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Why playing in Pittsburgh could limit how much we see Jakub Vrana on the top line

Why playing in Pittsburgh could limit how much we see Jakub Vrana on the top line

As the clocked ticked past the halfway point of Saturday's Game 5, fans groaned as Devante Smith-Pelly remained on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Caps were down 3-2 and that combination just wasn't working. A change was needed. Late in the second period, Trotz moved Jakub Vrana up to the top line and that's when everything changed.

Just 52 seconds into the third period, Vrana's pass launched Evgeny Kuznetsov on a breakaway to tie the game at three. With less than five minutes to go, Vrana then scored what would be the game-winning goal to give the Caps a 4-3 lead.

With Tom Wilson set to miss Game 6 as the final game of his three-game suspension, the Caps still have a hole on the right wing at the top line. Obviously, that role now belongs to Vrana, right?

Maybe not.

"[Vrana's] been up and down," Trotz said to the media on Sunday. "I'm not going to tell you exactly what I'm going to do, but we'll see where we are. For me, it's situational a little bit more. When you're looking for a bump, he's a real good guy to go there."

The issue is defense.

An Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line is a very dangerous offensive line, but playing in the defensive zone is not a strong suit for any of those three players. On Saturday this did not hurt the Capitals, but now that the series is shifting back to Pittsburgh for Game 6, the Penguins will have an opportunity to exploit this because of the line change rules..

In the NHL, the home team is given a chance to change lines during a stoppage in play after the visiting team. This allows the home team to see who your opponent has on the ice and put out whoever they want against them.

In Pittsburgh, the Penguins will get the opportunity to matchup against Washington's lines and you can bet Mike Sullivan will want to get Sidney Crosby's line out against an Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line as much as possible.

So when Trotz says Game 6 will be a little more "situational," that's why.

"There's certain matchups that we had control of [in Game 5] that we don't have," Trotz said. "That does make a difference. It's not really fantasy hockey. It's real-life hockey, and you've got to try to make the right adjustments, and we do as a group. We talk about every situation, what seems to work and what might give us the best chance. Some nights, it works, and some nights, it doesn't, so we have to have a real good game plan to be really good. We've got a lot of areas that we can tighten up, and we've got a lot of players we can tighten up."

So does this mean we won't see Vrana at all on the top line even after a phenomenal Game 5 performance? No, but it does mean Trotz will have to be more selective in when he does put that line on. It may mean putting Vrana on the top line only in offensive zone starts and somebody else in the defensive zone. It may mean a constant situational rotation of two different players on the right of the top line all game long to prevent Pittsburgh from exploiting their matchup opportunities.

The Caps were able to take advantage of the matchups they wanted at home in Game 5. They cannot let Pittsburgh return the favor in Game 6.


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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."


Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.