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The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The Capitals are 10 games into the 2019-20 season. For the most part, things have gone well. The team is 6-2-2 and sits atop the Metropolitan Division. John Carlson leads the entire NHL with 18 points which puts him in some pretty elite company. Ilya Samsonov looks as good as advertised while Braden Holtby looks like his old self after a brief reset. Alex Ovechkin has six goals already and T.J. Oshie leads the team with seven. Plus, both special teams units look improved.

That’s a pretty solid start.

But there remain two important questions that still need answers.

Who should play on the right on the second defensive pair?

Michal Kempny finally returned after missing the first eight games of the season. He started the last two on the third pair, but is working his way back up to the top pairing. Once he gets there, the defense will finally be at full strength.

That gives Washington a pretty solid top three of Kempny and Carlson, plus Dmitry Orlov. But who should play on the right with Orlov?

Jensen had the first crack at it to start the season, but after some up-and-down play, Radko Gudas was bumped up for a few games. Since Kempny returned, Gudas moved back down to third to play with him and Jensen moved back with Orlov.

So far Gudas has been as good as advertised, but playing well on the third pair does not necessarily mean he should be on the second.

Jensen was one of Detroit’s top defensemen when he was acquired by the Caps. The team is still waiting for that player to emerge. It has been a tough transition for him to Washington's system and, while he has shown flashes of strong play, he remains largely inconsistent. His Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 is the second-worst on the team at 46.82-percent. He is one of only three Caps below 50-percent with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tyler Lewington being the other two.

The issue for the Caps may be that they have two high-quality third pair right defensemen in Jensen and Gudas and only one top-four right defenseman in Carlson which leaves a hole on that second pair.

When it comes to the defense, we should reserve all judgment until Kempny is back to playing on the top-pair full-time so we can see this defense at full strength. Until then, however, the second pair remains a question mark.

Can the Caps get enough production from the third line?

There wasn’t much offense to speak of from the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik trio and it didn’t take Todd Reirden long to split them up. Hagelin is the Swiss Army knife of the Caps’ offense, but his offensive production is limited. Panik meanwhile has had a tough start to his Caps’ tenure with zero points and is on long-term injured reserve.

As always, the top six for this team remains lethal and the additions of Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway to the fourth line have been home runs. The third line is the only one that remains a question and it may need a boost from a player like Jakub Vrana, who has been playing there the last few games with Eller and Hathaway, to help spark some production. Ultimately, however, you would like to see Vrana back in the top six and Hathaway back on the fourth. Hagelin, Eller and Panik are the best fit for the third, but if they can’t produce together it may mean weakening the top six or the fourth line by moving players around to find a combination that produces on that third line.

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Penguins lose Sidney Crosby for a minimum of 6 weeks after undergoing surgery

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Penguins lose Sidney Crosby for a minimum of 6 weeks after undergoing surgery

The Pittsburgh Penguins have already dealt with a litany of injuries this season, but none as significant as this one. The team announced Thursday that Sidney Crosby has undergone what it called a “successful core muscle injury repair” and will be out a minimum of six weeks. Crosby has been dealing with a sports hernia since training camp.

The Penguins have already been without Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang for points this season, but obviously neither means as much to that team as Crosby. Despite dealing with the sports hernia, Crosby still leads the team with 17 points in 17 games.

Pittsburgh currently sits fourth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 10-6-2. Just two years removed from their last Stanley Cup, an aging Penguins roster faced scrutiny heading into the season over whether the team was good enough to keep up in a competitive Metropolitan Division, especially in the wake of getting swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in 2019. Though it is still early, losing Crosby for such a significant period of time while the team sits in the middle of the standings could torpedo their chances of returning to the playoffs.

But don’t dismiss the Penguins just yet.

Injuries are nothing new for Crosby who has only once in his career played a full 82 games. In his 13 seasons prior to this year, he has been limited to fewer than 55 games three times, not including the lockout-shortened season. In all three seasons, Pittsburgh still made the playoffs.

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Capitals complete undefeated month, Ovechkin lets up on Niskanen and is Oshie the best shootout player ever?

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Capitals complete undefeated month, Ovechkin lets up on Niskanen and is Oshie the best shootout player ever?

The Capitals have not lost in regulation in a month. With their 2-1 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, Washington extended its point streak to 13 games. The Caps have won 11 of their last 12 and have not lost in regulation since Oct. 14.

Check out Wednesday's game recap here.

Observations from the win

Panik is close

This was easily Richard Panik’s best game as a Cap. He had four shots on goal in the first period and six for the game. He had only seven shots on goal total in his nine games prior to Wednesday. He looked like one of the more dangerous offensive players for Washington and the third line actually looked offensively dangerous.

Now here’s the key, Panik has to continue playing like this. He can’t deliver a performance like this once every 10 games, this needs to be the new normal and not the exception.

Radko Gudas

Yeah, this game mattered to Gudas. He was far more aggressive in the offensive zone than we have seen him at any point this season. In the first period, he cut through the middle of the offensive zone and dangled the puck like a scoring winger. He nearly scored and that would have been a goal to remember.

No consistency by the refs

Slashing is called differently in today’s NHL than it was ten years ago. Heck, it is different than it was five years ago. Old-school hockey enthusiasts hate it, but whatever. It's fine. There’s not enough padding on the gloves and players get hurt from even innocent-looking slashes. It's better to have a few soft calls in the game than more broken fingers.

If you are going to call those light slashes as penalties, that’s fine, but you have to do it consistently. The issue is not that refs are calling too many slashes, it’s just that there is no consistency with those calls.

Jakub Vrana was called for a very light slash on Ivan Provorov in the second period. By the letter of the law, it was a slash. OK, they called it and that means that this is the standard you have now set. In the third period, Sean Couturier gave Wilson a whack in front of the net while he was battling for the puck. Ten years ago, no one would have batted an eyelash over it, t was just a light tap. But the refs set the standard with the Vrana slash, yet there was no call. You could see Wilson, he is used to having grown men throw their fists at his face, complain about what was a light tap to the refs. The severity of the slash was not the problem, consistency was.

That’s the frustrating part. It’s not that the Vrana slash was called, it’s that the same standard was not kept throughout the game.

Ovechkin on Niskanen

In the second period, Alex Ovechkin had Matt Niskanen square in his sights. The commentators on the broadcast praised Ovechkin for following through on his hit even though it was against his former teammate. I hate to disagree, but it sure looks to me like Ovechkin could have ended Niskanen with this hit. I’m fairly certain Ovechkin took something off this, but you be the judge:

Eastern conference

The Caps have played only eight games against the Eastern Conference in their first 20. In those eight games, Washington has not lost a single one in regulation and now has a record of 7-0-1.

Turning point

After the first period, this looked like it was going to be an easy win for the Caps who were completely dominating. After two periods, it looked like Washington would have to settle for a narrow victory. Then Nic Dowd toe picked in front of Matt Niskanen and fell into the former Caps’ legs. As happens in hockey, one bad penalty call quickly turned into a goal as Claude Giroux scored on a 2-on-1 to tie the game.

That was the difference between a regulation win and a shootout win on Wednesday for Washington.

Play of the game

There were a number of great saves by Holtby as the Flyers began to tip the scales in their favor after the first period. This one stands out as the best as Tyler Pitlick thought he could spin and tuck the puck into the far-side of the net, but Holtby was able to turn him aside with the toe.


Stat of the game

T.J. Oshie is not just one of the best shootout players in the league, he is the best shootout player ever.


Quote of the game

Holtby does not say much after games. He talks about shutting everything out and focusing just on his play. He does not get excited for shutouts or overly down on himself after bad games. His entire focus is helping the team win.

One reporter asked Holtby if playing in a game like Wednesday's is more fun because of how he has to push himself when the oppositions' goalie plays so well. Holtby's answer reflects how much respect he has for Philadelphia's Carter Hart.

"Yeah it is. Especially when it’s a guy that’s fun to play against obviously. Connections in different ways. Being Western Canadian, I root for those guys. It was fun. It was fun to see him play really well and it was fun to compete like that."

Fan predictions

Gudas and Holtby were closest. Gudas was buzzing and nearly scored in the first period. Holtby allowed only one goal and was 13:45 away from the shutout.

The Caps as a team could not muster two goals against Hart so that streak is now over.

Ovechkin fell just a bit shy of scoring the 224 goals he needed to pass Gretzky’s record on Wednesday. Oh well, there’s always Friday’s game.

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