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Reliable power play deserts Capitals in 5-3 loss to Vegas

Reliable power play deserts Capitals in 5-3 loss to Vegas

LAS VEGAS — It is the unquestioned strength of a Capitals team that won a Stanley Cup last season and is again in the mix early this season. 
 
But for one night at least, a vaunted power play came up short in a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Washington, ahead 2-1 late in the second period, could not capitalize on a five-minute major penalty to Vegas forward Ryan Reaves and missed another opportunity in the third period. 
 
That they tied the game anyway was admirable in a tough environment before a revved up crowd. That they didn’t win was because of special teams – a penalty kill that allowed two more goals, but really a power play that never had a chance. 
 
The Capitals entered the game 23-for-83 (27.7 percent) on the power play, sixth in the NHL. They are there despite missing T.J. Oshie (concussion), a key part of that five-man unit, for three weeks now. Washington went 0-for-4 against an aggressive Knights penalty kill, but because of the major they didn’t score despite 10:38 with the extra man.  
 
“We definitely outplayed them five-on-five I would say,” defenseman John Carlson said. “We think we’re pretty good on the power play. Just need to be better on that – and on the PK, too.”
 
The Capitals rarely lack for confidence on the power play. But they are dealing with personnel issues that could be limiting their consistency lately. Oshie was replaced in the bumper spot in the slot by Wilson, who was knocked woozy by Vegas forward Ryan Reaves at 15:42 of the second period and left the game for good. Brett Connolly replaced Wilson in that spot. But on its four power plays Washington managed just three shots on goal.  
 
“Credit to them they did a good job on the kill,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “We got as few chances but not as many as we would have hoped and had to change our personnel a little bit without Tom in that diamond spot. It comes down to that.”
 
The Capitals gave up two quick goals early in the third period after not scoring on the major penalty. Down 3-2, they did tie the game on a Jakub Vrana goal at 11:40 of the third. But again they might have had a lead if they took advantage of their chances. Penalties to Vegas defenseman Colin Miller (high sticking) and Jonathan Marchessault (slashing) were easily parried by the Knights. 
 
Vegas took advantage finally when ex-Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt made his former team pay for a four-minute high-sticking penalty with just 11 seconds to go on it. He beat goalie Braden Holtby with a wrister from just inside the blueline on a rush up ice and – for good measure – twisted the knife with an empty-net goal with seven seconds to go. If Washington’s power play is clicking, maybe it never gets to that point.  
 
“We know that they’re good. They hawk pucks, they track you down pretty good, they backcheck hard,” Carlson said. “That’s one of their biggest strengths. We weren’t clean enough to beat it. When teams pressure it’s fine. Someone’s going to be wide open if we move the puck well and we didn’t have that edge tonight. We didn’t move it well enough to have those real wide open looks.” 

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The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

No team can make it far in the playoffs without good goaltending. That's what made the news of Ilya Samsonov's injury so tough for the Capitals. Sure, they still have Braden Holtby, but let's face it, it's been a bad season. Does he even still have it in him to lead the team in the postseason? After three round-robin games, the answer is an emphatic yes.

In a round-robin in which there were seemingly few positives for Washington, Holtby was one of them. He was the team's best player in the round-robin and he capped it off with 30 saves on 31 shots against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, the team's lone win.

Holtby looks like a completely different goalie than the one who managed just a .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA in 48 regular-season games and that's because he is. The pause to the NHL season allowed Holtby time off to reset his game that he would not have in a normal season and he took advantage.

RELATED: CAPS VS. ISLANDERS NOT ONLY 'TROTZ VS. REIRDEN'

"Put a lot of work in the last couple months and had to fix a few things and work on a few things over the break to strengthen up," Holtby said, "And every game we played here you get a little more stamina and more and more comfortable."

It is pretty remarkable that Holtby was able to improve his game as much as he seems to have done considering that for much of that time, he could not even get on the ice. Yet, as the team prepares for the playoffs, goaltending no longer seems to be an issue. The loss of Samsonov means that the team is in trouble should Holtby struggle or get injured, but in terms of the starting netminder, Holtby is once again the guy. While that may have made fans nervous in January, fans can now be comfortable with that considering Holtby is playing his best hockey of the season.

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Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

As the Capitals and New York Islanders prepare to square off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all eyes will be on one matchup. It's not about the two goalies or how one defensive pairing matchups up against an offensive line, this matchup is off the ice. The storyline of this series is the men behind the bench, Todd Reirden and his predecessor, Barry Trotz.

Trotz was the head coach in Washington from 2014 to 2018 and led the Caps to the Stanley Cup in 2018. Reirden was on Trotz's staff as an associate coach in charge of the defense. Following the 2018 season, Trotz resigned and was hired as the head coach in New York, taking with him assistant coach Lane Lambert and goalie coach Mitch Korn. Reirden was hired as head coach of the Caps in the wake of Trotz's departure.

"It'll be a great challenge because I know the people over there," Trotz said of the series.

"Obviously we were able to accomplish something amazing together and that's something that you'll never forget as a staff," Reirden said. "That's never going to go away. It's unique now being on opposite benches and it has been."

When a team plays against its former head coach, comparisons between the two coaches are unavoidable. But even if the fans and the media look at this series as a commentary on the two coaches, the two men in question certainly do not.

"It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things," Reirden said. "It's going to be a team effort."

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They also downplayed any sort of advantage knowing each other may give them in the series.

"You've spent some time with a lot of their players, there's a lot of new players," Trotz said. "It just gives me a little insight on some of their tendencies, that's all."

The core in Washington may be the same, but there are a number of new faces on the roster who came after Trotz. The top-six on offense is the same, but players like Carl Hagelin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd all came after Trotz. Defensively, the team added Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas and Brenden Dillon.  Jonas Siegenthaler was in the organization, but did not make his NHL debut until the 2018-19 season.

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But even if they do not want to admit it, the familiarity between the coaches and players undeniably adds a different dynamic to the series.

The Caps know what kind of a coach Trotz is and how his teams like to play. Likewise, Trotz knows the level of talent on the roster in Washington so he knows the challenge that awaits the Islanders in the first round.

"They've got a lot of star power and they've won a championship," Trotz said. "They're well-equipped in a lot of areas, so the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard and they'll do the same because I know a lot about that group."

Trotz also added, "I think it will be a hell of a series."

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