Unlike in 2010 when the Caps just seemed at a complete loss for how to beat Halak, however, there was a clear sense in the locker room of what the team will need to do better to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

"I think we can have a little bit more traffic and create a little bit more chaos in their crease," Niskanen said.

"We've got to have more traffic," Nicklas Backstrom said. "If you look at our opportunities, a lot of the guys are standing beside the net instead of in front of him so we've got to get in front of him, make it harder for him."

"We have lots of perimeter shots but we don't have traffic in front of the net and he can see all the shots that we make so he sees everything," Alex Ovechkin said. "We just have to put one guy in front of the net."

Are you sensing a pattern?

While the Caps were able to generate more shots, many were kept to the outside without much traffic in front. Neuvirth was able to see most of the shots he faced and stopped them with no rebounds. When there were rebounds, the defense was there to clear them quickly or Neuvirth was able to come up with the spectacular save.

A team as skilled as Washington has rarely been forced to muck things up in front of the crease this season. This team prefers cycling down low, confusing the goaltender with passes from below the red line. Even the power play is set up for a man to play beside the cage for the pass, rather than in the face of the netminder.

That formula may not work against Neuvirth. It's going to take grit, not skill.

Ovechkin summed it up pretty well: "It's not going to be pretty one."

MORE CAPITALS: VIDEO: Oshie, Schenn fight immediately after puck drop in Game 5

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).