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Strong defensive performance leads to 'one of our best games of the year'

Strong defensive performance leads to 'one of our best games of the year'

The Washington Capitals got points from, among others, Alex Ovechkin, Justin Williams, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson on Sunday. Yet, it wasn't the offense that carried the team to the 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks. And it wasn't just another spectacular effort from Braden Holtby in net.

It took only 20 saves for Holtby to record his second shutout as the Caps completely stifled the offense of the Canucks with a strong defensive performance.

"That was a good job," head coach Barry Trotz said. "Anytime you can force them to make plays that they couldn't, they're sort of a board to board team and we had a lot of bodies in the middle of the ice and I think it took away from their ability to do some things."

RELATED: Caps blank Canucks for fourth straight win

The key wasn't how the Caps played in the defensive zone, but in the neutral zone where they were able to clog things up to prevent clean entries by Vancouver.

"I thought we did a good job of denying entry or not letting them get set up," Matt Niskanen said. "... They never really got comfortable in a good set up where they're working the puck around. We had the heat on them with pressure and cleared the puck and kind of kept them off balance all night."

The defensive effort also translated to the penalty kill where Washington was able to kill off all five of Vancouver's power plays on the night while giving up only one shot on goal.

"Using each other on the ice to clear pucks, make it very tough for them to enter the zone, that's signs of a penalty kill that's working together and on the same page and that was phenomenal tonight," Holtby said.

The team did acknowledge that the task of shutting down the Canucks' offense was made easier by the schedule. Sunday was the second half of a back-to-back for Vancouver and its third game in four nights.

But Sunday's game does not mark the first time this season Washington has committed to strong defense.

On a team with superstar players like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov, it can be easy to overlook just how well the team is playing defensively. After Sunday's game, Washington ranks second in the NHL in goals against (2.11) and sixth in shots against (28.1).

Holtby said of Sunday's game, "That was one of our best games of the year."

It didn't take an Ovechkin hat trick or a five-point night from Backstrom. All it took was a strong team effort on the other end of the ice.


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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers

Here's how the Caps lost.

An emotional start for Robert Luongo

Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

Another shaky start for Braden Holtby

This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.

Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.

A late penalty to Lars Eller

With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.