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How one bad period cost the Caps the game against Toronto

How one bad period cost the Caps the game against Toronto

For 40 minutes on Saturday, the Capitals looked like the better team. Sure, they were tied at 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Washington had gotten the better of the play, they were outshooting Toronto and looked to be in firm control heading into the third period. A bad start to the final frame, however, devolved into a disastrous 20 minutes that saw a 2-2 game turn into a 4-2 loss for Washington.

“I really liked our first two periods keeping a very dangerous hockey team to some limited chances,” Todd Reirden said.

But a poor shift from the top line at the start of the third period set the tone as Toronto suddenly took control.

“We didn’t put puck deep and make couple turnovers,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I think that’s what give them little bit energy.”

The main issue was puck management. Washington suddenly could not get through the neutral zone with the puck. They could not get the puck deep in Toronto’s zone. Turnovers began to creep into their game and the Caps were on their heels defending against a star-studded Toronto offense they had managed to keep in check all game long.

“We didn't manage the puck properly to start the third and in turn we lost some of the momentum of the game and they started to tilt the ice a little bit in their favor,” Reirden said.

“I think we started playing with a little more risk, got a little bit sloppy around the blue lines,” Lars Eller said, “And then we started making some turnovers and I don't know, forcing it a bit and not being as crisp.

“Say it how you want, we got away from our game a little bit in the third.”

With the Caps playing on their heels, Michal Kempny took a high-sticking penalty, the Caps’ third penalty of the game. Taking a penalty in a tie game against a Maple Leafs team that was producing at 50-percent heading into this game was playing with fire. Sure enough, Josh Leivo would tally what would become the game-winner just 41 seconds later.

For 40 minutes, the Caps were the better team. They killed off two power plays, allowed only two goals off deflections and had kept Auston Matthews out of the net. That all changed in the third and it cost Washington the game.

Said Kuznetsov, “That start of third period gave them energy and they got back deep in our zone and that's the probably game-changer.”

 

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Remembering the last time the Caps won in Los Angeles…in 2005

Remembering the last time the Caps won in Los Angeles…in 2005

The city of Los Angeles has not been kind to the Capitals in recent years where they have lost eight straight games. You have to go all the way back to Dec. 14, 2005, to find the last time they beat the Kings on their home ice.

That game came in Alex Ovechkin’s rookie season, meaning he is the only player still with Washington who played that game. But he wasn’t the star. The star that night was, of course, defenseman Jamie Heward.

Los Angeles boasted a roster with Luc Robitaille and Jeremy Roenick. Future Caps Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, and Tim Gleason also suited up for the Kings.

Heward opened the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal. Belanger and Sean Avery scored to give Los Angeles the 2-1 lead, but Brian Sutherby tied the game midway through the third and Heward scored his second goal of the night, also on the power play, with just 63 seconds remaining. Washington would hold on for the 3-2 win.

Olie Kolzig was in net for the Caps and had a strong night with 24 saves on 26 shots.

Ovechkin recorded an assist on both of Heward’s goals. Heward scored 11 goals in his 123 career games with Washington and two of them came that night.

The Caps have not won in Los Angeles since. They will look to snap that streak on Monday (10:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Game notes

Copley in

Pheonix Copley is expected to start after Braden Holtby got the nod Sunday in Anaheim. Ironically, Copley’s last start came on Feb. 11 against…the Kings.

When last we met

Los Angeles visited Washington one week ago and the Caps earned the 6-4 victory to finish off their season-long six-game homestand. Evgeny Kuznetsov had a four-point night with two goals and two assists. Ovechkin also had three points (one goal, two assists).

About last night….

The last time the Caps played a back-to-back, they were obliterated 3-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The game started off their current six-game road trip. Washington looked completely out of gas for that game. They will need much more energy for Monday's game in Los Angeles to come away with the win.

Oshie status unclear

T.J. Oshie left Sunday's game in the second period due to an upper-body injury. After the game, Todd Reirden said Oshie needed to be reevaluated. With no morning skate Monday, Oshie's status for Monday's game remains unclear for now.

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps look consistently inconsistent

NHL Power Rankings: The Caps look consistently inconsistent

It’s getting hard to figure out just who the Capitals are.

After a seven-game losing streak, Washington returned from the All-Star break and rebounded nicely. In a six-game homestand, Washington went 4-1-1 to get back on track. Then they started a six-game road swing with an absolutely horrendous 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They followed that up with a blowout win over one of the top teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks. Rather than build on that momentum, however, the Caps fell apart in Anaheim and allowed five goals to a bad Ducks team in a 5-2 loss.

About the only thing we know for sure about this team at this point in the season is that they are inconsistent.

The timing for Washington’s continued inconsistencies is not ideal. The trade deadline is just one week away and now is the time when a general manager needs to know exactly who his team is so he can assess what areas he needs to improve before the deadline.

And let’s not forget Washington is also in a tight playoff race with Columbus, Pittsburgh and Carolina all hot on the Caps’ heels.

So just who are the Caps? Are they the team that started 24-10-3 or the one that lost seven straight? Are they the team that blew out the Sharks in San Jose or the one that laid an egg against the Ducks?

Washington certainly has not made Brian MacLellan’s job of evaluating the team before the deadline very easy.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The Caps have taken the second-most minor penalties in the league. The leader? Tampa Bay. So why are the penalties such a story line for Washington and not the Lightning? Because Tampa Bay has the second-best penalty kill in the NHL. Taking that many penalties is not good, but the issue is compounded by the fact that the Caps’ penalty kill is killing off only 78.1-percent of the penalties they face.

  • The neutral zone is one of the keys to the Caps’ success. That was evident in the game against San Jose and one of the biggest reasons for their success in the playoffs. When they control the neutral zone and don’t let opposing offenses have clean breakouts, they are a tough team to beat. When they don’t control the neutral zone then teams like Anaheim, the worst offensive team in the NHL, manages 39 shots on goal and five goals.

  • What is going on with the defensive breakdowns? Anaheim’s second goal on Sunday was one of the worst defensive breakdowns you will see in the NHL. That shouldn’t happen. A lot of them are coming from bad line changes. These are fixable mistakes, but ones you do not expect to see in February.

  • On a happier note, Jakub Vrana looks like he has turned a corner. He has been phenomenal of late and is someone Caps fans should be very excited about. Not only is he talented, but he seems to have the right attitude and really takes it on himself to improve his game.

The Caps are 1-2-0 to start their six-game road trip and have some work to do to make sure the road swing is a successful one. They also have some work to do in the NHL Power Rankings. Check out this week’s rankings here.

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