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Caps stunned by lowly Devils in blowout loss at home

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Caps stunned by lowly Devils in blowout loss at home

WASHINGTON -- The first-place Capitals and lowly New Jersey Devils reversed roles for a night as New Jersey handed Washington an ugly 5-1 loss. The Caps had a lackluster start to the game and never recovered as New Jersey kept adding to its lead. Washington had no answer on offense, defense or special teams for the Devils in a game in which they never truly looked like the better team.

Here is how the Caps lost. 

 A neutral zone gaffe

Nick Jensen gave up a horrendous turnover Wednesday in Philadelphia. On Saturday, he got caught too high in the neutral zone leading to New Jersey's first goal of the game.

Nico Hischier won a faceoff at center ice. Will Butcher passed up the wall looking for Jesper Bratt. Nick Jensen stepped up in the neutral zone to cut off the puck, but it got by him suddenly catching up way too far up the ice sparking a 2-on-1. Hischier had the puck and took it in on net himself to get New Jersey on the board.

A sleepy start

This was the 12th time in 15 games the Caps gave up the first goal. Washington simply was not firing on all cylinders when the game started. Often they have been able to recover from those type of starts, but they were not in this one as New Jersey took the 1-0 lead into the locker room and continued to play with momentum and confidence as the second period began.

A big rebound

Already up 1-0, Nikita Gusev took advantage of a Braden Holtby rebound to make it 2-0.

Will Butcher fired from the faceoff circle and Holtby was able to get his blocker to it. The shot came from Holtby's left and the rebound went to his right leaving a wide-open net for Gusev who happened to be in the right place at the right time. The rebound bounced right to him and he potted it home.

The power play

The Caps' woeful power play has been a major talking point of late, especially in the wake of allowing a shorthanded goal to Philadelphia on Wednesday which proved to be the game-winner.

Trailing 2-0, Washington was handed a golden opportunity to get back into the game as Miles Wood was given a double-minor for high-sticking Richard Panik. The Caps did manage to score...but only after Blake Coleman scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0.
Fast-forward to the third period with Washington down 4-1, Hischier was called for an elbow and P.K. Subban was nailed for delay of game 77 seconds later. That gave Washington 43 seconds of a two-man advantage to work with to spark the comeback, but no dice. The Caps did not score on either power play and finished 1-of-5 on the power play on the night.

Nico Hischier

Hischier was, by far, the best player in this game. Not only did he score the first goal after Jensen was caught too far up in the neutral zone, he added a second goal in the second period. The Devils hopped on a defensive zone turnover for Washington and Kyle Palmieri fed Hischier cross-ice. Hischier fired a one-timer far-side to beat Holtby.

Holtby was watching Palmieri on his right, slid left for the pass, then the shot came to the far-side to his right.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

Caps GM Brian MacLellan is not worried about any disadvantage from the bye week, says the Cup is 'up for grabs'

With a round-robin tournament to determine the top four seeds in each conference heading into the playoffs, it is fair to wonder what was the point of the regular season? Considering those top teams will get a bye and then go on to play a team that just won a series in the play-in round, one could certainly argue that the 24-team format the NHL will use when it returns to play actually puts the top teams at a disadvantage.

But you're not going to hear any complaining from Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan.

"I don't think there's a perfect solution here on the playoff," MacLellan said Friday in a video conference. "I think the league has done a reasonable good job of just trying to include all of the issues they can, and make it as competitive and compelling as possible. And I think it's very interesting how it could play out. It could be great to watch on TV."

Over the course of an 82-game regular season, there is incentive to finish high in the standings. The system is set up to try to give the top seeds a clear advantage in the playoffs in order to add meaning to the regular season. But that's not the system we have in 2020.

Each of the top four seeds in each conference receives a bye through the play-in round. Considering we don't know what teams are going to look like or how difficult it will be to get back up to game speed, that is a definite advantage. Even in a normal year, we see several upsets in the playoffs so the fact a team like the Caps are exempt from that is a definite boon. The problem is what happens after.

When the Caps take the ice in the round of 16, they will have played some exhibition games, three round-robin games to determine seeding and that's it. Their opponent will be coming off a playoff series. We may be calling it a play-in round, but that's just semantics. It's a do-or-die playoff series. It does not seem likely that Washington will be at the same intensity level or game speed as their opponent in that first round after three round-robin games.

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While MacLellan acknowledged the set up may provide the lower seeds with an advantage entering the round of 16, he thought the idea that it was unfair to the top seeds was overblown.

"[It] could be a slight disadvantage," he said. "You're going to play a few exhibition games and then you play a round-robin tournament. But I still think those games are going to be competitive against good teams. I mean you're playing Tampa, you're playing Boston, you're playing Philly - all real good teams. I don't know that it's going to be that big a deal for the next round, and they'll be playing competitive games. So I think it's a fairly level playing field. It's not perfect, but I think reasonably it's good."

Even if MacLellan is not buying the play-in teams getting a competitive advantage, he did acknowledge that there is not nearly as much incentive to earn the top seed considering there will be no home-ice advantage.

While being the "home team" will still earn teams a few slight advantages like getting the second line change, obviously with all the games being played in hub cities with no fans, the round-robin series won't be for "home ice."

“I don’t know, you’re in a hub city, what is home-ice advantage," MacLellan said. "You get last shift, you get your last change. I’m assuming that is a competitive advantage so seeding could become important. You would want that advantage throughout the playoffs. You look at Boston and Boston has probably earned to be a home ice, last change team throughout the playoffs, but they have to go through a mini-series to determine their seed. It’s important to a certain extent, but the fact that you are playing in a hub city lessens it a little bit.”

MacLellan is not going to come out and say this system puts Washington at a disadvantage, but there is no question there is a lot less on the line in the round-robin tournament than there is in the play-in rounds considering there is no home ice. But that fact is that we don't know what any of this is going to look like. All of this is unprecedented and anything can happen. For MacLellan, he's not going to worry about what advantages the Caps do or do not have because to him, the Cup is on the line and that's all he's focused on.

"I think the championship's up for grabs with the format is the way it is right now," MacLellan said. "A lot of teams could upset other teams and anything could happen, basically. And I think it would be entertaining, it would be compelling, and it'd be fun to watch. If you're one of the teams that gets upset, it might not be as fun. But it could be wildly entertaining."

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

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Alex Ovechkin's message amid George Floyd protests: 'Respect and love each other'

While we all miss hockey and sports, there are things a heck of a lot more important than sports going on in our country right now and Alex Ovechkin added his voice on Monday with a hopeful Twitter message.

Washington, D.C., like much of the country, is experiencing massive protests in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd. While Ovechkin may not be American, he certainly has become a public figure in Washington and he tweeted out a message asking everyone to "respect and love each other."

Stay safe out there everyone.

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