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Slow starts killing Capitals


Slow starts killing Capitals

The Capitals may be on the verge of clinching a playoff berth for the eighth time in nine years but there are a few cracks beginning to show in their foundation.

For the 13th time in 15 games, the Capitals surrendered the first goal in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And for the fifth straight time they failed to own a lead in a hockey game. 

On the bright side, the Caps are 2-2-1 in those games. But it’s become an issue inside the team’s locker room.

“It’s certainly tough coming from behind every night,” said Caps right wing Justin Williams, who picked up his 20th goal of the season in the loss. “It seems like we’re obviously used to it.  It’s been happening quite a bit. 

“Maybe we need to stop thinking about it and just go out and play. But our starts obviously have been an issue for us. The first period goal differential, all that stuff. It’s something we have time to clean up.”

The Caps have 14 games remaining in the regular season and can clinch a playoff berth with any combination of losses by the Penguins, Red Wings or Flyers and/or a win over Carolina on Tuesday. 

The Caps have shown they can shut teams down when taking a lead this season. They are 19-0-0 when leading after one period and 33-0-1 when leading after two. But the fact they have been outscored 54-48 in first periods and have had a lead after 20 minutes just 19 time in 68 games is alarming. 

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said that despite allowing a first-period goal to Joe Thornton, he was happy with the way Caps played in the first period in San Jose and was even happier with their second period, when they scored a pair of goals to enter the third period in a 2-2 tie. 

The Caps could have had a lead heading into the third if Jay Beagle had converted on a penalty shot or one of his breakaway chances, but the Sharks scored on a power-play goal by Joe Pavelski to start the third period (a goal Philipp Grubauer called “a gift”) and made it 4-2 just 2:02 later when Brenden Dillon scored.

It was that fourth goal, Trotz said, that broke the Capitals.

“That next shift after a PP goal is huge,” Trotz said. “You want to settle things down, get the crowd out of it and we give up another goal. To me, it turned right there. And then they shut us down.”

MORE CAPITALS: Three possible playoff matchups for the Caps

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz


Why the suggested tweak to the goalie interference rule makes sense to Barry Trotz

Goalie interference has become one of the most controversial calls in hockey and that has led to the general managers calling for a tweak to the rules before the playoffs.

As the general managers wrapped up their meetings in Florida on Wednesday, they issued a recommendation to the league’s Board of Governors that the final decision for all coach’s challenges for goaltender interference come from the Situation Room in Toronto where a retired referee will be included in the process.

If approved, the change will be enacted for the start of the playoffs.

The issue with goalie interference is consistency. It is an inherently subjective call so on any given night, it is hard to know how the rule will be officiated. That is a problem considering these calls can take goals off the board. The hope is that by requiring that all calls be made by the Situation Room, it will bring more consistency.


The news was met by skepticism from Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.

“I can't tell you right now at this point if that's going to change anything,” he said. “If they still communicate with the linesmen, I'm sure they do, but in the end it's a grey area and it's been a grey area for a bunch of years now.”

One issue with the change is that while the Situation Room will make the final call, it will not always have the same personnel for each game and the retired referee to be included will not always be the same individual. Saying the Situation Room will make the call sounds great, but if the calls are still being reviewed by different people every night, will that really lead to greater consistency?

Head coach Barry Trotz thinks so. He applauded the change Wednesday explaining that different factors can weigh on a referee when he is the one making the call.

“Some referees who are more established and more sure of themselves, they won't reverse their calls,” Trotz said. “They just almost say, that's the way I saw it and that's the way it is and live with it. Others get swayed by what they see or maybe the crowd or another coach or how the game is going. It's no different than the student marking their own papers. Let's have a non-emotional person who has no skin in the game and is not in an emotional environment to make those calls and I think you'll find it'll be more consistent.”


If the main issue of the goalie interference was the referees being made to judge their own calls, then yes, this new rule change will go a long way towards fixing the consistency problem.

But perhaps it is unreasonable to expect calls to ever be black and white on a play and a rule that never is.

“Every situation is different,” Grubauer said. “There's no situation that's the same. Did he get bumped in? Was it intentional? Was the goalie intentional making contact? All points they have to look at and it happens so fast. I hope it's going to get better and I hope they will get a foundation down for it.”