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Why Caps blame themselves for loss to Penguins


Why Caps blame themselves for loss to Penguins

Say this about the Capitals’ 3-1 Rivalry Night loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at Verizon Center: No one in the losing dressing room was sweeping mistakes under the carpet.

Not defenseman Brooks Orpik, who allowed Penguins forward Beau Bennett to go wide on him and drive hard to the net to deposit his own rebound with 1:52 gone in the third period, just 24 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps a long-awaited 1-0 lead.

“It was a pretty good hockey game up until the one shift,” Orpik said. “(Bennett) was coming late with speed. It was probably a misread on my part there, especially since something we talk about is not giving up any chances the shift after we score.”   

Not goaltender Braden Holtby, who didn’t like his rebound control on Bennett’s goal.

“He went low blocker, which is a tough spot, but that’s a save we try to eliminate the (rebound) going to the other side,” said Holtby, who stopped 22 of 24 shots to suffer his second loss. “It caught the inside of my blocker and right onto (Bennett’s) stick. It’s bad luck in some ways, but we practice to eliminate that.”

And not head coach Barry Trotz,  who acknowledged he was not clear in his communication with Holtby when, with just under 2 minutes remaining in regulation and the Caps down by a goal, he pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, only to see Nick Bonino flip the puck into the unguarded net just as Holtby arrived at the bench door.


Both Trotz and Holtby reacted angrily after the goal, with Trotz slamming his notepad and Holtby slamming his stick

“I didn’t communicate that well,” Trotz said. “I was looking down the ice and I thought I was waving him (onto the bench). I told the guys that’s on me. I’ve got to communicate that better.”

Holtby pointed out it was the first time this season the Caps have had to pull their goalie and that it would be corrected before Friday night’s game against Columbus.

“Yeah, I think we just got a little crossed up,” Holtby said. “There was quite a while without a whistle and it kind of snuck up on us. It’s the first time we’ve been in that situation this year so we’ll learn not to make that mistake again and be more clear on listening to instructions.”

As for the Penguins’ game-winning goal by Phil Kessel with 3:49 gone in the third period, a play in which Evgeny Malkin avoided a stick check by Caps fourth-line center Chandler Stephenson to find Kessel in front of the net for his second straight game-winner, Trotz said he wasn't pleased.

“Not much, really,” Trotz said when asked what he thought of his fourth line of Stephenson (minus-1), Brooks Laich (even) and Andre Burakovsky (minus-2). “They gave us maybe two decent shifts. They’ve got to be better for us. That’s not good enough.”

With all that said, the Caps did throw 34 shots at Marc-Andre Fleury, only to see him deny Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson twice each on the doorstep, and Alex Ovechkin five times.

The much-hyped Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry was pretty much a dud, with neither player factoring in the scoring. 

In 22:27 of ice time, Ovechkin recorded five shots, had five more blocked and one miss the net, delivered four hits and was a minus-1. Crosby saw 18:21 in ice time, recorded four shots, had one blocked, won 18 of 26 faceoffs and was even on the plus-minus sheet.

Backstrom, who along with Jay Beagle helped keep Crosby off the scoresheet, said the Caps could have had a different result if they were better against Fleury.

“We didn’t capitalize on our chances," Backstrom said. We had a 1-0 lead and we should have done something better with it. Sometimes I thought we were sloppy in the neutral zone, the passes weren’t there. That’s something we have to be better at.”

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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