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With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

ARLINGTON, Va. – Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny will be out “an indefinite” amount of time, according to coach Todd Reirden. 
 
Kempny sustained a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he fell to the ice during a scrap with forward Cedric Paquette. He had to be helped off the ice and could not put any weight on one leg. He did not return to the game. 
 
“I'd say we're going to have to be without him for an indefinite amount of time right now,” Reirden said. “We're just getting some more tests before we can make an official time statement on that, but I would just say right now that indefinitely he's out of our lineup.”
 
Christian Djoos will take Kempny’s place on the top pairing next to John Carlson. Djoos was bumped from the lineup on Feb. 23 after Washington acquired Nick Jensen in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Djoos finally returned to the lineup on Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils when the team rested 38-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik. 
 
Djoos and Carlson played together last season when Matt Niskanen missed 13 games with a left thumb injury. They have some history, which should help with on-ice communication. The duo have played together 600 minutes, 15 seconds since last season. Their Corsi-for percentage (53.45) is above water. That’s lots of shots directed at their own net, though that sample size is reasonably small over the course of a full season. With Kempny, Carlson has played 1150:19 and they are at 51.11 percent in 92 games.  
 
"I don't know about communication. I think just not having to communicate is the big thing, and fortunately for me I think Djoos, he could be the smartest hockey player in this room altogether,” Carlson said. “That's everyone. We've had stints. When [Niskanen] went down beginning, middle of last year, we played a lot together. Always kind of sneak in shifts here and there with him this year. I feel comfortable with him. That's not an issue for me.”
 
Losing Kempny is a blow, however.

The Feb. 19, 2018 trade for Kempny helped stabilize a blue line that was constantly in flux and relying on rookies in key spots last season. His addition helped balance Washington’s pairs, gave them another strong skater and was a big part of their 15-7-0 finish in the regular season and their Stanley Cup title run. 
 
Djoos is also a fine skater and makes for an interesting match with Carlson. But he’s also undersized at 6-foot, 169 pounds. He did play the final 22 playoff games last season on the right side next to Orpik on the third pair. Djoos is more comfortable on the left side, where he will be with Carlson. For now. 
 
“That opportunity for Christian is first and foremost tonight for him,” Reirden said. “It's a great opportunity, I've seen those two play together before and I thought he had a strong game the other day against New Jersey. This is why we have the depth we do. We'll put him in that situation tonight, but it's going to be probably a little bit of a committee as you move forward depending on the game.”
 
Reirden was not ready to say Kempny will miss the rest of the season. It’s too soon for that. 
 
“Obviously we'll miss Michal, he's been a really good player for us in the playoffs last year,” Reirden said. “He's had a strong regular season push his numbers to career highs and stuff. Hopefully we can get some better news on that, but for now Christian will be starting there and expect to see some movement in those spots as well.”
 
Added Carlson: “I think I'm a little bit more aggressive at the line and keeping guys out of the zone, and in-zone [Kempny is] a little more aggressive in terms of down below the goal line. We obviously know each other's games and work off each other pretty well. He's a big piece of this team and we're gonna have to all step up."

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Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

Capitals reclaim first place with cathartic win over Penguins

WASHINGTON -- It has been a tough run for the Capitals of late, but for one day at least, all of that was cast aside in a cathartic 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. The win vaults Washington back into first place of the Metropolitan Division and, for the moment, silences all the doubt that has surrounded Washington over the team's recent skid.

Here is how the Caps won.

Vrana's speed

Jakub Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead with a tremendous individual effort. ON a defensive zone draw, Vrana picked up the puck and turned on the jets. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson wasn't ready for him and Vrana was able to turn the corner to create his own breakaway. Goalie Matt Murray made the initial save, but Pettersson slid in a desperate sweep attempt. He slid into the puck and knocked it into his own net shortly before knocking the net off its moorings.

After a quick review, the play was confirmed as a goal for Washington.

Improved defense

Overall this was one of the better defensive games the Caps have played in a while and it's a good thing because the offense took an extended nap in the first period into the second.

After Vrana gave Washington the 1-0 lead, the Caps were outshooting Pittsburgh 5-1. They would then go 16:57 before getting another shot on goal, from 7:27 into the first period to 4:24 into the second.

Through two periods, Washington had only 10 shots on goal. And for anyone thinking, well, they had some chances, they really didn't. In addition to having only 10 shots on goal, they also had only 28 total shot attempts.

Heck, the Caps had more hits (31) through two periods than shot attempts.

That allowed Pittsburgh's offense plenty of opportunity to get back into the game, which they did. A bad misplay by Radko Gudas left Patric Hornqvist wide open in front of the net for Pittsburgh's first goal. Brenden Dillon joined the offensive rush on the next shift and the Caps could not recover on the counter-attack by Sidney Crosby who was able to get in behind the defense and score just 26 seconds after Hornqvist.

Allowing two goals in 26 seconds is bad, but we did not see nearly as many of the egregious turnovers that have been a trademark for Washington throughout their recent cold spell. Had the team that played Saturday's game in New Jersey or Thursday's game against Montreals showed up to this one, Pittsburgh would have torn them to pieces and this one would have been a blowout before the Caps finally got shot No. 6 on the board.

You also have to give credit to Holtby who put up another strong performance in net as he turned aside 33 of the 36 shots he faced on the day.

The third period response

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, they had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control.

But a different team took the ice in the third period and took control with three goals. They even responded after Evgeni Malkin made a dazzling play to tie the game at 3.

The Wilson-Backstrom connection

Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the second period on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson then did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

A relentless shift by the third line

Washington restored its lead just over three minutes later as Carl Hagelin scored against his former team. John Carlson 

The third line battled in the offensive zone to keep control of the puck. Richard Panik won it back from Pittsburgh behind the goal line then kicked it out to John Carlson. Carlson fired from the blue line and Hagelin tried to deflect it but missed. His stick was high, however, and likely affected the vision of Murray who missed what should have been an easy glove save. Instead, Lars Eller got to the loos puck and crashed the net. Murray stopped him, but Eller cleared some room for Hagelin who finally poked it past Murray.

Hagelin would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the game.

Another response

You have to tip your cap to Malkin for his game-tying goal. He took the puck in the neutral zone, put it between the legs of Carlson, then shot it past Holtby for the fantastic goal.

Instead of boosting the Penguins, however, it was the Caps who responded less than two minutes later. Oshie took the puck from behind the goal line and would not be denied. He fired a backhand shot on Murray, then found the rebound through traffic and managed to chip it in for the game-winner.

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John Carlson sets record for most points by a defenseman in Capitals history

John Carlson sets record for most points by a defenseman in Capitals history

Saturday was a milestone-filled day for the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin finally tallied his 700th goal, while John Carlson tied Calle Johansson for the most points by a defenseman in Capitals history.

On Sunday, Carlson took his spot at the top.

Just over four minutes into a back-and-forth affair between the Capitals and Penguins, Carl Hagelin found the back of the net to give Washington a short-lived 3-2 lead. On the play, Carlson was credited with the assist. That point for the NHL veteran gave him 475 in his career with the Capitals and gave him the new franchise record. 

The record fittingly comes in what has been a phenomenal season for Carlson. Leading the league in points among defensemen, he now sits at 72 with 20 games left in 2020.

Carlson is also now just 10 points shy of breaking Hockey Hall-of-Famer Larry Murphy's Capitals' record for points in a season by a defenseman (81). 

At 30 years old, the overall franchise record for points by a defenseman will continue to grow for as long as Carlson is on the ice for the Capitals. 

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