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Ovechkin, Holtby-less Capitals can't keep pace with Panthers


Ovechkin, Holtby-less Capitals can't keep pace with Panthers

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday night in their first game back since the NHL All-Star break:

How it happened: The Panthers scored on four of their first 13 shots against Philipp Grubauer, including a deflating bad-angle goal by Vincent Trocheck 21 seconds into the second period that made it 3-0. Jonathan Huberdeau scored two of the Panthers’ goals and picked up an assist on Aleksander Barkov’s power play goal to send the Panthers into the second intermission with a 4-0 lead. The Caps clawed back with quick-strike goals by Nicklas Backstrom (:34) and Andre Burakovsky (1:53) to start the third period, but Florida goaltender Al Montoya was strong down the stretch to earn the win. Panthers center Quinton Howden finished things off with an empty-netter with 1:53 to play.      

What it means: The defeat marked just the second time all season the Caps have lost back-to-back games. Since Wednesday night’s loss against Philadelphia was in overtime, they still have not lost back-to-back games in regulation. If the season ended today the Caps would face the eighth-seeded Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs.

Missing Ovi: With Alex Ovechkin serving a one-game suspension for missing Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, the Caps went 1-for-8 on the power play. In the only other game Ovechkin missed this season on Oct. 13 against the San Jose Sharks (oversleeping) the Caps lost 5-0 and went 0-for-4 on the power play. So, overall, they have been outscored 9-2 and are 0-for-12 on the power play without Ovechkin this season.


Kuz-tastic: Evgeny Kuznetsov assisted on both Capitals goals and now has 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) in his last seven games.

Quick change: After starting the game with Stan Galiev on the Caps’ top line, coach Barry Trotz abandoned that plan and went with Jason Chimera on his top unit. 

Chorney does not return: Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney left the game before the start of the third period with flu-like symptoms and did not return.

Whistle happy: In the first period, referees Justin St. Pierre and Eric Furlatt combined to call eight penalties, resulting in just 10:47 of 5-on-5 play.

How old is Jagr? Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr will turn 44 on Feb. 15. When he played his first NHL game on Oct. 7, 1990, eight Capitals players were not even born: Dmitry Orlov, Philipp Grubauer, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Stan Galiev, Andre Burakovsky, Nate Schmidt and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marcus Johansson was one day old.

What’s next: The Caps will practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday and complete their extended five-game homestand (two of which have not been played) on Thursday night when the Islanders visit Verizon Center. They follow with a pair of weekend day games: Saturday against the Devils in Newark and Sunday against the Flyers in Chinatown. 

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

USA Today Sports

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).