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First-place Capitals 'still have a lot of work to do'

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First-place Capitals 'still have a lot of work to do'

It’s taken them six weeks and 22 games, but the Capitals find themselves where they’ve wanted to be since Day One of the regular season – atop the Metropolitan Division with a 17-5-1 record and 35 points.

But if you ask second-year head coach Barry Trotz if he’s happy with where his team is a little more than a quarter through the 2015-16 season, he chuckles.

“No,” he said. “We’ve lost too many games already. No, I’m not.”

Through 22 games the Caps rank third in the NHL in wins (17), fourth in goals per game (3.22), tied for third in shots per game (31.1), fourth in goals-against per game (2.22) and second in shots against per game (26.7).

“Don’t always get fooled by the numbers,” Trots warned. “Our numbers are good, but I look at it in pockets. I thought our first 10 games were pretty good but there are areas in our (next 10) that I don’t like. I don’t like the lack of consistency.

“Our forecheck is probably the No. 1 thing,” Trotz continued. “Our game has some really good areas but I don’t see them every night. I see them in bits and pieces.”

RELATED: Capitals win fifth straight, beat Maple Leafs 4-2

Trotz used his team’s 7-3 win over the Colorado  Avalanche and its 1-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers as Exhibits A and B.

“The Colorado game there were a lot of good areas,” Trotz said. “Edmonton had a lot of areas that were junk. After the game I told the coaches to throw it in the garbage.”

Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, who leads the NHL in wins (15) and goals-against average (1.95) agrees.

“I think we’re where we want to be points-wise,” Holtby said. “I don‘t think we’re happy with where our game’s at. It’s been good and it’s been bad and it hasn’t been very consistent and that’s one thing we’re going to have to improve on if we want to have continued success.

“We’re getting away with it a bit right now but we’re not oblivious to the fact we have to be better.”

Despite the Caps’ inconsistencies they are doing enough good things on both special teams to be in every game. They rank third in the NHL on the power play and ninth on the penalty kill.

Caps right wing Tom Wilson, who scored his first goal of the season in his hometown of Toronto on Saturday night, said the Caps need to rekindle the reputation they developed near the end of last season, when one opponent after another praised the Caps’ work ethic.

“We’ve had some ups and downs so far,” Wilson said. “We have new pieces and to say it’s going to be 100 percent flawless is kind of unrealistic. I think we’ve been playing some good hockey. We still, I think, can do a better job of being harder to play against.

“I don’t think (teams) are leaving our rink thinking that was a tough game. We have to make sure that when teams come into Verizon Center we’re pedal to the metal the whole 60 minutes and not waiting until the third period.

“We have the pieces. I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that with this group we can do some special things, but that being said, we still have a lot of work to do.”

MORE CAPITALS: Six-Pack of questions: Are the Caps looking to add a gritty player?

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.