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After three months of no skating, how hard will it be for players to get up to game speed?

After three months of no skating, how hard will it be for players to get up to game speed?

The Capitals officially entered into Phase 2 of the NHL's return to play plan on Thursday, almost exactly three months after the league paused the season. Now the players will have about a month to prepare for training camp after three of not being able to skate at all. That’s not going to be an easy transition to make.

While the coronavirus pandemic has limited the way all professional athletes have been able to train, No sport has been more affected by this than hockey where players have not been able to get access to ice in order to skate. John Carlson revealed on an episode of the Lunch Talk Live Podcast that he had not even been on skates since March 12 when the league paused the season, making Thursday just the first time. He, along with Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller all were on the ice Thursday for the first day MedStar Capitals Iceplex was allowed to host players.

Like Carlson, many players have not been able to skate during the pause.

“I’m not doing much right now, to be honest,” Braden Holtby said in a video conference on May 4. “In the summer, I typically take a few months off completely anyway just to try and get my mind off completely away from everything. It’s going to be tough once there’s kind of a gameplan in play where we have a bit of time where we know we’re going to come back to figure out ways to see enough shots or see anything.”

The job of a goalie is particularly hard to simulate away form the ice where Holtby can’t skate or face shots.

But with all the uncertainty that came with the pandemic, the pause to the NHL season could prove beneficial to a veteran-laden team like Washington.

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While a younger team would not struggle to find that extra gear in the postseason, it is fair to wonder if a Caps team that features veterans like Carlson (30), Holtby (30), Alex Ovechkin (34), Nicklas Backstrom (32) and T.J. Oshie (33), would be able to find as much energy. That has not been an issue in years passed, but there will be a year when the team needs to dig deep and the older players just won’t be able to anymore. A three-month-and-counting pause will mean rested legs for every player as they come back onto the ice.

For veterans who have perfected their approach to the offseason, ramping up for the postseason will not feel all that different than normal, it just will come at a different date on the calendar.

In a video conference with Oshie on April 20 he was asked how long it would take him to be ready for the playoffs and he answered, “it wouldn’t take me long.”

“in a week for sure I’d be ready to step right into the playoffs and I think be able to make a difference,” he said.

One player who fans should not be worried about is Ovechkin. In terms of timing, things seemed to line up well for Ovechkin who had his personal trainer in town already when the season came to a screeching halt.

RELATED: WHY NHL PAUSE COULD HELP OR HURT CAPITALS

“Last couple years before the playoffs, my personal trainer came to Washington and start workout with me before the playoffs to get ready for that period of the season,” Ovechkin said in a video conference on March 26, “But with this situation, like he is here and I am lucky enough to have him here and we do some workout at the gym in my house. I have a small gym and we just go run on the street and play some soccer ride the bike and just try to get busy, you know?”

Ovechkin and his family eventually went to Miami, but Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, has been documenting on Instagram how hard Ovechkin has been working to remain in shape for when the season resumes. Since Phase 2 began, he has also been on the ice in Florida.

If Ovechkin is ready to go, that will be a good starting point for the rest of the team to catch up.

“You never know when the season is coming back and you have to be in shape, so try to do my best,” Ovechkin said. “It is kind of hard to be honest with you, but in this situation you have to take it the best way you can.”

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Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

The Philadelphia Flyers' dominance over the Capitals carried over from the regular season into Thursday's 3-1 round robin win, as Washington was eliminated from contention for the top seed in the East.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The Flyers forced the Caps into defensive breakdowns

The first of Philadelphia's three goals was a bad turnover by Radko Gudas. The other two were defensive breakdowns forced by the Flyers' movement in the offensive zone.

In the second period, Kevin Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov stayed on Scott Laughton. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him with a seam pass and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

That player in the top left doing a double-take? That's Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was in front of the net, skated away and reacted to Sanheim going in on net too late. More on him later.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up and was caught standing when Hayes made the seam pass. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov even reacted.

"It's a breakdown in coverage and they take advantage of it," Reirden said. "It's individual responsibilities that happen from mistakes prior to that. That's how goals happen and we have to execute better with the puck to give ourselves the chance to play in the offensive zone. We need to be better, we need more from everybody right down our list."

In both situations, the defensive was drawn away from the front of the net. It was Kuznetsov's responsibility to cover the front for the defense and he did not do a good enough job. Both mistakes resulted in goals.

And we know these plays were breakdowns by Kuznetsov because....

Reirden was displeased with Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov got tangled near the end of the first period and was slow to get up and skate to the bench. He returned for the start of the second period, but played only three shifts in the third. Because of what happened in the first period, I assumed this was because of an injury and I asked Reirden for an update on Kuznetsov's status after the game.

"How we break down ice time and use certain guys, we're going with who's playing the best at that time," Reirden said. "We need a different level of play and we know we have it. It's not a secret. We have a different level of play and we need to get to it if we want to have success. We need more from everybody and we didn't have that."

What Reirden appears to be saying here while trying not to single out Kuznetsov is that Kuznetsov was benched.

Kuznetsov's last shift came with 11:23 left in the third period. That was the Laughton goal in which Kuznetsov was caught standing in front of the net.

Too many penalties

I'll keep this one short because it's fairly obvious. You can't give up six power plays in the first two periods of a game and hope to win. And those penalties were blatant.

No, it's not just because it's the round robin

Sorry, you can't explain this loss away by just saying it was the round robin and the Caps are looking past this towards the playoffs.

Yes, Washington was without Carlson who is being held out, we believe, as a precaution, but Philadelphia started Brian Elliott in net over starter Carter Hart and James van Riemsdyk was out for them. Both teams made roster decisions with an eye on the playoffs, but one of them played much better than the other. I don't think Thursday's game was a product of the Caps not taking a round robin game seriously, it was just a bad game.

Turning point

When Tampa Bay went up 2-0 against the Caps on Monday, the Caps ramped up the intensity and rallied to tie the game before the end of the second period. When Philadelphia went up 2-0 on Thursday, the goal was completely deflating and I don't think anyone watching the game had any real confidence the Caps were going to be able to rally from this one. Hayes just stickhandled as much as he wanted until the seam opened up for Sanheim. That 2-0 lead felt like 5-0 at that point.

Play of the game

The game was leaning more and more in favor of the Flyers in the second period, but a 3-on-1 opportunity for Philadelphia could have made things even worse if not for the pad save by Braden Holtby.

Stat of the game

Washington's lone goal on the night came from Travis Boyd. It was his first playoff point.

Boyd played in two games during the 2018 Cup run but did not record a point in either game. While this may be the "round robin" and not a playoff series, these points do technically count as playoff points.

Quote of the game

Reirden summed this one up pretty well: "You need everybody’s top game. And we didn’t have that tonight. That’s really, to me, the story of this game, is that we need more from everybody.”

To end on a lighter note, Boyd was asked about his goal and said, "First playoff goal, I guess I will take that."

T.J. Oshie then cut in saying, "Many more to come."

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Flyers continue their dominance over the Capitals in round robin win

Flyers continue their dominance over the Capitals in round robin win

The Philadelphia Flyers had the Capitals' number in the regular season and that carried over to the postseason even five months later. Travis Boyd scored the Caps' lone goal in a lackluster performance as they fell 3-1 to the Flyers on Thursday. The loss means Washington will finish third or fourth in the round robin.

Here's why the Caps lost.

Too many penalties

Washington did not give up a single power play in the first round robin game against Tamap Bay. The team certainly made up for lost time on Thursday with a parade to the penalty box. The Caps faced six power plays all through the first two periods. This was not just a case of referees calling the game tight, these were blatant, obvious, bone-headed penalties.

The penalty kill was actually very good and finished perfect on the day, killing off all six power plays. That's good, but the effect of taking so many penalties was evident. Washington was chasing the play, the offense had no rhythm and no momentum.

On Monday, a T.J. Oshie fight sparked the team to rally from a two-goal deficit. On Thursday, the team was playing physically, but it was just reckless and completely took them out of their game.

RELATED: ALL OF THE ROUND ROBIN SCENARIOS TIED TO CAPITALS VS. FLYERS

Faceoffs

You can't score if you don't have the puck. Metrics like Corsi are used to measure possession and in that category Washington broke even at 50-percent. But in another possession metric, Washington was blitzed: The faceoff.

When a team wins a faceoff, they begin the play with possession and Philadelphia got the better of the Caps by a wide margin, winning 67-percent of the faceoffs.

The Flyers were the best faceoff team through the regular season and that was evident on Thursday as they dominated the Caps at the dot.

A bad turnover

Radko Gudas will want this one back. With the puck on his stick behind the goal line, Gudas put on the brakes to shake off the pressure from Travis Konecny. Konecny skated by, but Gudas put the puck on his backhand and tried to pass it through Kevin Hayes who easily picked it off along the boards. Suddenly the Caps were out of position and Konecny was wide open in front of the net. He took the pass, delivered a pretty no-look spin pass behind him to Scott Laughton for the slam dunk.

Nicklas Backstrom clipped the skate of Braden Holtby on the play, not allowing Holtby the chance to stretch out for the save attempt on Laughton, but frankly, he was not going to get there anyway.

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The Flyers' movement

Philadelphia generated a lot of room in the offensive zone with the constant movement of its forwards. This seems obvious -- it's hockey, after all -- but the Caps' defense could not keep up.

Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov drifted up and to the left, Siegenthaler's side, as Hayes continued to stickhandle. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov or either of the two defensemen could even react.

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