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How the Capitals can snap their 3-game skid on Sunday against the Red Wings

How the Capitals can snap their 3-game skid on Sunday against the Red Wings

The Capitals saw their losing streak hit three games on Friday, their longest of the season. On Sunday, they will look to end that streak as they play the Detroit Red Wings (5 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) in the last game of a three-game road swing.

Here are four things to watch that will determine if Washington walks away victorious on Sunday.

1. An Ice-Cold Power Play

The power play has been a major talking point of late and the Caps will have to get better at the man advantage to find success. Just how important a strong power play is has become a matter of debate since penalties become scarce in the postseason, but whatever side of the debate you fall on, everyone can agree that scoring only one power play goal in 27 opportunities in a nine-game stretch is pretty abysmal. The Caps got two power plays in the third period of Friday’s game against the Dallas Stars with the score tied at 1. One goal in that situation could have seen Washington walk away with two points. Instead, the Caps had to settle for an overtime loss.

The biggest issue on the man advantage has been zone entries and we are starting to see teams stack the blue line as a result. St. Louis did that on Thursday and Washington made the Blues’ struggling penalty kill look like the Iron Curtain. Washington is a skilled team with no shortage of stick-handlers, but if the opposition won’t allow the Caps to enter the zone with the puck, perhaps it’s time to shift tactics to dump and chase until teams stop putting all four guys on the line.

A power play as skilled as Washington’s is due for a breakout at some point, but the Caps need to figure out how to get the puck in the offensive zone first.

2. An Ice-Cold Top Six

The power play isn’t the only part of the offense that has gone cold. Most of Washington’s top playmakers suddenly can’t find the back of the net. Alex Ovechkin has one goal in eight games, T.J. Oshie has not scored an even-strength goal since Nov. 13 and Nicklas Backstrom hasn’t scored any goals in his last 14 games. Remember how good Evgeny Kuzntesov looked at the start of the season? He has only one even-strength goal nearly halfway into the season and has been held without any goals at all for 13 games.

It’s great that Washington has been able to find secondary scoring this season, but the depth players can only take the team so far. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Caps need their top players to take control on Sunday and put some points on the board.

3. Dylan Larkin

One person who has not been struggling to generate offense of late has been Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin.

Larkin just wrapped up a 14-game point streak and leads Detroit in both goals (18) and points (40) despite being just 22 years old. None of that was enough to get him to the 2019 NHL All-Star Game apparently so he may have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when the Caps come to town.

As skilled as Larkin is, it’s his speed that makes him so dangerous. He is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL so the Caps’ defense will have to be on its toes early to keep him from turning the corner and torching them on his way in on net.

4. Detroit’s Depleted Defense

Detroit snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over Nashville on Friday, but the Caps are still catching the Red Wings at a good time. Detroit will be without defensemen Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley who are all out injured and any team in the league is going to struggle without three of its top defensemen.

The most recent injury came to Daley who suffered a broken foot on Monday. There’s also no denying the impact former Cap Green has on Detroit. The Red Wings are 13-8-2 this season with Green playing and 3-12-5 when he is out. A depleted blue line should give Washington plenty of opportunities to fix their offensive woes.

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Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Fresh off of a third-star recognition, Travis Boyd returned to home ice to score less than eleven minutes into Tuesday night’s game as the Capitals hosted the Detroit Red Wings.

Saturday’s goal, versus Columbus, was the first of Boyd’s career. The fact that his second came not even four days later may seem unusual – but with the Capitals’ fourth line cruising, it’s hardly a surprise.

The fourth line, consisting of Boyd, Nic Dowd, and Dmitrij Jaskin, has been together the past three games since Tom Wilson sustained an upper-body injury and the lineup changed. That version of the fourth line has combined for eight points in three wins. 

Dowd has had the most sustained success with seven points in his past nine games (three goals, four assists) - though not all of that came with Jaskin and Boyd. But together the trio continues to show that it shouldn’t be overlooked with significant contributions towards the team’s scoring.

“I think right now we're just having fun together,” Boyd said after the 6-2 win against the Red Wings. “It's kind of funny, you play games and you start making plays together and all of a sudden, it's kind of like a snowball effect. The more plays you make, the more confidence you get and it just kind of keeps going.”

The fourth line’s newfound confidence – and the fun they’re having with it – is tangible. Jaskin, after chipping past Detroit defenseman Mike Green, hustled to avoid an icing call and then helped feed Dowd, who passed to Boyd for a goal that put Washington ahead 2-0 just 10:50 into the game. 

The play looked effortless – so much so that the Red Wings were frustrated by the end of the first, down 3-0. It wasn’t until the third period that Detroit was finally able to get on the board thanks to a goal by Dylan Larkin that held up after a coach’s challenge for goalie interference.

Larkin spoke to the struggle to counter Washington’s fourth line’s success..

“There’s no bad players in this league,” Larkin said. “Whoever scores, it’s disappointing. But the next shift is the most important. We got penned in our zone a little too much tonight.”

Capitals coach Todd Reirden had high praise for the line’s developing chemistry.

“[There’s] a lot of chemistry,” Reirden said. “They're playing well and it’s great to see them get rewarded, and they could have had a couple more. They play the right way for the most part.”

Though Boyd, Dowd, and Jaskin have been outstanding in the past few games, it isn’t a completely new development, but rather, an improvement on a larger goal.

“It's something talked about in the summer,” Reirden said. “[There’s an] importance of having depth scoring and I think that was something we struggled with in the first 10 games of the year, getting scoring from that bottom six. Now it's been a really big part of our success.“

As the league evolves, requiring more skill and versatility from more players, Reirden remains positive that the Caps are ahead of the curve.

“The days of just having a fourth line guy that would be your tough guy, that's kind of gone away,” Reirden said. “I think where we're headed, [if] you can get offensive production from that fourth line, you become a very difficult team to match up against. That's a luxury as a coach if you can have that type of depth. Credit all goes to how our players have bought in and taken advantage of their opportunities. They've been given them, they've earned and deserved to be in that situation they're in right now.”

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