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Special teams come up short for Capitals, again, in loss to rival Pittsburgh Penguins

Special teams come up short for Capitals, again, in loss to rival Pittsburgh Penguins

WASHINGTON – The Capitals saw their five-game win streak halted on Wednesday at the hands of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Alex Ovechkin was kept off the scoresheet for the first time in 15 games as Sidney Crosby led the Penguins to the narrow 2-1 victory.

Here are four reasons the Caps lost.

Special teams

Both the Caps and Penguins have been struggling on special teams of late. Wednesday’s game offered plenty of opportunities for both teams on the man advantage, but only Pittsburgh was able to cash in.

Washington had five power play opportunities but failed to score even once and looked unsure of themselves on every opportunity. The real issue was moving the puck into the offensive zone. Once the power play was set up, the Caps looked as dangerous as always. Getting the puck through the defensive and the neutral zone, however, was a real struggle.

The Caps were able to kill off three of Pittsburgh’s power plays, but allowed one goal and it proved to be crucial.

The lone power play goal came in the second period as Sidney Crosby deflected in a point shot from Evgeni Malkin to put the Penguins on the board.

Off target

The Caps had a number of high-quality opportunities, but many of those opportunities sailed clear of Pittsburgh's net. Washington’s sights were a bit off on the night as they missed the net 22 times over the course of the game. Ovechkin had eight of those misses and saw his 14-game point streak come to an end as a result.

Sidney Crosby

While Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet, Crosby was not.

Crosby deflected in his team’s first goal and was credited with an assist on the second. He was originally credited with the goal as he swung his stick as it bounced in the crease, but replay showed he never actually touched it. The goal was given to Bryan Rust and Crosby had to settle for the assist.

Save of the night by Marcus Pettersson

With about six minutes left in the game and the Caps trailing by one, Lars Eller finally beat goalie Matt Murray. His shot trickled through the Pittsburgh netminder and to the goal line, but Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson made a diving save the sweep the puck off the goal line just before it trickled over.

It was the third close call of the night as Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov both hit the post earlier as well. 

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The Washington Capitals

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The Washington Capitals

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The Washington Capitals.

It’s time for the Metropolitan preview you have all been waiting for, your hometown heroes, the Caps.

Washington learned firsthand how difficult it is to defend a Stanley Cup as they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes in what appeared on paper to be a favorable matchup. Now they head into the season with a different looking team, but not because of any knee-jerk reactions to an early playoff exit.

The entire offseason for the Caps has been dictated by the salary cap. With no money under the cap, general manager Brian MacLellan had to say goodbye to key pieces like Matt Niskanen, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky. The retirement of Brooks Orpik was also a key loss for the blue line.

Despite all the changes you have to give credit to MacLellan for managing to shed salary and still improve the team.

When you look at the numbers, Washington really struggled defensively last season. Per Natural Stat Trick, only one team in the NHL allowed more high-danger chances over the course of the 2018-19 season than the Caps. Washington held the third-worst high-danger scoring chance percentage and has seen that percentage get worse in each of the past five seasons.

As one would expect, this is leading to the team giving up more goals. In 2016-17, Washington allowed just 2.16 goals per game. Over the past two seasons, that average has skyrocketed to 2.90 in 2017-18 and 3.02 in 2018-19.

To combat this MacLellan traded for Radko Gudas who was one of the Philadelphia Flyers’ best defensemen last season and who may prove to be an upgrade over Niskanen at this point in their respective careers. MacLellan also filled the hole on the third line left by Connolly with Richard Panik and added a pair of strong defensive fourth-line players in Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic. The result should be better team defense and a stronger penalty kill.

The concern in losing players like Connolly and Burakovsky and focusing on the defense is that this team is not as offensively deep as it was. The entire top-six returns, but will Washington rely too much on its top scorers to carry the load? And can players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie who are all over 30 still carry that load? it is imperative that players like Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana continue their production from last season and Evgeny Kuznetsov returns to the Conn Smythe-worthy form we saw in the 2018 postseason that we only saw glimpses of last year.

As improved as the team looks overall defensively, a lot will be riding on Nick Jensen. He struggled after getting acquired at the trade deadline, but with Niskanen gone, he will be expected to take on a top-four role most likely alongside Dmitry Orlov. The loss of Orpik also means a regular spot for either Jonas Siegenthaler or Christian Djoos on the third pair with Gudas.

While money was an issue for the offseason, it will continue to hang over the team's head heading into training camp. The Caps remain over the salary cap and will have some tough moves to make. Chandler Stephenson will almost certainly start the season in Hershey, but that will not be enough. Will Djoos go to the AHL? Will we see Vitek Vanecek replace Pheonix Copley as Braden Holtby’s backup to save money? How will Holtby play on the final year of his contract? Will we see prospect Ilya Samsonov come into the NHL this year as next year’s potential replacement of Holtby?

Managing the salary cap is going to be a story all season long and this roster is still going to be shuffled in a fairly significant way even before the end of training camp just to get under the ceiling. That is something to keep an eye on in training camp.

And of course, there is coaching. Todd Reirden enters his second season as head coach. He navigated a rocky 2018-19 season very well leading the team to a division title, but the playoffs were a different story. Among the reasons for the team’s early exit were some curious decisions made by the coaching staff such as electing to play John Carlson on the left in response to the injury to Michal Kempny.

There are a lot of questions surrounding this team that could ultimately cost them their seat atop the division.

Having said all of that, even with how good the Metro will be this year and how much several teams have improved, Washington still maintains the best roster in the division from top to bottom and still should be considered the frontrunners for a fifth title. There are just a lot more potential pitfalls that could derail the season than we have seen in recent years.

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Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Islanders - Can Barry Trotz work his magic again?

Metropolitan Division Outlook 2019-20: The New York Islanders - Can Barry Trotz work his magic again?

The Capitals enter the 2019-20 season looking for their fifth consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

But this could be the most challenging year yet. The bottom of the division has improved dramatically with offseason moves and the top of the division still has quality teams. It’s hard to figure who will crater and finish last. The winning team might not top 100 points.

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will take a look at each Metro team and where they stand with training camps opening in less than a month. Today: The New York Islanders.

The surprise team of 2018-19 is back to prove that was no fluke. It was the Islanders who finished second to the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division last season, not the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Barry Trotz who won the Jack Adams Award. It was New York who shook off the loss of star center Jonathan Tavares and somehow made the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before a getting swept by the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Metro appears tougher on paper this time around and the Capitals and Penguins still are formidable opponents. The Islanders also swapped out their best goalie (Robin Lehner) for more of a talented question mark (Semyon Varlamov). And they lost in the Artemi Panarin free-agent sweepstakes to the rival New York Rangers. 

None of that bodes well, but the Islanders do have plenty to build on. They have a balanced top six with Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson centering solid lines. Anders Lee led the team with 28 goals and he was re-signed. Josh Bailey had 56 points, which was second only to Barzal (62). 

And don’t forget about maybe the best fourth line in the NHL (Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck), which combined for 34 goals last season. Cizikas alone had 20.  

Without an 80-point game-breaker - though Barzal has the talent to get there - New York has to be steady in its own end and get close to the fantastic goaltending it received last year from Lehner and Tomas Greiss. 

This time it will be Varlamov and Greiss. In front of them is a fine top pair in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. But the blueline overall features almost no household names. 

The Islanders, thanks in large part to Trotz and some of the same assistant coaches who helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018, shocked the NHL last year. It shouldn’t be a surprise this time if they remain in playoff contention most of the season. 

But the Metro has gotten better and New York at best remained in place. The Islanders won’t sneak up on anyone this time around. Just making it back into the postseason tournament would be a win.  

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