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Trotz on Richards: 'He has some work to do'

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Trotz on Richards: 'He has some work to do'

NEW YORK - With Marcus Johansson facing a 5 p.m. phone hearing today with the NHL Department of Player Safety for his illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey on Thursday night, the Caps are considering two different replacements at center.

Mike Richards is not one of them.

Richards remained on the Madison Square Garden ice about 15 minutes longer than the rest of his teammates in his first practice with the Capitals on Friday and likely will not make his Capitals debut until he’s had at least three or four high-paced practices with the Capitals.

That means if Johansson is suspended, the Caps will recall a center from the AHL Hershey Bears. Caps coach Barry Trotz said Paul Carey and Chris Bourque are the leading candidates.

“He has some work to do,” Trotz said of Richards, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Capitals on Wednesday. “You can tell he hasn’t been playing for eight months. He’s got some hands and you saw on the PK (penalty kill) he’s got really good sense. It’ll just be getting him up to speed to the pace and the conditioning and all that, which is normal for someone who hasn’t played for eight months.

“I don’t think it would be fair to any player coming into this situation to throw him into a game. I think he needs a little bit of time. When we feel he’s ready we’ll throw him in.”

After their weekend games against the Rangers on Saturday and Ottawa Senators on Sunday, the Caps have three days between games and Trotz said he’d like to see how Richards looks after those practices before deciding if he can step into an NHL game or needs to play a few games with AHL Hershey before playing for the Caps.

The Caps are permitted to give Richards a two-week conditioning stint in Hershey if they feel it’s necessary.

Richards had not skated since Monday and said that although he’s not yet up to game speed, it was nice to get back on the ice with his new teammates. During Richards’ interview with reporters, Alex Ovcechkin playfully put his cell phone in Richards’ face as if to record his answers.

“I’ve got to learn my Russian,” Richards quipped.

“It’s been overwhelming how good everyone has been in welcoming me,” he said. “Just everything, to be honest, from a hundred texts from everyone welcoming me back in the league. Everyone’s been unbelievable to be honest. I just want to relax and be one of the guys.”

Injury update: Caps defenseman John Carlson joined the Caps midway through practice and Trotz said he’s day-to-day, although it seems unlikely Carlson will play before Jan. 14 at home against the Canucks. Meanwhile, defenseman Brooks Orpik’s recovery is moving in the right direction and he could be on the ice as early as Monday.     

RELATED: Friday Six-Pack - What intangibles make this team different?

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

If you had to boil down the playoff history of the Washinton Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins into one game, Game 1 certainly seemed to fit the bill.

The Capitals had their chances, they got good performances from star players and all of it came to naught as they were once again foiled by the Penguins in a 3-2 loss.

Here's Washington let this game slip away.

3 Reasons Why the Capitals lost Game 1 to the Penguins:

1. Missed chances

The Caps were buzzing in the first period.

Already up 1-0, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin had an opportunity to add a second goal early on a 2-on-1. Orlov faked the shot then passed to Ovechkin who had a wide open net to shoot at…but he missed. Ovechkin doesn’t miss too many of those shots. Despite how good the Caps looked in the first period, they got only six pucks through to goalie Matt Murray and took only a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. In the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly was denied an empty net rebound by Murray (more on that later). We all knew the push was coming. We’ve seen this all play out before.

Simply put, Washington did not convert on its opportunities when they had control of the game. A two-goal cushion was not enough to take the wind out of Pittsburgh's sails nor was it enough to survive the three-goal flurry that was to come.

2. A five-minute snowball in the third period

When the push finally came, it came fast.

In a stretch that lasted for less than five minutes, Pittsburgh scored three times to turn a 2-0 Caps lead into a 3-2 deficit. Patrick Hornqvist deflected in a shot from Justin Schultz at 2:59, Sidney Crosby netted a pass from Jake Guentzel at 5:20 and Guentzel got a deflection goal of his own at 7:48. That is a span of 4:49. Pittsburgh’s momentum snowballed into three quick goals which carried them to the win.

Braden Holtby was brilliant for 55:11, but those 4:49 were enough to doom the Caps.

3. Matt Murray

As good as Holtby was, Murray was better. Despite allowing a goal just 17 seconds in, he recovered very well in what was a 32-save performance. You can put some of this game on Washington’s inability to convert on its chances, but you also have to give credit to the Penguins’ netminder as well who came up with some big-time saves to keep his team in it. The biggest was in the second period when he extended the arm and blocked what looked like an easy goal for Smith-Pelly with the glove of his blocker.

As hard as it was to beat Murray when the Caps were ahead, he was unbeatable when his team finally gave him a lead to work with.

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