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Why the Caps are so dominant at crunch time


Why the Caps are so dominant at crunch time

With 41 wins through their first 55 games the Capitals are on a record-setting pace this season. A big reason has been their ability to grind teams to salt over the course of a 60-minute hockey game.

“I think we’re a hard team to hang with, to be honest,” Capitals left wing Brooks Laich said. “Some teams can hang with us for 30 minutes or 40 minutes, but I find our team his hard to hang with for the full 60.”

The numbers prove it.

The Caps have outscored their opponents by six goals in the first period, 23 goals in the second period and 27 goals in the third period. The only NHL teams evenly remotely close to that third-period dominance are the fleet-footed Dallas Stars, who are a plus-18 in third periods, and the hard-hitting Islanders, who are a plus-17.

As a result of those numbers, the Caps are an NHL-leading 31-0-1 when leading after two periods this season and 66-2-4 in two seasons under Barry Trotz. And when the Caps hold a lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation under Trotz, they are 58-1-4.

“Maybe it’s from learning the hard way from those couple years we didn’t have success when leading,” Laich said, referring to the Caps being outscored by 15 goals in third periods two seasons ago under Adam Oates. “It’s attention to detail and playing the clock and game management.”

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It’s also rolling four lines that can inflict their speed, strength and size every shift. That was certainly the case in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over the Kings, when the Caps outshot Los Angeles 12-9 and outscored them 2-0 in the final 20 minutes after being outshot 31-20 in the first two periods.

“We said on the bench we were getting stronger,” said Caps right wing Justin Williams, who set up Evgeny Kuznetsov for the game-winner with 2:02 to play, “and they were fading a bit.”

“Teams really pour it on and I think a lot of the good players in the league come out in the third period,” Caps right wing T.J. Oshie said. “We’ve got a lot of those good players in here.

“When the game’s on the line we’ve got a lot of guys that are making the right decisions when we’re up goals. And when we’re down goals we’ve got guys making the right reads, where they can jump up and get opportunities.”

Goaltender Braden Holtby, who will get the start tonight against the Islanders in Brooklyn (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN), said the Caps have also learned to go for the kill instead of collapsing into a defensive mode.

“We’re not focused on just shutting down in the third and just having zero goals on each side,” he said. “We’re continuing to push. We’ve given up a few more goals than we’d like to, but at the same time that’s because we’re still playing our game and our offense is still coming in the third period even with a lead.”

Laich used the terms “tilting the ice” and “shrink the rink,” saying the Caps’ ability to hem teams in their own zone for successive shifts takes away their opponents’ legs and ultimately, their will.

“We’re getting those shifts where we’re in their zone for two minutes at a time,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said, “and that makes a difference.”

MORE CAPITALS: Should Capitals tinker before the trade deadline?

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Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?


Can Pittsburgh's past be a goalie rotation blueprint?

It’s happened. The Caps no longer seem to have a No. 1 goalie anymore, they have a No. 1 and 1a.

That’s right, we have a goalie rotation in Washington.

“There's no sense riding one,” Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday. “[Braden Holtby] is coming back and looking better every game and [Philipp Grubauer] played pretty well for a long stretch so why not have both of them going?”

Grubauer got the start Sunday in Philadelphia and Holtby is slated to get the start Tuesday against the Dallas Stars. After that we will have to wait and see.


Trotz has no layout for which goalie he wants to start and when in the remaining ten games. He is not thinking about each goalie splitting five games or which one he wants to use more.

Nope. Trotz has just one thing on his mind. It is all about who starts the next game, that’s it.

“I think you just go with a guy that's hot at the time and your team feels comfortable with and go from there,” Trotz said.

So where does this leave the goaltending situation when it comes to the playoffs? A goalie rotation is all well and good in the regular season, but he has to have one starter for the postseason, right?

Not necessarily.


When Trotz was asked if he philosophically believed in having one starter for the playoffs, Trotz initially said he would not answer, but then said, “Why don't you ask Mike Sullivan what he thinks.”

Sullivan, of course, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins who has led his team to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons despite turning to both goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in both seasons.

While Pittsburgh’s goalie rotation was largely based on injury, however, it still provides an example of how using both goalies can work in the playoffs and that seems to be the path the Caps are headed on at the moment.

Said Trotz, “You just have to go with your gut who you think is going to get the job done.”

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

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NHL Power Rankings: The home stretch

We are down to the home stretch. Only 10 games remain in the Capitals' regular season. Those 10 games will ultimately decide if the Caps finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division and who they will play in the first round of the playoffs.

Washington currently sits in first place in the division, two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Of those 10 remaining games, only three come against teams currently in playoff position. The most critical of these comes on April 1 when the Caps travel to Pittsburgh in a game that could ultimately decide the division.

The Caps still hold a narrow lead in the standings, but where do they stand in the rankings? See this week's updated NHL Power Rankings here.