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Capitals stunned by last place Blues, allowing four unanswered goals

Capitals stunned by last place Blues, allowing four unanswered goals

A game against the last place St. Louis Blues who were missing sniper Vladimir Tarasenko on Thursday seemed like easy pickings for the Washington Capitals. But that’s why they play the game.

What looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but as the Blues scored four unanswered goals in a 5-2 romp. The only silver lining for Washington was Alex Ovechkin’s first period tally that snapped a six-game goal drought for the Caps' captain.

Here are four reasons Washington lost.

A wicked deflection

St. Louis struck first just four minutes into the game. An innocent looking shot from Robert Bortuzzo from the blue line ended up in the back of the net behind a baffled Braden Holtby. Replay showed Holtby had his glove up and the puck was headed right for it, but forward Robert Thomas just managed to get a piece of it with his stick right in front of Holtby to deflect it in.

A backbreaking goal

Killing a penalty is hard to do. Even if you play perfectly for 1:50, you could still end up giving up a goal and walking away with nothing to show for your efforts. That can be deflating for a team and it seemed to be for Washington on Thursday.

The Caps’ penalty killers looked strong for much of the night including in the second period as Washington clung to a one-goal lead. Tom Wilson had a shorthanded breakaway and another opportunity soon after, but was not able to score. A few seconds later Colton Parayko scored to tie the game.

There were just 14 seconds left on the power play.

That goal seemed to take the wind out of Washington’s sails. Oskar Sundqvist scored just over four minutes later to take the lead late in the third and a game that looked like the Caps had control of was suddenly getting away from them.

After Parayko tied the game at 2, the Blues outscored Washington 3-0.

The third period

Heading into the final frame, the score was only 3-2. The Caps were certainly not out of it by any stretch. But rather than play themselves back into contention, Washington was put on their heels to start the final frame.

Despite trailing by a goal, the Caps were badly outplayed by the Blues. Washington did not get a shot on goal in the third period until about 13 minutes in. By that time, St. Louis had already managed to fire 12 shots on Holtby including two goals.

The power play

There’s no way around it, the Caps’ power play was just plain awful.

The biggest issue the power play has faced of late has been zone entry. It looked like the Blues did their homework and they stacked the blue line as a result to make it difficult for Washington to enter the offensive zone. The tactic certainly proved to be effective as the Caps clearly struggled to get past that blue line to set up their power play.

Frustration from the coaches was evident early. On the team’s very first power play of the game, Washington was whistled for offsides twice in the first 37 seconds. That was all Todd Reirden needed to see and he immediately subbed out the top power play unit, a unit that typically plays about 1:30 of a two-minute power play.

That was in the first few minutes of the game. Things did not get much better over the course of the game.

St. Louis entered Thursday’s game having given up 10 power play goals in their past eight games for a kill rate of just 60-percent. And yet, the Caps’ power play was not able to score on any of their three power play opportunities.

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Caps coach Todd Reirden calls Evgeny Kuznetsov suspension 'a career-defining time'

Caps coach Todd Reirden calls Evgeny Kuznetsov suspension 'a career-defining time'

Capitals coach Todd Reirden was blunt when the NHL suspended Evgeny Kuznetsov for the first three games of the regular season.

“It’s a career-defining time in his life,” Reirden said.

Circumspect on Thursday before the NHL announced the suspension for what was deemed “inappropriate conduct” – i.e. lying to his club and NHL investigators during an investigation into Kuznetsov’s drug use – Reirden did not hold back Saturday when the news became official.

“Him and my relationship is one that it’s important that I am there for him,” Reirden said. “But I also make sure that I understand that he’s accountable for what’s happened and realizing that how he reacts to this adversity is what’s important to me.”

Thursday was a day his Washington teammates expressed support for Kuznetsov, who failed a drug test on May 26 at the World Championships in Slovakia playing for Russia. The day after a video surfaced on social media that showed Kuznetsov in a hotel room in Las Vegas with a white powdery substance on the table in front of him.

It was all a bit reckless and Kuznetsov expressed remorse on Saturday to his teammates, coaches, management and fans. He will pay the price with a four-year suspension in international play by the International Ice Hockey Federation and missing the first three games of the NHL season. No one is happy about it.

Reirden said he and Kuznetsov have had multiple conversations since the IIHF announced the suspension on Aug. 23. So far, Kuznetsov has taken the advice to heart. He takes part in an NHLPA drug treatment and education program. He showed up much earlier than normal for on-ice workouts in Washington before training camp.

In many ways, he is the same old Kuznetsov. A happy-go-lucky personality, a world-class center, who never takes anything too seriously: From competing for Hart Trophies to winning faceoffs to looking ahead to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Expect him to change all of that at age 27 is unrealistic. He’s an adult.

But the suspension, the drug use, has chastened him some. He embarrassed his family. He has worried his teammates. They know the level Kuznetsov can reach. We all saw it during the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs when he was arguably the best player in the world for two months.

Kuznetsov has reached a fork in the road in his career. He has Hall-of-Fame talent. But he can coast to 70 points for the next few years and maybe get a pass. But he’ll never be as good as he should be. It is the dilemma of any brilliant talent. It is the one Kuznetsov faces now: How good do you want to be?

“It’s a difficult thing that he’s going through. But it’s absolutely an amazing opportunity to really change the course of how things will be for him the rest of his life,” Reirden said. “That’s where we’re at right now. Understanding that he’s going to be an example. How he reacts will be how people speak about this a year from now, five years from now and 15 years from now. This is a life-changing event.”

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Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Projecting the Caps opening night roster after the first day of training camp

Training camp for the 2019-20 season has officially opened for the Capitals who first took to the ice on Friday.

There has been a lot of talk through the offseason and a lot of people working the “Armchair GM” tool on CapFriendly trying to figure out what the roster will look like. After hearing Todd Reirden and Brian MacLellan speak, plus seeing the team take the ice on Friday, we have at least a rough idea of what the team may be thinking in terms of lines. The news of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s suspension, plus the fact that his cap hit will not count during his suspension, also dramatically changes the roster plans for the start of the season.

There is still an entire preseason to play and a lot of questions that need to be answered, but here is an early projection for the opening night roster for the Caps based on the first few days of training camp.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik Breandan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov’s suspension frees up a significant chunk of cap space for opening night. That creates a lot of possibilities for some players who otherwise would not have made the team to stick around through the first week of the season. If there is a prospect who impresses throughout the preseason, however, this can change. A solid performance for Connor McMichael, for example, and perhaps it is not farfetched to think he could play a few games before getting sent back to juniors. As a junior player, he could play up to nine NHL games in a season without burning a year of his entry-level contract.

For now, I am going pretty vanilla with my projection and including Boyd and Stephenson

Training camp lines should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this is how the top nine has looked on the wings. At center, Kuznetsov has been skating on the second line with Vrana and Oshie with Eller on the third with Hagelin and Panik. No doubt Eller will move up to the second line in Kuznetsov’s absence.

As for the fourth line, there were two different lines skating with the likely candidates. Leipsic and Boyd were with Brett Leason -- which I would not read into, I don’t think there is any chance Leason is a serious candidate to make the team this year -- while Dowd and Hathaway were with Stephenson.

Both Stephenson and Boyd enter camp with something to prove. Frankly, if the team had faith in them to play a fourth line and penalty kill role, they would not have gone out and signed Leipsic and Hathaway.

"It's a competition,” Reirden said Thursday of Stephenson and Boyd. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

The Kuznetsov suspension puts Boyd on the third line for now and gives Stephenson a second chance to prove he belongs to stay. I see Boyd primarily being an extra this season and Stephenson most likely headed to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns.

Defense

Michal Kempny - John Carlson Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas Christian Djoos

It seems doubtful that Kempny will play in the preseason, but the goal is for him to be ready for the start of the season. He has yet to skate with the team in practice, but he seems far enough along that he looks to be on pace for Oct. 2.

The Caps will eventually need to make a tough decision somewhere to shed salary and I believe that will mean moving Christian Djoos. If a team suffers an injury in training camp and wants to make a deal, I could see that happening. For now, like with many of the forwards, Kuznetsov’s suspension means the Caps have an extra week to make that decision. For now, I will keep him in the lineup, but I would not be surprised if he is playing for a different team by the start of the season.

The team is excited about prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary. Alexeyev, however, is dealing with an upper-body injury and there is no timetable for when he may return to the ice. Fehervary, meanwhile, has received nothing by rave reviews. Like with the forwards, the Kuznetsov suspension could open the door for a player like Fehervary to get a game or two.

Goalies

Braden Holtby Pheonix Copley

I’m not ready to predict this yet, but with Kuznetsov’s salary off the books for the first week of the season do the Caps consider keeping Samsonov and starting him against the New York Islanders in the second game of the season?

The Caps face a back-to-back with the Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes. I assume Holtby gets Carolina since it is the home opener, but what about the Islanders? Washington has to get their young goalies starts this season and Kuznetsov’s suspension gives them the ability to do so without putting Copley on waivers.

But is it too early? It’s worth watching to see how Samsonov and Vanecek play in the preseason to see if either may be ready for a quick start at the start of the season.

“We’re not going to force it,” MacLellan said. “Based on performance, we’ll evaluate it. … I’ll go with Scott Murray and we’ll see how they do in camp. We like all four of our goalies. We have four good goalies, we feel. We have a lot of depth. Vanecek played well – he was an all-star at the AHL level last year, and I’d like to see him get games. I’d like to see Samsonov get games. Copley has continued to improve, so it’s going to be a competitive situation.”

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