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A 78 second rally turns a sure loss into the Caps first win at home

A 78 second rally turns a sure loss into the Caps first win at home

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period.

Observations from the win

Maybe it’s not the goaltending….

We learned a lot from this game about the goaltending. First off, Braden Holtby is not the problem when it comes to keeping pucks out of the net. Obviously he has to be better than he was on Monday, but the defensive breakdowns from Monday were back again on Wednesday. The worst was a misplay by Siegenthaler who was far too slow to recognize Mikheyev streaking up the ice through the middle. When he received a pass from Kapanen it was already too late. Mikheyev easily skated around Siegenthaler to create the breakaway and the goal.

The second thing to note, Samsonov is very good and is going to be very good, but he is still raw and still developing. The biggest issue I see in his game is his tendency to overcommit. When the puck was on the side of the net, Samsonov would sell out  in anticipation of the shot. There was one instance in the first period where the puck was passed to John Tavares and Samsonov slid over so hard to cover it, he almost took himself out of the net completely. Tavares’ head was down as he tried to control the puck, but if he had his head up, he would have passed that puck back to the middle and it would have been an easy goal.

“He's extremely athletic,” Todd Reirden said after the game. “You go back to some other guys that are his size from his homeland that are active like that, one of the things they have to do when they come over is be a little bit more under control just because of the puck movement and the skill level of guys changing pucks side to side that you don't take yourself out of plays.”

To his credit, Samsonov settled down after the first period, which Reirden also noted. I wonder if it will be hard on goalie coach Scott Murray to coach two players with such contrasting styles. Holtby is the exact opposite of Samsonov with calm, cool movements that some detractors incorrectly identify as a disinterest.

So what do you do Friday? You put Holtby back in. If you don’t then you are needlessly creating a goalie controversy. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t play the backup two-straight games, but it means a heck of a lot if you go back to Samsonov after an OK, but not great game. There’s no need. Go back to Holtby and hope that he has had enough time to reset and go forward knowing you can be comfortable putting in Samsonov 25-30 games.

John Carlson is incredible

The debate is now over. For years there were still the people who would cling to their old bias and reach out to me on Twitter complaining Carlson was overrated because they saw him turn the puck over that one time a few years ago.

Carlson went from good to great in the Stanley Cup year, to elite in 2018-19 and now he has gone even beyond that. This is a superstar player.

WIth one goal and two assists, Carlson now has 14 points on the season (and was briefly leading the entire league in points). From where I was sitting in the press box, I was essentially directly down the line from him on the Jakub Vrana goal. Carlson had the puck and it looked like he had no outlet to pass whatsoever. He faked the shot, and suddenly I saw the seas part and there was a direct lane to Vrana for the one-timer. I saw it as it happened, but Carlson clearly saw it before it happened and anticipated that play. It was brilliant.

But you already knew he was good on offense. The knock on him has always been his defense, but we need to get over that. Morgan Rielly is a highly regarded defenseman across the league and someone, with 72 points last year, who received some votes and consideration for the Norris last season. No one could have watched Wednesday's game and come away thinking that Rielly is more important to his team than Carlson is. If you did, you were watching a different game than I was.

Carlson is an elite defenseman and I will say it now, he will be a Norris finalist this season.

Turning point

It took the Caps 78 seconds to turn a game that looked similar to Monday’s debacle into a win. Evgeny Kuznetsov glided into the offensive zone faster than anyone on the ice could skate and tucked the puck around the outstretched pad of Michael Hutchinson. Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom cashed in on the hard forechecking work of T.J. Oshie. The flustered Leafs took two penalties giving Washington 1:51 of a 5-on-3 power play which Carlson scored on. Suddenly a 2-1 deficit for the Caps turned into a 4-2 lead all in a stretch of just 78 seconds.

Play of the night

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Hutchinson with relative ease.

This is art.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

Stat of the night

With one goal and two assists, Carlson now has 14 points on the season. At the time, that led the NHL. Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl passed him later on Wednesday with multi-point performances, but for a few hours, Carlson was the league-leader in points.

Quote of the night

Todd Reirden on how he felt when the team went down 2-0:

“I have to tell you tonight I wasn't concerned when we were down 2-0. I thought they converted on a couple chances but I had a good feeling about our team tonight, that there was no panic, we stayed with our game, we built and built and built, shift after shift and it was a matter of time. I was confident in our group tonight. Despite what happened last game, I felt felt strong about it.”

So while Twitter was imploding and people were gathering the pitchforks and torches in the first period, Reirden had no doubt. That’s why coaches don’t read Twitter.

Fran predictions

Vrana had one goal and another hit the post. So close!

This could explain what happened in those 78 seconds.

Ovechkin (1 assist), Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Oshie (1 assist) did combine for four points. Carlson meanwhile had one goal and two assists. Nice job!

The cow was in section 225 or, as I like to call him, Sir Loin.

Wrong.

What the heck are “lizard” and “spock?” Is this a thing? Have I been playing rock, paper, scissors wrong?

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Lars Eller is out and John Carlson is a game-time decision for Game 1

Lars Eller is out and John Carlson is a game-time decision for Game 1

The Capitals will begin their first-round series against the New York Islanders shorthanded, though we are not quite sure how much yet. The team will be without center Lars Eller for Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders, according to head coach Todd Reirden. Defenseman John Carlson will be a game-time decision.

Eller left the bubble on Aug. 5 to be with his family for the birth of a child. He returned on Sunday and remains in his room under quarantine until he receives four negative tests over the course of four days. That meant it was theoretically possible that he could be cleared before Wednesday's game, but Reirden put the matter to rest on Tuesday saying Eller would not be available for Game 1.

Travis Boyd has played in Eller's spot on the third line and is expected to remain there for Game 1.

“You feel comfortable with the player that knows our system, knows the detail that is expected, understands his role on the team," Reirden said of Boyd. "He is very versatile we can use him in a lot of different ways and he is going to get that opportunity [Wednesday]. He has made well on this opportunity thus far. I think he has played well in both of the games he has been a part of and now it is where does he go from here?"

On the back end, Carlson's status remains unknown.

After getting tangled up in the team's exhibition game, Carlson did not play in any of the team's round robin games. This was believed to be just a precaution to save Carlson for when the games really start to matter in the playoffs. For that reason and considering how important a player he is, I would expect him to play or otherwise the injury is much more serious than anyone realized.

Carlson skated in both Monday's optional skate and Tuesday's practice.

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Capitals vs. Islanders Game 1: What to expect now that the games matter

Capitals vs. Islanders Game 1: What to expect now that the games matter

The playoffs are finally here as the Capitals and New York Islanders square off in Game 1 of their Round 1 series on Wednesday (3 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). The action starts on NBC Sports Washington at 2 p.m. with Caps Pregame Live followed by the game at 3 p.m. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live.

Here's what you need to know for Game 1.

Eller is out, Carlson a game-time decision

The Caps will be without center Lars Eller for Wednesday's Game 1 against the Islanders, according to head coach Todd Reirden. Defenseman John Carlson will be a game-time decision.

Eller left the bubble on Aug. 5 to be with his family for the birth of his second child. He returned on Sunday and remains in his room under quarantine until he receives four negative tests over the course of four days. Travis Boyd has played in Eller's spot on the third line and is expected to remain there for Game 1.

On the back end, Carlson's status remains unknown.

After getting tangled up in the team's exhibition game, Carlson did not play in any of the team's round robin games. This was believed to be just a precaution to save Carlson for when the games really start to matter in the playoffs. For that reason, and considering how important a player he is, I would expect him to play. If not, then the injury may be much more significant than anyone realized.

RELATED: LARS ELLER OUT, JOHN CARLSON GAME-TIME DECISION

Here is a projected lineup for the Caps:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Brenden Dillon - Dmitry Orlov
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby
Vitek Vanecek

More top production needed from the top six

The Caps are going to need more production from their top six than what they got in the round robin. Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov and Wilson were all held to a single point in the round robin while Ovechkin and Vrana were held off the scoresheet entirely. The Caps will not win this way, especially against an Islanders team that allowed only 1.75 goals against in the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers.

Something to keep an eye on is whether Reirden elects to shuffle the top six at all if they are struggling during the game. On Sunday against the Boston Bruins, Reirden moved Backstrom and Oshie to the top line with Ovechkin and the offense played much better.

Perfect on the PK

Washington remains perfect on the penalty kill in the playoffs, killing off all eight power plays they have faced. The Islanders found success on the power play against Florida scoring at a rate of 25-percent. For an Islanders team that focuses so much on defense, the power play will prove huge. If New York cannot get offense with the extra man, they may have to eventually open up to keep up with Washington's offensive talent.

Are the Caps at a disadvantage coming out of the round robin?

One thing I wondered about the 2020 postseason format is whether teams coming out of the round robin would be at a disadvantage in the first round playing against teams that already played and won a playoff series. The disparity in intensity between the two teams, if there is any, will be most evident in Game 1.

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