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Capitals enter All-Star break on sour note in Toronto as losing streak extends to seven

Capitals enter All-Star break on sour note in Toronto as losing streak extends to seven

The Capitals enter the All-Star break losers of seven straight after a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

In desperate need of a win before the All-Star Break, the Capitals kept Alex Ovechkin in the lineup delaying his one-game suspension and started Braden Holtby for the second consecutive night. Yet, the result was the same as they gave up six goals for the third straight game and for the fourth time during the current losing streak. Washington has been outscored 36-18 during the streak.

Here are four reasons the Caps lost.

Nazem Kadri

Kadri is always a thorn in the side of the Caps, most notably for his knee-on-knee hit on Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs back in 2017. He was again a pest against Washington with a hat trick for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

The Caps scored late in the first period, but Kadri scored with 26 seconds remaining to even the game at one. Kadri also extended Toronto’s lead to two goals for the first time at the 2:10 mark into the second period of a one-timer from the high slot. He completed the hat trick later in the third as William Nylander shot the puck, hit both posts and the puck went straight to the stick of Kardi who had an empty net yawning.

Washington has now given up a hat trick in three straight games and in four of their last five.

A quick response

A growing problem for Washington during this losing streak is allowing quick response goals. Nicklas Backstrom put the Caps on the board with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first period.

Great, Washington is headed to the locker room up 1-0, right? Not so fast.

Morgan Reilly dumped the puck and tried to pass it to the middle. Nylander kicked it back behind the net and the play should have been dead, but Michal Kempny tipped it back out to center and no one seemed to know where it was except Kadri who came streaking in and tapped it past Holtby to tie the game.

The goal came just 47 seconds after Backstrom put Washington on the board.

An untimely penalty

Ovechkin is doing just about everything he can to keep the Caps in this games and he scored again on Wednesday. But this game really turned on an Ovechkin penalty in the second period.

Ovechkin was called for cross-checking Kaspari Kapanen about two minutes after Nikita Zaitsev tied the game at 2. At that point, Washington had never trailed in the game. They had yielded leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but overall were playing significantly better than they did on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Auston Matthews would go on to score on the resulting power play. That would be the first of three unanswered goals for Toronto.

A rough penalty kill for John Carlson

The Leafs were able to cash in on the penalty kill because of a rough shift for defenseman John Carlson. With the puck on his stick behind the net, Carlson did not try clearing the puck around the boards. Instead, he turned up ice and fired it right to John Tavares. Tavares blocked the clear and kept the puck in. Later on in the shift, Matthews was skating in looking for a shot. Carlson dropped to a knee looking for the shot block, but he was too quick. Matthews curled it around him a now helpless Carlson then fired the puck through Holtby to give Toronto a lead they would not relinquish.

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Capitals won't discuss contract extension with Alex Ovechkin until after playoffs

Capitals won't discuss contract extension with Alex Ovechkin until after playoffs

Alex Ovechkin was always going to be eligible for a contract extension on July 13, but current circumstances have created an unprecedented situation. 

The Capitals will begin Round Robin play Monday and if everything goes well, will play into late September. Until the playoffs conclude, the team won't be discussing an extension with their franchise player. 

"We're waiting until after the playoffs to see how everything pans out here," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, per NHL.com's Tracey Myers. "I think it's constantly been changing the whole year. I don't think anybody could have predicted. We're going to wait and assess where we're at at the end of the year and make decisions then."

This echoes Ovechkin's sentiments on the day he became eligible for a new deal, where he said was "not even thinking" about it. 

RELATED: PLAYING IN EMPTY ARENA WON'T BE A PROBLEM FOR HOLTBY

It doesn't appear Ovechkin's future with the team is in jeopardy, as neither side has shown any intentions of not coming together on a deal. It just seems like a timing issue during a year where everything was thrown off completely by a global pandemic. 

There's also an issue fo the salary cap. If Ovechkin wants a long-term deal for big money, the flat cap will make it difficult for the Caps to realistically make that happen. Of course, you make things work for a player of Ovechkin's caliber, but the challenges still remain. 

For now though, Ovechkin and the Caps as a whole can focus on winning another Stanley Cup. They can talk money later. 

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Why playing in an empty arena won't be a problem for Braden Holtby

Why playing in an empty arena won't be a problem for Braden Holtby

There are a lot of unknowns heading into the 2020 postseason, but one of the biggest unknowns has been how the goalies will play. A pause of several months in which no one could get on the ice was hardest on the goalies who could essentially do nothing to simulate their play on the ice or keep their bodies ready for game action when they returned. According to Braden Holtby, however, it’s so far, so good.

Holtby turned aside 12 out of 13 shots in Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes. He looked more poised and confident than when the season was paused.

For him, the long layoff wasn’t an issue. He had plenty of time to prepare during optional workouts.

“I think it's been long enough that [goalies have] been able to be on the ice,” Holtby said. “I mean, it's coming up on two months. That's plenty of time. Obviously it was a little different getting back into just the game routine from practice. That's always one of the challenges when you have a long layoff. But I felt pretty comfortable out there.”

The only adjustment for goalies, however, is not just about getting onto the ice, it’s also about adjusting to a new setting.

RELATED: WHAT TO KNOW FOR CAPS VS. LIGHTNING

For the first time in the NHL, these players will be playing in front of no fans. That will affect some players more than others and...well...let’s just say the lack of fans will not be an issue for Holtby.

“Actually, I didn't feel different at all,” Holtby said referring to playing in front of an empty arena. “Felt pretty normal. A few of the guys were saying on the bench it's kind of a hard time which obviously as a goalie you don't have to deal with. I was quite surprised, it seemed like a normal game.”

In addition to the crowd noise -- added to the broadcast but not heard by the players in the arenas -- the seats in the arena were covered with banners to give a more decorative background as opposed to empty seats.

While this was done to make the arena more aesthetically pleasing to the fans watching at home, Holtby described an unintended benefit to the covered seats.

“The sightlines are nice,” Holtby said. “At least they backdropped it, they put up this grey. That helps a lot. A lot of the buildings you go into with the black seats so if it's the start of the period or something and no one's sitting down yet, you lose a lot of pucks in those seats. You don't have to deal with that here which is nice.”

Holtby struggled in the regular season, but the Caps’ championship hopes lie very much on his shoulders considering Ilya Samsonov is out with an injury suffered prior to training camp. Any advantage he can get for the playoffs will be welcome for the team. It's a good sign that he seems very cool and relaxed about the NHL's new setting.

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