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Caps have nothing but praise for their Stadium Series hosts

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps have nothing but praise for their Stadium Series hosts

When he came to the podium for the postgame presser, Barry Trotz did not even wait for the first question to be asked before he began praising the Naval Academy for the job it did in hosting the Stadium Series.

"Before you ask me a question, I just want to thank the Navy, the NHL, and special thanks to all the guys who are working on the rink," he said. "The conditions were excellent considering the wind and all that the last few days."

Conditions were a concern leading up to the game as heavy winds had forced the teams to cancel Friday's practices and Saturday's morning skates. That meant the first time either team had an opportunity to skate on the playing surface was in pregame warmups.

For the actual game, however, neither the weather nor the playing surface had any negative impact.

"Conditions were great," Matt Niskanen said. "I don't think the wind was really a factor that much. Ice was awesome."

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When comparing the ice to his previous outdoor experiences, Nicklas Backstrom had only good things to say.

"I honestly thought this ice was the best I've played on. It was really good and wasn't any cracks in it or anything."

But the ice alone was not what made Saturday special.

WIth the Naval Academy as the venue, the entire event had a military theme to it which the NHL fully embraced. The field was decorated so that the ice surface lay on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The Maple Leafs were introduced behind the pipes and drums of the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group playing "The Maple Leaf Forever." The Caps, meanwhile, were led by the United States Naval Academy Pipes and Drums who were playing the theme song to the movie Top Gun.

"I heard it this morning and I think I'm not too young for that movie," Tom Wilson said. "I've seen that numerous times and it's a classic so that definitely gets the feels going."

While the event provided a unique experience for the fans, it was also very different for the players as well.

Outdoor games are typically a celebration of the sport, hearkening to a player's days as a kid playing the game outside. Saturday's Stadium Series for the players, however, was more about celebrating the hosts.

"Right at the start the anthem and the planes going over and seeing some of our service people," Trotz said, "Obviously all the Midshipmen all around the rink, and you're looking at these young men who serve us and give us the privilege to do what we get to do, the freedoms that we have.

"And today my coaching moment was actually not on the ice but underneath when I was running into some of those Midshipmen and asking where they were or where they're from, what they were -- what areas of the Navy they were sort of focused in on. That was probably my greatest moment today is meeting some of the young people who are serving our country."

"To be a part of the tradition and for them to welcome us and the Navy to host us, it's something you'll always remember," Wilson said.

"Those are the people that are going to be serving and protecting our country and all the tradition," he added. "It's awesome for them to let us be a part of it for a night and it's nice to get a win for them and hopefully they had a good time as well."

In addition to celebrating the military, the gold-medal winning men's curling team and women's hockey team were also honored at the game.

There were only two blights on what was otherwise a spectacular evening. First, the stadium was not filled to capacity. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium can hold 34,000, but the announced attendance was less than 30,000. Second, at the 10-minute mark in the third period when both teams were switching sides of the rink, the stadium lights suddenly lost power.

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Play was delayed for about 15 minutes until the lights were brought back on. What could have been an embarrassing moment, however, turned into one of the more memorable scenes of the night as fans pulled out their cell phones to light the stands. Music continued playing and the remaining fans celebrated with an impromptu dance party.

Besides the two minimal blips, the entire event was a phenomenal experience for fan and player (and media) alike.

"They put on an amazing show for everyone and they're phenomenal hosts," Wilson said. "It was our home game, but it kind of felt like we were visitors too. They made us feel at home and that's a pretty special feeling, standing there with the bagpipes and the jet going over and the anthems. I think everyone had a smile on their face and it's something you'll never forget."

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Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

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USA Today Sports

Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

Friday’s game had a little bit of everything. After spotting the Florida Panthers a 4-1 lead, the Capitals furiously battled back to tie the game at 4, then tied the game at 5 with just 1:25 remaining in regulation to earn an improbable point. The comeback ultimately fell short, however, as the Panthers earned the 6-5 shootout win.

Here are three reasons the Caps lost.

Bad puck management

A disastrous first period saw the Panthers score four goals and the biggest reason for that was the Caps’ puck management. They were sloppy with the puck leading to a number of costly turnovers, and Florida took advantage.

A good illustration of this game with Washington already trailing 2-1: Jakub Vrana made a lazy pass in the defensive zone that was easily intercepted by Jonathan Huberdeau, who forced a really nice save from Braden Holtby.

Whew, bullet dodged. Actually, not so fast.

Brett Connolly won the resulting faceoff, but Michal Kempny attempted a backhanded pass behind the net that was easily stolen away by Vincent Trocheck. Florida went tic-tac-toe with Trocheck to Huberdeau to Colton Sceviour who finished off the play for the goal.

No control in front of the net

Trocheck scored a rebound goal from the slot that bounced off of Lars Eller and into the net. Evgenii Dadonov scored from the slot on the power play. Sceviour scored from the high-slot after what was a generous pass from Huberdeau who looked like he could have scored from closer in…from the slot. Jared McCann pounced on a loose puck in the slot to beat a sprawling Holtby and Huberdeau scored off a rebound right in front of Holtby.

See a pattern?

The Panthers had complete control in front of the Caps’ net and all five of their goals came from in close.

Penalties

The Caps had a pretty good start to the game, but that was derailed by a Jakub Vrana penalty just 6:10 into the game. Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for hooking about 10 minutes later and Dadonov scored to put Florida up 2-1.

Despite the penalties and going down 4-1 in the first, the Caps battled back to a 4-4 tie in the second. Then the penalties popped up again.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad late in the period. It was a tough call as the puck as was at Ekblad’s feet, but Ovechkin made no attempt to play the loose puck at all and simply hit Ekblad, drawing an interference call. Less than a minute later, the Caps were called for too many men giving Florida 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with and Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal.

After three-straight goals, the Caps’ penalties completely derailed them and swept momentum back in the Panthers’ favor.

But wait, there’s more.

With the time ticking away on the too many men penalty, Kuznetsov was tossed out of the faceoff dot. He argued with the linesman and apparently argued a bit too hard because the linesman went to the referee and Kuznetsov was booked for unsportsmanlike conduct giving Florida another 10 seconds of 5-on-3.

Despite all of that, the Caps still managed to tie the game with just 1:25 remaining in the game. Matt Niskanen, however, took a penalty with just 23 seconds left. With a 4-on-3 power play to start overtime, 

Overall, Washington gave the Panthers seven power play opportunities including two 5-on-3s, gave up two goals on the man advantage and completely killed their own momentum.

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3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

The Capitals play their last home game of October on Friday as they host the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Here’s what you need to watch.

Dmitrij Jaskin is back in

Todd Reirden has made one adjustment to the lineup for Friday’s game, putting Dmitrij Jaskin back in on the fourth line in place of Nathan Walker. Jaskin has yet to record a point since joining the Capitals, but that has a lot to do with where he was coming from.

“This team is based on being creative and it's probably something that I missed in the last few years,” Jaskin said following Friday’s morning skate.

In St. Louis, Jaskin was coached by Mike Yeo and, before him, Ken Hitchcock. Both coaches preach a hard-nosed offensive style based more on effort and being defensively responsible than skill. Coming to a team like Washington then, a team that encourages skill and creativity on offense, is a pretty dramatic change.

Jaskin has played a very safe style since coming into the lineup. It’s good to be defensively responsible, but not if it completely chokes the life out of the offense. Jaskin is hardly generating any offense at all thus far since coming to Washington.

After a few more practices, can it finally spark some skill and creativity from Jaskin?

Can the Caps get the bottom six back on track?

The Caps have gotten only two goals in six games from their bottom six and both came in the team’s blowout opening win against Boston. The third and fourth lines generated some chances on Wednesday, but afterward, Reirden stressed that the team needed to see more production from its depth forwards.

“We've got to continue to get scoring depth wise if we want to have success in this league,” he said. “That's where everything's headed is you can't rely on your top guys to come through for you every night and we'll continue to focus on finding the right chemistry with that third and fourth line to be able to give us some added offense there as well.”

Florida could provide a good opportunity for those players to get some points on the board.

Starting goalie Roberto Luongo is out with an injury and James Reimer will get the start on Friday. In three games, Reimer has a GAA of 3.62 and save percentage of .885.

As a team, the Panthers currently rank 24th in goals against per game with 3.50.

Two teams in need of a win

Florida is still searching for its first win of the season with a 0-2-2 record. It is still early, but this is a Panthers team with playoff aspirations and you don’t want to dig yourself in too deep a hole to start or it becomes very difficult to dig out.

The Caps, meanwhile, will be playing in their final home game of October. They leave Saturday for Vancouver to kick-off a three-game Western Canada trip. They then will face the Canadiens in Montreal on Nov. 1 before finally returning home.

Washington’s next home game will not come until Nov. 3. That makes Friday’s game a big one for the Caps as they try to secure two points before hitting the road.

“It's definitely a big game,” Reirden said. “We want to build on some of the things we were able to accomplish last game. It's difficult anytime you go out west with time changes and different stuff. We know that [Florida is] going to be a desperate team that hasn't had the start that they want and they're talented so it's an important game for us to go on the road on a winning note.”

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