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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are leaving a lot of points on the table because of penalties

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are leaving a lot of points on the table because of penalties

Penalties have been an issue for the Capitals all season long, but the issue has gained a lot of attention recently after Todd Reirden benched Dmitrij Jaskin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first period against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 3.

Washington is tied for second in the NHL with 199 minor penalties this season and it is really starting to cost them.

Saturday’s game against the Florida Panthers turned on a first period offensive zone trip by T.J. Oshie. A strong start for Washington was erased as the Panthers scored one second after the penalty expired. The Caps ended up giving the Panthers’ second ranked power play four opportunities on the night, including a brutal penalty by Brett Connolly late in the game.

With four seconds left, Connolly chopped Aleksander Barkov’s stick out of his hands in the offensive zone. Barkov is not going to score with four seconds left and the puck on the wrong end of the ice. It was an unnecessary penalty and Florida scored on the resulting power play in overtime.

After a disastrous start to the season, Washington’s penalty kill has not been terrible. If you take out October, the Caps are killing off 79.9-percent of the penalties they face, good for 18th in the league. 

That’s not great, but at least it’s average. During that same stretch, however, Washington has given up 29 power play goals, the eighth most in the NHL.

Taking as many penalties as they are is stressing the penalty kill to the point that it has negated the team’s improvement in that area.

The playoff race is still pretty close. Washington is in a good position sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are leaving points on the table with these penalties. That is something they will have to clean up to stay out of the wild card battle below them and have a run at the red-hot Islanders at the top of the division.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

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

  • What do you do with Andre Burakovsky? He is playing his best hockey of the season and the third line is clicking, but we have seen this play out before. Burakovsky’s talent level is not in question, the problem is consistency. Do you hold on to him and hope he continues this level of play into the playoffs in which case you have an incredibly formidable top-nine? Or, do you assume this is just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys and trade him before you get burned yet again by his inconsistent play and try to bring in someone else who can play on the third line?
  • If you are among those who are upset that Jonas Siegenthaler was sent down to Hershey, don’t worry. He is not going to be there very long. Siegenthaler was the odd-man out when Christian Djoos returned because the Caps had the maximum of 23 players on the roster and Siegenthaler was the only player on the team who was waiver exempt. That’s why he was sent to Hershey. The roster maximum no longer applies after the trade deadline so if the Caps can make the money work, they will recall him. Otherwise, he will be back for the playoffs when teams no longer have to adhere to the salary cap. Either way, he will be back in Washington sooner rather than later.
  • We have seen a lot of shuffling on the fourth line pretty much the entire season. I asked Reirden this week when he would look to get some consistency with his lines and he said after the trade deadline. “It should be coming up for me on the last 20 games,” he said, “Continuing to see what happens with putting guys in different spots and hoping to get positive results that we're looking for and then obviously a deadline coming up as well so there's possibility of something different there as well. For me, until that deadline passes then you're not really married to anything because as we know things can change in the game. But after that, at that point then you want to try to get something pretty consistent.” For my money, if I’m choosing the best fourth line, I would go with Jaskin, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd.
  • You can take the above quote from Reirden in one of two ways. One, either Reirden was talking generally about the deadline and how there’s always a possibility of teams making moves or two, Reirden is expecting the team to make some type of trade.
  • Please, let’s not start the Brooks Orpik debate again. He’s been fine this season. Not good, not horrendous, just fine. He is what he is at this point and the deficiencies in his game are the same deficiencies that he had last year before playing a key role in a Cup run. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you do with the third pairing if the second pair is going to play as badly as they have, Matt Niskanen in particular. To me, that’s a far bigger issue than the fact that Orpik has bad analytics again.

The Caps have been warming up since returning from the All-Star break going 3-1-1 in five games. Find out where Washington lands this week here in the latest NHL Power Rankings.

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TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

The Capitals tried to win a 60-minute game with only a strong 20 minutes of play in the third period on Monday, but they ultimately lost to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 after spotting Vegas a 3-0 lead.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

Puck management

Here's a summary of Vegas' first goal. A stretch pass caught two Caps defensemen on the left side of the ice, allowing William Carrier in on the breakaway. Braden Holtby slowed down the puck and John Carlson was able to sweep it off the goal line. Vegas won the loose puck, cycled the puck, Tomas Nosek had all the time in the world to find an open Carrier who set up Nick Holden who was open in front of the crease.

How many ways can a team screw up on one play?

Carlson was the right defenseman on the breakaway. I don't know why he was all the way over on the left. I thought at first he got caught trying to make a line change, but his total shift after the goal was scored was 40 seconds so it was unlikely he was trying to get off the ice. The loose puck after the breakaway was immediately picked up by Vegas. If the Caps win that puck battle, there's no goal. While Vegas was able to quickly set up its offense off the rush, the Caps defense scrambled badly and never got settled.

This was really how the first 40 minutes went. Vegas managed the puck well and won puck battles. Washington did neither of those things.

There's a disconnect between the defense and offense on the breakout

Washington is awful at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone on defense. If the offense is not carrying the puck up the ice on the breakout, it leads to a turnover far too often.

There are three recurring issues I keep seeing on breakouts from the defense. First, the defense holds onto the puck and holds it...holds it...holds it until the forecheckers attack, cut off all the passing lanes and suddenly there is nowhere to go with the puck. The second thing is the passing back and forth between the defense deeper and deeper in the defensive zone until they get hemmed in by the forecheckers and turn the puck over. The passing back and forth behind the goal line without any hope of advancing the puck drives me nuts. The third recurring issue is a stretch pass that has literally zero chance of being successful. A defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, look up ice and try to throw a pass cross ice to the offensive blue line which easily gets cut off in the neutral zone.

What's the recurring issue in each of these situations? The forecheck or trap cutting between the offense and the defense.

When you get get a good stretch pass through the forecheck/trap, it can lead to breakaways. Vegas got two in the first period doing that, but those passes have to be open. The Caps are not attempting those passes because the seas are parting and there's a passing lane, these passes are getting thrown into traffic with almost no chance of success. Watching the defense pass back and forth behind the goal line is just as infuriating to watch, and both of these things happen because the three forwards are zipping up ice leaving the defense with few options while trying to get past the forecheck.

There's a disconnect here between the offense and defense in that the forwards are not giving easy passing options to the defensemen and the defensemen are taking too long to distribute the puck.

Time to change the lines

The offense has gotten stale, it's time to change things up. I know coaches like to get their lines in place later into the season, but the Caps are now 11-11-0 in their past 22 games and 4-6-0 since returning from the all-star break. The time to let them just play their way out of this has passed. Changes are needed to find a spark.

To his credit, Todd Reirden does shuffle up lines and pairings within a game, but there was none of that at least among the forward lines on Monday. Michal Kempny missed much of the first period which forced some defensive shuffling, but that was about it. It's time to shake things up to get the team out of this rut.

Turning point

There are several universal truths in the game of hockey and one of them is that if a team botches a big scoring chance on one end, it usually leads to a goal on the other. T.J. Oshie may have scored twice on Monday in the third period, but he should have scored in the first period with an empty-net yawning. Marc-Andre Fleury made a save on a shot from Nicklas Backstrom and the rebound bounced right to Oshie who swung at the puck twice and missed as he was falling to the ice. Vegas broke the puck out of the zone and on the resulting cycle scored to make it 2-0.

Washington was not playing well at all to that point, but Oshie still had a chance to tie the game on his stick. It could have been a completely different game if he buried it. He could not capitalize, but the Golden Knights could as Reilly Smith made it 2-0.

Play of the game

Both of Oshie's goals deserve shoutouts because both were fantastic snipes.

Stat of the game

Washington has looked like a completely different hockey team since Dec. 23 and not in a good way. Here are some stats from NBC Sports Washington's Caps Postgame Live:

The offense is still producing fairly well, but defense and special teams have been absolutely atrocious.

Quote of the game

T.J. Oshie was asked about why so much of the offensive has been one-and-done lately. His full answer on the struggles on the forecheck and the limited offense that comes with it was very good, but this was my takeaway:

"It's amazing how much starts from our D-zone...for the most part we know how to play in the O-zone, it's just we've got to enter the zone as a group of five whether that's carrying the puck or chipping it in so that we have speed and we can support each other."

See above about the disconnect between the offense and the defense.on the breakouts. They are not playing like a five-man unit in sync with each other. They look like a three-man forward line and a two-man defensive pair playing together and neither knows what the other wants to do.

Fan predictions

Sure felt like that's where this was headed after two periods.

Almost. I especially like the Game 4 callback on that second one.

Maybe Ovechkin was waiting for little Alexander. Congratulations!

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Caps make furious comeback attempt, but it's too little too late in Vegas

Caps make furious comeback attempt, but it's too little too late in Vegas

WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored twice in the third period on Monday, but it wasn't enough in a 3-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Washington spotted Vegas a 3-0 lead after an awful first two periods. Oshie tried to put the team on his back in the final frame, but it was too little, too late.

Once again, Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal and remains stuck at 698.

Here is how Washington lost.

A bad start

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had allowed the first goal in five straight games. You can make that six now as the trend continued on Monday.

Nick Holden got Vegas on the board less than four minutes into the game and Reilly Smith added a second goal late in the second period. Washington just did not look ready at the start.

Miss on one end, a goal on the other

There are several universal truths in the game of hockey and one of them is that if a team botches a big scoring chance on one end, it usually leads to a goal on the other. That was certainly the case on Monday as Oshie had a golden opportunity to tie the game at one late in the first, but missed an open net as he was falling to the ice. Vegas broke the puck out of the zone and on the resulting cycle, scored to make it 2-0.

Washington was not playing well at all to that point, but Oshie still had a chance to tie the game on his stick. It could have been a completely different game if he buried it. He could not capitalize, but the Golden Knights could as Smith made it 2-0.

Puck retrieval and management

This was the biggest problem for the Caps.

To put it simply, Vegas managed the puck well and beat out Washington for loose pucks in Caps' defensive end. When Washington actually did get possession, the team did not manage the puck well at all.

After a breakaway save by Holtby, Vegas managed to retain possession of the puck, set up the cycle and the resulting offensive rotation ended with Holden putting the puck into the back of the net from just outside the crease. On the second goal, Jonathan Marchessault carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a shot blocked by Dmitry Orlov. Marchessault immediately followed after his shot and retrieved the puck in the corner and fed it to the front to Smith who scored.

In the second period, William Karlsson stole the puck away from Radko Gudas behind the net. Gudas was trying to skate the puck out to Holtby's right so that's the post he was covering, Karlsson took the puck and quickly passed it to Max Pacioretty on Holtby's right who shot into the open net.

The Golden Knights had two early breakaways early thanks to stretch passes the Caps could not cover, Washington had trouble against the forecheck as the defense would wait too long to distribute the puck and the passing lanes would close up, the forwards would take too long to figure out what to do with the puck in the offensive zone resulting in turnovers, etc., etc., etc.

Defense can mean a lot of things and the team's inability to make good decisions with the puck, win puck battles in the defensive zone or properly distribute the puck when they did have possession was the real difference in Monday's loss.

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