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NHL 20 Caps simulation: Penguins play keep away as Washington gets shut out

NHL 20 Caps simulation: Penguins play keep away as Washington gets shut out

The Capitals just didn't have it on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Penguins dominated in a 2-0 win in the latest EA Sports NHL 20 simulation.

Lines

The only change from Friday's game is Braden Holtby back in as the starter.

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Brenden Dillon
Michal Kempny - Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby starts
Ilya Samsonov

Pittsburgh's lineup comes from Rob Rossi of The Athletic.

Jason Zucker - Sidney Crosby - Conor Sheary
Patrick Marleau - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Dominik Simon - Jared McCann - Patric Hornqvist
Sam Lafferty - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson - John Marino
Jack Johnson - Justin Schultz

Matt Murray starts
Tristan Jarry

Result: Penguins 2, Caps 0

1st period

No goals

2nd period

0-1 Penguins goal: Brian Dumoulin from Kris Letang and Jason Zucker

3rd period

0-2 Penguins goal (power play): Kris Letang from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby

How the Caps lost

1. No possession

It's hard to score when you can't get the puck. The Penguins ran a clinic in puck possession in this one as Washington barely had the puck on its stick at all. Every shift turned into a long offensive-zone shift for Pittsburgh, every counter from the Caps was, at best, one shot and then out of the zone. Most of the time, however, the puck was stolen away before Washington could generate any offense at all, either off an errant pass or just a steal. The final shot total of 35-15 reflects just how one-sided this game ultimately was.

2. Faceoffs

Can I interest you in 16.7 faceoff percentage? No, of course not because it's garbage. When maintaining possession of the puck is already a struggle you can't afford to lose that many faceoffs. It only exacerbates the problem.

3. Every poke check is a penalty

Apparently the refs in this one have never seen a poke check or knew what it is because every one of them was a penalty. Since starting NHL 20, this became evident early on so I try not to use it much anymore despite the fact that it a poke check is a legitimate defensive move in hockey. I tried only a handful of times and, what do you know? Three tripping penalties against the Caps. Kris Letang would score on the third power play opportunity. He received the puck in the high slot and took advantage of a screen from, guess who, Hornqvist. Holtby went down in anticipation of the shot and Letang showed enough patience to skate around the screen and backhand the puck into the opening Holtby had left by going down.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh got zero penalties because the refs are totally on the Penguins' side and are always biased against the Caps!

OK, not in real life and people need to get over that. But in this game it sure felt like it.

Other notes

Holtby was awesome

The only reason this game was not a complete and utter blowout -- because it should have been -- was Holtby. He kept the team in it for the whole 60 minutes. And believe me, this wasn't a game where it was even for one or two periods or the Caps played well in the first and Pittsburgh took over after that. No, Washington was on its heels all game long and Holtby did his best to keep it close.

Check out this acrobatic save Holtby made to get over just in time to deny Sheary on the one-timer.

Crosby injury

Boy would there have been headlines after this one.

Crosby left the game in the third period with an apparent leg injury (or what is more commonly referred to as a "lower-body injury" in hockey) after taking a hit from Michal Kempny.

The hit was completely clean. Here's a look.

Crosby has the puck and Kempny goes in for a shoulder check through the body. Textbook. Even so, you know the conspiracy theorists would have been out saying Washington intentionally tried to hurt Crosby after he failed to get up.

It would have been the 2017 playoffs all over again.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the St. Louis Blues at home on Tuesday. The simulation for the game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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7 things to watch in the round-robin that will tell us if the Caps are Cup contenders

7 things to watch in the round-robin that will tell us if the Caps are Cup contenders

Hockey is back! Or at least we have a date for when hockey will be back. After pausing the season on March 12 due to the coronavirus, the NHL will return to action on Aug. 1 when the qualification and round-robin rounds begin. As one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference, Washington will play three round-robin games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. You can view the schedule and a list of important dates here.

By the time the Caps return to the ice for their first game, nearly five months will have passed since the last time they played so the 2020 postseason will essentially be a clean slate. When trying to size up the team's chances at a Cup run, the round-robin will give us our first glimpse of what we can expect from them. Here are the specific areas to keep an eye on.

Braden Holtby

Todd Reirden has already declared that the starting goalie job is "Holtby's job to lose." Holtby had a rough regular season (.897 save percentage, 3.11 GAA), but he has a Stanley Cup to his name and the fifth-best playoff save percentage of all-time. While it makes sense to start Holtby going into the playoffs, you can bet he will be on a tight leash. The fact is that his numbers have been in steep decline the last three years. A lengthy pause could prove beneficial for the 30-year-old netminder who will turn 31 in September, but considering he wasn't even able to get on the ice until the team moved into Phase 2 of the NHL's return to play plan on June 11, just how well he will play after so much time off is a complete unknown.  

You also have to consider the fact that Ilya Samsonov will be the team's backup and played well for the majority of the season. While I believe Holtby would have to completely fall apart in the round-robin for Samsonov to start in the first round, I do think that Holtby's performance will dictate just how long the leash is once the playoffs start in earnest.

RELATED: CAPS SET TO RETURN AUG. 3 VS. LIGHTNING

The new players

The Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon and forward Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline. At the pause, Dillon has played in only 10 games for Washington while Kovalchuk played in seven.

The transition to a new team during the season can be a tough one for players, but they have certainly had a significant amount of time to study up on their new team's system. They also will get a brief training camp before heading to Toronto that will give them more practice time to adjust. That could be a huge boost for Washington when looking at Dillon in particular. Defense is the major weakness of the team and Dillon has taken on a top-pair role with John Carlson.

On the other hand, while the number of games Dillon and Kovalchuk would have gotten before the playoffs would be limited, its more than they are getting now. Ultimately you're not going to be able to adjust to a new system without playing in it. Instead of a few regular-season games to adjust, Dillon and Kovalchuk's next game will be in the round-robin when the games count again.

General manager Brian MacLellan acquired both players with roles in mind for a Cup run. Both players now have to learn on the job and get up to speed quickly in order to live up to the roles MacLellan acquired them for.

The veteran players

The Caps are a veteran-heavy team. Nicklas Backstrom is 32, John Carlson is 30, Lars Eller is 30, Carl Hagelin is 31, Braden Holtby is 30, Ilya Kovalchuk is 36, T.J. Oshie is 33 and Alex Ovechkin is 34. After such a long pause, the veteran players will come into camp well-rested, but also a few months older.

After nearly five-months in between games, this has essentially been a full offseason for the league and a player's performance varies from season to season. Five months is not an insignificant amount of time and age may catch up to a handful of players at some point during the postseason even after having so much time to recuperate. These three games will give us a look at whether players like Ovechkin and Backstrom will still be able to perform at an elite level for another postseason run.

Michal Kempny

Kempny may have saved the team in 2018, but in the 2019-20 season, he was really struggling. A torn hamstring affected his preparation in the offseason and even after he returned he did not look like he was quite right. It's unclear if that had to do with any lingering physical issues or if it was purely mental. Regardless, he has had plenty of time to either heal further or regain his confidence which should mean improved play.

if the Caps suddenly got back 2018, first-pair Kempny, that would be a huge boon for the blue line.

Lineup decisions

Offensively, you can pretty much pencil in these lines:

Ales Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

If those lines change going in, that's significant and bears watching. If they change over the course of the three round-robin games, that is something to keep an eye on to see if there is something Reirden does not like or wants to switch up.

Defensively, there are more question marks.

Can Kempny regain a top-pair role? Where does Dillon ultimately fit? Who plays on the right side of the second pair? Does the team dress three lefties and three righties or does Reirden go with four lefties?

Granted, all of these decisions have to be taken in context. Whether Reirden is reacting to someone's play or to the standings of the round-robin is important to keep in mind. Still, there is not much time to really experiment with and I would expect Reirden to give his projected lineup for the playoffs as much time as possible to prepare for the playoffs.

The power play

The power play has been terrible this season and ranked 24th in the NHL since Dec. 23.  Many have argued it has become too predictable, but really, everyone knew what they were trying to do for years and still couldn't stop it. Zone entries and puck movement have been the two biggest issues with the power play unit this season. The quick puck movement that makes a power play so hard to cover just has not been there and the players appear to be slower and more methodical with their puck movements, to their detriment. Even if the power play can improve to just average for the payoffs, that will be a major boost.

Defense

The biggest weakness of all for the team this season, the defense has been just flat out bad. The team has struggled to find a partner for Carlson, the team has only one top-four right defenseman and the efforts to shuffle players in and out of the top four have led to some dreadful third-pair combinations. Carlson has to be the team's best blueliner every night, someone has to lay claim to the top-pair role and Nick Jensen or Radko Gudas need to show they can handle a second-pair role.

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NHL restart schedule: Capitals return to the ice Aug. 3 against Lightning

NHL restart schedule: Capitals return to the ice Aug. 3 against Lightning

In one fell swoop, the NHL and its players union voted Friday to approve a package deal that included both the NHL’s return-to-play plan and a new Collective Bargaining agreement. The tentative agreement reached upon Tuesday became official when it was approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors and received a simple majority in the player vote.

The 24 teams that qualified for the expanded Stanley Cup playoffs will begin formal training camps Monday in preparation for an Aug. 1 start to the postseason. The Capitals have already guaranteed themselves one of the top four spots in the East and will play in a round-robin tournament to determine seeding before the first round.

RELATED: NHL, PLAYERS UNION AGREE ON SEASON RESTART PLAN IN NEW CBA

Here’s what Washington’s postseason schedule will look like in the seeding round and when they would be on the ice if they make it all the way:

Aug. 3 – Capitals vs. Lightning (seeding game)

Aug. 6 – Capitals vs. Flyers (seeding game)

Aug. 8 – Bruins vs. Capitals (seeding game)

Aug. 11 – First round of Stanley Cup playoffs begins

Aug. 25* – Second round of Stanley Cup playoffs begins

Sept. 8* – Conference finals begin

Sept. 22* – Stanley Cup Finals begin

Oct. 4* – Last possible day of Stanley Cup Finals

*Date still tentative

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