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Kuznetsov gaffe proves costly as Penguins rally, snap Caps’ seven-game streak

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Kuznetsov gaffe proves costly as Penguins rally, snap Caps’ seven-game streak

PITTSBURGH – A horrendous turnover by Evgeny Kuznetsov in the second period proved to be the turning point Tuesday as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 5-3. The game was the final game of the season series between the two rivals, with Washington dropping three out of four. The loss also snaps a seven-game winning streak for the Caps.

Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana were the lone bright spots after the game as Ovechkin tallied his 1,200th career point in an assist on John Carlson's goal and Vrana hit 20 goals for the first time in his career.

Here is the one reason the Caps lost.

Evgeny Kuznetsov's turnover

I could analyze each of Pittsburgh’s goals and go into detail over what happened, I could look into the number of missed offensive opportunities for the Caps, but the fact of the matter is there is one reason the Caps lost this game and one reason only.

At the halfway mark of the game, Washington was putting together one heck of an effort. The Caps were defensively suffocating the Penguins, especially in the neutral zone. Pittsburgh could not advance the puck into the offensive zone. When Jakub Vrana scored his second goal just past the halfway mark of the game, it looked like it was lights out.

And then one play changed the game completely.

Nick Jensen snuffed out Jake Guentzel along the boards and Evgeny Kuznetsov intercepted his desperation pass. With options to start the breakout, Kuznetsov was far too lackadaisical with the puck. He took far too long deciding where he wanted to go, and just when he made up his mind, Jared McCann pickpocketed him from behind turning the Caps breakout into a 2-on-1 for Pittsburgh. McCann quickly got around Orpik and passed to Guentzel for the goal.

From there it was a steady stream of one disaster after another:

  • 47 seconds after Guentzel’s goal, Sidney Crosby tied the game at 2 with a one-handed breakaway goal
  • 31 seconds after Crosby’s goal, Nicklas Backstrom was called for tripping Evgeni Malkin
  • 30 seconds into the power play, Crosby scored his second goal of the night, snapping a streak of 18 straight penalty kills for Washington.

It all took just 1:48 for a 2-0 lead for the Caps to turn into a 3-2 lead for Pittsburgh. It was the clear turning point of the game as the Penguins took all the momentum from that point on and rode it to the win. Phil Kessel added an insurance power-play tally in the third period and McCann scored the empty netter to put it out of reach.

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Islanders - Can Barry Trotz work his magic again?

Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Islanders - Can Barry Trotz work his magic again?

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Islanders.

The surprise team of 2018-19 is back to prove that was no fluke. It was the Islanders who finished second to the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division last season, not the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Barry Trotz who won the Jack Adams Award. It was New York who shook off the loss of star center Jonathan Tavares and somehow made the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before a getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Metro appears tougher on paper this time around and the Capitals and Penguins still are formidable opponents. The Islanders also swapped out their best goalie (Robin Lehner) for more of a talented question mark (Semyon Varlamov). And they lost in the Artemi Panarin free-agent sweepstakes to the rival New York Rangers. 

None of that bodes well, but the Islanders do have plenty to build on. They have a balanced top six with Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson centering solid lines. Anders Lee led the team with 28 goals and he was re-signed. Josh Bailey had 56 points, which was second only to Barzal (62). 

And don’t forget about maybe the best fourth line in the NHL (Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck), which combined for 34 goals last season. Cizikas alone had 20.  

Without an 80-point game-breaker - though Barzal has the talent to get there - New York has to be steady in its own end and get close to the fantastic goaltending it received last year from Lehner and Tomas Greiss. 

This time it will be Varlamov and Greiss. In front of them is a fine top pair in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. But the blueline overall features almost no household names. 

The Islanders, thanks in large part to Trotz and some of the same assistant coaches who helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018, shocked the NHL last year. It shouldn’t be a surprise this time if they remain in playoff contention most of the season. 

But the Metro has gotten better and New York at best remained in place. The Islanders won’t sneak up on anyone this time around. Just making it back into the postseason tournament would be a win.  

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Capitals Goal of the Year Bracket: Backstrom's No-Look Pass to Oshie vs Vrana Speed

Capitals Goal of the Year Bracket: Backstrom's No-Look Pass to Oshie vs Vrana Speed

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team.

jmurph: Here we go, Day 2 of our Goals of the Year Bracket. Today we pit the backhand sauce of Nicklas Backstrom (and a nifty finish in tight quarters from TJ Oshie) with the blistering speed of Jakub Vrana on a breakaway against the Rangers. Both goals from November, what jumps out to you right off the bat?

JJ Regan: I will be playing the role of Rob Carlin today because I know the Oshie goal is amazing, but I love, LOVE that Vrana goal.

He starts from behind the defenseman, beats him to the puck and takes it alone on net and finishes the play.

bmcnally: I LOVE that Jakub Vrana goal. He might be the only guy on the roster with the speed to take advantage of an opponents' mistake like that. Maybe Carl Hagelin can still do that, too. But just a great all around play and a filthy finish. You can virtually see the afterburners as he pulls away

Rob Carlin: The Oshie goal is everything the Caps are all about. Great teamwork, Backstrom wizardry & and a snipe of a finish. That puck was passed around 5 times just that we see in the video. There’s no Cinderella today. It’s Osh

bmcnally: I'm #TeamRob today. As much as I love the pure speed of Vrana, the hockey sense on the Backstrom pass is from another planet.

jmurph: I have to agree with Rob, the Vrana goal is a great individual effort, but the team effort on the Oshie goal, add in a little sauce, that takes the cake for me

Rob Carlin: Don’t get me wrong. Vrana’s goal is sick. Great wheels. Nice finish. But, c’mon

JJ Regan: Backstrom would make one heck of a quarterback. When you watch the play he does not look behind him, he sees Oshie making a break and just anticipates where he is going to be perfectly.

Rob Carlin: I don’t say this often — but JJ is right!

timmcdonough: Initially ranked Oshie very high - on a rewatch back-to-back the Vrana goal jumps off the page more than I thought it would...

jmurph: And unlike yesterday's #1 goal, the Oshie goal is just as good as the play leading up to it

JJ Regan: It shows you how amazing these 16 goals are that Vrana's can rank No. 15. I love that goal, but it is tough to argue with a no-look behind pass.

timmcdonough: It's crazy how easy Backstrom makes that pass look

Rob Carlin: I think we’re done here. It’s the Oshie goal. Sorry Ya-koob

bmcnally: Let's give some love for the keep in by Oshie, too. That all around play is incredible. Then to go hard to the net assuming Backstrom would find him

jmurph: Somewhere Joe B is sadly muttering JAY-COB VRAH-NA to himself repeatedly

Rob Carlin: Bigger question — Ovi’s one-timer or Vrana goal? Which advances from the play-in game?

JJ Regan: Oh, the NIT of Caps' goals!

jmurph: Well we do have another Vrana goal coming up (teaser alert) so I'm going Ovi one-timer

bmcnally: I'll say Vrana wins the banner no one really wants at MSG. Since that's where he scored the goal anyway

jmurph: With that, we've come to a unanimous decision, Vrana's goal was great, but Backy and Osh are moving on. 

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