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Trotz unveils Caps' power play and penalty kill units

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Trotz unveils Caps' power play and penalty kill units

On Monday, Coach Barry Barry Trotz showed us what he’s thinking about for opening night forward lines and D pairs.

On Tuesday, he showed us what he’s thinking about for special team units.

The first power play unit featured forwards Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson.

The second power play unit had forwards Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly as well as defensemen Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov.

“We want to get something sorta in place,” Trotz said of the power play configurations. “That’s maybe where we’ll to try to start. That's really the first idea. …Yeah, you can read into it.”

RELATED: WHY TOM WILSON'S SUSPENSION MATTERS

The Caps have three preseason games remaining; the regular season begins Oct. 5 in Ottawa.

Tuesday's first power play unit had Kuznetsov in the spot vacated by Marcus Johansson, who was traded to the Devils in July. While it’s a promotion for Kuznetsov, it leaves the second unit without a center.

“That’s the negative,” Trotz said of promoting the Russian pivot to unit No. 1.

To that point, Trotz said Connolly will take the right side faceoffs and Burakovsky will take the left side draws.

For Connolly, starting the season with a full-time role on the power play unit represents a signficant step up in terms of responsibility. Last season, he scored once on the man advantage but was used sparingly.

“Conno is an instinctive goalscorer,” Trotz said. “He’s got a really good, quick release.”

Connolly, who was positioned on the goal line on Tuesday, added: “It’s obviously a great opportunity. I’ve had this opportunity before and I had to work hard to get that again. So I want to take advantage of it.”  

Trotz also put on display what he’s thinking about for his penalty kill units. The first forward pair was Tom Wilson and Lars Eller, while the second pair was Tyler Graovac and Jay Beagle.

One defensive pair on the penalty kill was Brooks Orpik and rookie Madison Bowey. (The primary penalty-killing D were probably being used on the power play in Tuesday’s drills.)

What stood out about the penalty kill groupings was Graovac’s continued ascension on the depth chart following his breakout performance in Friday’s preseason game against the Blues. Graovac was not used on the penalty kill last season in Minnesota, but Trotz likes his mobility and, at 6 foot 5, his long reach. From an Xs and Os standpoint, Trotz also likes the flexibility of having Graovac and Beagle, a pair of natural centers, on the same PK pair for faceoffs.

“He’s got some reach—that’s an advantage for a penalty killer,” Trotz said of Graovac. “He did a really good job in penalty kill situations in his first two [preseason] games, and faceoffs were a big component of that.”

Trotz added: “They sort themselves out as they go along. We’ll see if he can sustain his first two games.”

The Caps also worked on shootouts, with Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Ovechkin taking reps.

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON'S NOT GOING TO CHANGE HIS GAME EVEN AFTER THE SUSPENSION

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

They picked up right where they left off at home as they returned to Washington and defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-2. Here is how the Caps were able to put last night's loss behind them and earn the win.

A better start

Against the Islanders on Monday, the Caps lacked energy early on and allowed a goal to Brock Nelson just 2:36 into the contest. Tuesday’s start had a much different feel to it. The Caps were moving their feet, moving the puck and creating sustained zone pressure. This time it was Washington who took the early lead as Jakub Vrana netted a goal just 5:25 in.

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Braden Holtby’s breakaway save on Colin Wilson

With the score tied at one in the second period, Colin Wilson was handed a gift from Brooks Orpik. As Orpik skated up the ice to his left, the rest of his teammates all skated right leaving him no one to pass too. Feeling the forecheck, Orpik tried the cross-ice pass, but it was intercepted by Wilson and there were no Caps in site. Wilson had scored Colorado's first goal and looked like he was about the score the second on the breakaway. Instead, he was denied by Holtby. Just 4:29 later, John Carlson tallied the go-ahead goal for Washington. That is essentially a two-goal swing in five minutes.

The penalty kill

The Caps took four penalties on the night and two of them were from one of their top defenseman in John Carlson. Colorado, however, walked away with nothing to show for it. The Caps took one penalty in the first and two in the second when the game was still in doubt. If they had given up a goal on any of those opportunities, it likely is a very different game. Instead, Washington killed off all four penalties they faced making sure the power play was not a factor for the Avalanche.

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