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Weary Caps blown over by Hurricanes

Weary Caps blown over by Hurricanes

The Caps struck first, but it was all Carolina after that as the Caps fell 5-1 to the Hurricanes on Saturday.

How it happened: Evgeny Kuznetsov opened the scoring in the first period with his first goal since Oct. 20, but it was all downhill from there. Carolina scored twice in the first period and three more times in the game on their way to the 5-1 win.

What it means: The loss drops the Caps to 5-2-1 on the road this season. In their fourth game within the division, the Caps are now just 1-2-1 against Metropolitan Division foes. Their record against all other teams is 8-1-0. The five goals Carolina scored Saturday is the most the Caps have given up this season. Washington gave up four against the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers. Those two games also resulted in regulation losses.

RELATED: TROTZ ON GRUBAUER: 'HE’S TRENDING IN THE RIGHT WAY'

Junk mail: Early in the season, Barry Trotz lamented that Philip Grubauer got too much "junk mail" assignments last season. A back-to-back game just 23 hours after Friday's contest in Chicago certainly qualifies and it showed on Saturday. The final numbers for Grubauer were ugly—four goals allowed on 37 shots—but that doesn't paint an accurate picture of how the German netminder played. The Caps gave up nine scoring opportunities in the first period alone and were fortunate to trail only 2-1 after the first 20 minutes. Washington struggled mightily with just getting the puck out of the defensive zone against Carolina's aggressive forecheck and were only in this game as long as they were because of Grubauer's efforts between the pipes.

One for Kuzy: One of the few bright spots of the night was the goal by Kuznetsov, his second of the season and first since Oct. 20. Dmitry Orlov carried the puck into the offensive zone and backhanded a pass from the right corner to the trailing Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov curled the pass and fired a beautiful wrister from the high slot into the back of the net. Kuznetsov is an immensely talented player, but he frequently gets caught trying to do too much. On this play, he kept it simple and was rewarded.

Shuffling the deck: With the game getting away from them, Trotz elected to shuffle his offensive lines in search of a spark starting in the second period. The lines mixed and matched frequently making it hard to keep track. Zach Sanford took a shift with Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. Tom Wilson was with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Kuznetsov also took a few shifts with Ovechkin. But on a night in which nothing seemed to go right for the Caps, none of the line changes worked either. All eyes will be on Tuesday's morning skate to see just what the lineup will look like for the team's next game.

Look ahead: The Caps close out the three-game road trip on Tuesday in Columbus as they face another Metropolitan Division foe in the Blue Jackets. Then it’s another quick turnaround as the Caps host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center on Wednesday.

MORE CAPITALS: DAILY QUOTE: ‘HE’S THE ULTIMATE TEAMMATE’

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

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A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.