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Now it's a series: Capitals obliterated by Hurricanes in Raleigh

Now it's a series: Capitals obliterated by Hurricanes in Raleigh

If the Capitals thought they were going to be able to sleepwalk their way to an easy first-round series win, Monday’s game should serve as a rude awakening. In the first playoff game in Raleigh since 2009, the Carolina Hurricanes dominated the Caps 5-0 on Monday to earn their first win of the series.

Micheal Ferland left the game early in the first period with an upper-body injury, and Andrei Svechnikov unwisely picked a fight with Alex Ovechkin, who knocked him out in three punches. And yet, despite playing a team that was missing two forwards for the majority of the game, it was Washington that looked like it was playing shorthanded.

Despite all their years together in the same division, there was no real rivalry between these two teams. That changed on Monday after what was a brutally physical affair. The Hurricanes’ win makes the series 2-1 for the Caps with Game 4 coming on Thursday.

Here are five reasons Washington lost.

1. A Christian Djoos turnover

While the vast majority of the game did not go the Caps’ way, they actually looked alright the first five minutes or so. It was a choppy start which quieted down an energized Raleigh crowd and Washington’s top line looked very good. One bad turnover changed all of that.

Christian Djoos got less than six minutes of ice time in Game 2 and Todd Reirden on Sunday said he needed to get him more playing time. Djoos did play a fair amount in the first period, but it cost the Caps as Djoos fumbled a puck in the defensive zone and turned it over to Carolina. The resulting possession for the Hurricanes turned into their first goal of the game as Warren Foegele scored his first of two goals on the night.

2. The second period

You would be hard-pressed to find a worse period of hockey for Washington this season. They were dominated in every aspect of the game. Carolina won every race to the puck, every board battle, every battle for the open puck. The Caps were outshot for the period 18-1, with their first shot coming with 4:45 remaining in the period.

A close 1-0 game turned into a blowout as the Hurricanes scored more goals (2) than the Caps had shots (1).

3. A defensive miscommunication

When you have three players all on the left boards and no one anywhere else in the defensive zone, that’s not how the coaches drew it up. Three Caps all got caught along the wall while Sebastian Aho came tearing into the offensive zone. Teuvo Teravainen found Aho who easily stickhandled around a diving Matt Niskanen and he passed to Foegele who scored his second of the game.

4. The forecheck

Part of what made the second period such a nightmare was the fact that the Caps had no answer for Carolina’s suffocating forecheck. Washington had only one shot on goal in the second period, but it is hard to get any shots off when you can’t get the puck out of the defensive zone.

In the face of the Hurricanes’ forecheck, Washington constantly turned the puck over or simply dumped the puck into the neutral zone. If they were lucky enough to get to the neutral zone, they did not have enough time to connect any passes to generate any sort of offensive pressure whatsoever. It felt like the entire second period was played in the Caps’ end of the ice and that is not really much of an exaggeration.

When one team is forced to play defense for an extended period of time, it usually leads to a goal or a penalty and that is exactly what happened. Nicklas Backstrom was called for interference on Jordan Staal and Dougie Hamilton scored to put the Hurricanes up 3-0.

5. Two failed power plays at the start of the third period

As bad as the second period was, the score was only 3-0 with 20 minutes left to go. That’s a sizable deficit, but not an insurmountable lead. Washington was given not one, but two opportunities to get back into the game with two power plays in the first six minutes of the third period.

The Caps were down 3-0, had two power plays and were still being outshot 1-0.

Things really went off the rails after that.

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Capitals send Christian Djoos to Anaheim for Daniel Sprong in minor league trade

Capitals send Christian Djoos to Anaheim for Daniel Sprong in minor league trade

ARLINGTON, Va. -- While Ilya Kovalchuk was the last NHL trade for the Capitals before Monday's 3 p.m. deadline, it was not technically the team's last trade. Defenseman Christian Djoos was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for forward Daniel Sprong in what the team referred to as a "minor league deal." Details of the deal were first reported by Frank Seravalli.

Djoos, 25, was a part of the team's Stanley Cup run in his rookie season and played 22 out Washington's 24 playoff games that year on a third-pair role with Brooks Orpik. Last season, however, he missed several weeks after suffering compartment syndrome in his thigh and his play never seemed to recover. Djoos has always been an undersized player and that seemed to be a major issue for him last season, more so than when he was a rookie. In the 2019 postseason, he was eventually replaced in the lineup by Jonas Siegenthaler.

During a brief call-up after the Christmas break, Djoos played in only two games before suffering an upper-body injury. During those two games, he did not have a single defensive zone start either on a faceoff or on the fly, reflecting a lack of trust by the coaches in defensive situations. That was a sign that his NHL future was likely done in Washington.

Despite his struggles in Washington, Djoos has been very good in the AHL this season scoring five goals and 27 assists in 42 games for the Hershey Bears. He leads all Hershey defensemen in points with 32.

In exchange, the Caps receive forward Daniel Sprong, 22, who has played the majority of the season in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls where he had 11 goals and 16 assists in 39 games. He also played eight games for the Anaheim Ducks with one goal and one assist. He has 97 total games of NHL experience between Anaheim and the Pittsburgh Penguins with 19 goals and 11 assists.

Sprong will be assigned to Hershey, per a team official.

Sprong is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1.

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The 4 most important things Caps GM Brian MacLellan said about new Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk

The 4 most important things Caps GM Brian MacLellan said about new Capitals forward Ilya Kovalchuk

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Brian MacLellan did not make any further additions to the Capitals' roster on Monday before the 3 p.m. trade deadline, leaving the Ilya Kovalchuk trade as the last piece for what he hopes will be another championship roster.

"I think he's a good fit for what we need," MacLellan said. "He's an established player. So many good reports and viewings of what he did in Montreal. I think he's a fit for our team. We think he can add a lot offensively, playmaking. So many good things have been said about him on and off the ice in Montreal that we basically thought it was a no-brainer to add him."

Here are the four most important things MacLellan had to say about Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk will start on the third line

This should perhaps come as no surprise with Washington ranking third in the NHL in offense, but Kovalchuk will not step into a top-six role for the Caps. Instead, he will play on the third line.

While MacLellan was careful to say lineup decisions would be left to Todd Reirden, he was very specific with where he felt Kovalchuk fit.

"I probably start him third line, right wing," MacLellan said. "Start him there, see how it goes, and we can move him around."

Don't take the addition of Kovalchuk as an indictment of the third line

MacLellan knew he was not going to get as much offensive production from the third line without Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly this season and was quick to defend the performance of the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik line.

"I think the third line's been good recently," MacLellan said. "I think the intention of it, the way we put it together, was that it wasn't gonna be as offensive (as) last year but you could trust it more against top-six players from other teams. They've had reasonable offensive output and played a pretty solid two-way game for most of the year."

Yet, MacLellan pegged Kovalchuk for the third line.

When asked if this meant he was changing his philosophy for that line he said, "It could be. I mean we don't have to go with it. I think the Kovalchuk thing gives us just options to -- if we need offense, we can use him in that situation, and if we don't we can leave the line the way it is."

Look, you don't trade a third-round draft pick for nothing. There's a reason MacLellan sought out Kovalchuk and it is for his offense. What this points to most likely is that Kovalchuk will play on the third line, but that the Hagelin, Eller, Panik trio will be used in defensive situations when needed.

Kovalchuk is willing to accept a smaller role

Kovalchuk was playing nearly 19 minutes per game in Montreal. That's significantly more than he should expect in a third-line role with Washington, but, per MacLellan, Kovalchuk understands this.

"I think he views our team as having a chance to win a championship and that's his main priority," MacLellan said. "I think he likes the style of play that we have. I've talked to him a couple times about accepting a role and he's pretty clear in his mind that he'll do anything as long as he has a chance to win a championship."

MacLellan added, "Having conversations with Ilya about will he be willing to accept a certain type of role -- I know in Montreal he was playing probably a little bit more than he's going to play here -- and would he be able to accept that role and be OK with it? He's pretty clear in his mind that he'll do whatever's asked of him."

Kovalchuk will be used on the power play

Washington's power play has struggled significantly this season. At times, the team has tried to use the second unit more than in the past, but when the player Evgeny Kuznetsov is setting up for one-timers is Brendan Leipsic, well, that's not a unit you can really expect much offensive production from. Kovalchuk should provide a more dangerous option for that second power play unit.

"He's a power-play player," MacLellan said. "Probably a second-power play player for us unless something's going on and we want to change it up. We can start him in our bottom six, we can move him up for shifts depending on the coaches. I just think it gives our coaching staff a lot of flexibility to use the player."

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