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With playoffs in sight, Caps try to focus on task at hand


With playoffs in sight, Caps try to focus on task at hand

When a team takes an 18-point lead in their division, they won't play very many meaningful games down the stretch of the regular season. That won't be the case for the Capitals on Tuesday night, however, when they face the Carolina Hurricanes.

With a win Tuesday, the Caps will clinch a spot in the playoffs. While a playoff berth has been all but a forgone conclusion for much of the season, for a Caps team in desperate need of a spark to jump-start them out of their current funk, Tuesday's game could be just the sort of motivation the team needs.

"It's nice to have that opportunity to clinch this early," Karl Alzner said. "I didn't realize we were that close. ... We haven't been that great lately so I think this will maybe kind of put us over the hump hopefully and get us geared up towards the final push and get our game on track."

While clinching a playoff berth would be nice, the main goal for this team right now is to get back on track. The Caps come into Tuesday's contest having lost two in a row and five of their last 10. That's not the kind of stretch we have come to expect from an otherwise dominant season.

Should the Caps lose on Tuesday, they will still make the playoffs, but it would be another defeat in a stretch in which the losses are beginning to pile up.

"Obviously clinching is important, but it's more important just to be playing your best going into the playoffs," Jay Beagle said. For a team with a checkered playoff history, going into the postseason cold is not an ideal way to start.

RELATED: Carlson won't return to lineup until he feels 100 percent

Beagle's comments echo those of head coach Barry Trotz who remains focused on just getting his team back to the level they were playing at earlier in the season.

"We need to win a hockey game. We've lost our last two, one in overtime and then obviously one in San Jose, so we need to get a win and get on track here."

With only 14 games remaining in the regular season including Tuesday's against Carolina, you can expect Trotz to emphasize the importance of each game as he tries to keep the team from looking ahead at what will no doubt be a critical postseason for the franchise.

"The playoffs are going to sneak up on us fairly quickly," Trotz said. "I know guys are looking forward to that. I'm sure we'll get there, but at the same time we have to focus on the task at hand. The task at hand is the Hurricanes tonight and we can't get too far ahead of ourselves

"We gotta just rectify what we need to do in our game and play the way we need to play."

Lines at morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Jay Beagle

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Justin Williams

Daniel Winnik - Mike Richards - Tom Wilson

Extras: Michael Latta, Stanislav Galiev

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov

Nate Schmidt - Taylor Chorney

Extra: Mike Weber

Braden Holtby (starting), Philipp Grubauer

MORE CAPITALS: Looking for a spark, Trotz shuffles lines

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

USA Today Sports

Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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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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