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NHL Power Rankings: Caps’ offense and defense are going in different directions

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Caps’ offense and defense are going in different directions

If someone had asked you before the season to guess whether the Caps would look better offensively or defensively at the start, most people probably would have picked defense.

With defensive guru Todd Reirden at the helm, Braden Holtby in net and a top four headlined by John Carlson who is starting to establish himself as one of the league’s top blue liners, plus an older offensive core with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie all over 30 years old, you certainly could be forgiven for thinking the offense would have more growing pains in the first month of the season than the defense.

And yet, three weeks into the season, the opposite has been true.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE 

Take a guess as to which team has the top offense in the NHL. Toronto? Tampa Bay? Actually, it’s the Caps.

Washington ranks first in the league with 4.14 goals per game. Where they have struggled of late has been on the other end of the ice where the Caps are allowing 3.86 goals per game, good for only 28th in the league.

Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers was a horrible defensive game in which the Caps allowed five regulation goals and lost in a shootout. The problem was not that they allowed five goals, it’s that all five came from the slot directly in front of the net.

There were no deflections, no unlucky bounces, none of those chance hockey plays that make you throw up your hands and say, nothing they could have done about that one. No, there were just five goals scored in high-danger areas as the Panthers picked the defense apart.

Defensively, the Caps had no control of the front of their own net and that’s a problem.

Washington has allowed at least four goals in all four of their losses this season. Having a dominant offense does not matter nearly as much if the defense cannot keep up.

The Caps are starting to fall back in the rankings after three losses in four games. Where do they fall this week?

FIND OUT IN THE LATEST NHL POWER RANKINGS

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Capitals at Blue Jackets Game 35: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals at Blue Jackets Game 35: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The Washington Capitals are off to a good start on the road following Saturday night’s wing against the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2. 

It was two quick goals late in the third period by Lars Ellers and Garnet Hathaway that sealed the deal for Washington. 

The Caps look to win their second straight road game and fifth straight win in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. 

We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about the Monday night face-off that takes placed at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS GAME 1: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH

When: Monday, December 16th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals at Blue Jackets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at Blue Jackets on NBC Sports live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS TV SCHEDULE:

5:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

5:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals @ Blue Jackets (LIVE)

8:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

11:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: None 

Blue Jackets: D Ryan Murray, Upper body injury, day-to-day

RW Josh Anderson, Upper body injury, day-to-day

LW Sonny Milano, Upper-body injury, day-to-day

RW Emil Bemstrom, Ribs injury, indefinitely

D Zach Werenski, Shoulder injury, indefinitely

RW Kole Sherwood, Oblique injury, indefinitely

D Markus Nutivaara, Oblique injury, day-to-day

LW Brandon Dubinsky,  Wrist injury, indefinitely 

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

T.J. Oshie, RW, Caps (14,12,26)
T.J. Oshie ended up with a plus-2 rating, three blocked shots, a minor penalty and a hit in his 17:56 of ice time across 21 shifts following the Caps win over the Lightning. He was even good for a goal and an assist in Saturday's 5-2 road victory against the Tampa Bay. 

Ilya Samsonov, G, Capitals (8-2-1)
Ilya Samsonov allowed only two goals on Tampa Bay’s 28 shots in Saturday's 5-2 road victory against the Lightning. The rookie has improved to 8-2-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 10 starts and 11 appearances so far this season. 

Joonas Korpisalo, G, Blue Jackets (12-10-3)
In the Blue Jackets’ overtime loss to the Senators, Korpisalo stopped 17 shots. The last time that these two teams met  Korpisalo made 37 saves.

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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.

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