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Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

The Philadelphia Flyers' dominance over the Capitals carried over from the regular season into Thursday's 3-1 round robin win, as Washington was eliminated from contention for the top seed in the East.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The Flyers forced the Caps into defensive breakdowns

The first of Philadelphia's three goals was a bad turnover by Radko Gudas. The other two were defensive breakdowns forced by the Flyers' movement in the offensive zone.

In the second period, Kevin Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov stayed on Scott Laughton. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him with a seam pass and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

That player in the top left doing a double-take? That's Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was in front of the net, skated away and reacted to Sanheim going in on net too late. More on him later.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up and was caught standing when Hayes made the seam pass. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov even reacted.

"It's a breakdown in coverage and they take advantage of it," Reirden said. "It's individual responsibilities that happen from mistakes prior to that. That's how goals happen and we have to execute better with the puck to give ourselves the chance to play in the offensive zone. We need to be better, we need more from everybody right down our list."

In both situations, the defensive was drawn away from the front of the net. It was Kuznetsov's responsibility to cover the front for the defense and he did not do a good enough job. Both mistakes resulted in goals.

And we know these plays were breakdowns by Kuznetsov because....

Reirden was displeased with Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov got tangled near the end of the first period and was slow to get up and skate to the bench. He returned for the start of the second period, but played only three shifts in the third. Because of what happened in the first period, I assumed this was because of an injury and I asked Reirden for an update on Kuznetsov's status after the game.

"How we break down ice time and use certain guys, we're going with who's playing the best at that time," Reirden said. "We need a different level of play and we know we have it. It's not a secret. We have a different level of play and we need to get to it if we want to have success. We need more from everybody and we didn't have that."

What Reirden appears to be saying here while trying not to single out Kuznetsov is that Kuznetsov was benched.

Kuznetsov's last shift came with 11:23 left in the third period. That was the Laughton goal in which Kuznetsov was caught standing in front of the net.

Too many penalties

I'll keep this one short because it's fairly obvious. You can't give up six power plays in the first two periods of a game and hope to win. And those penalties were blatant.

No, it's not just because it's the round robin

Sorry, you can't explain this loss away by just saying it was the round robin and the Caps are looking past this towards the playoffs.

Yes, Washington was without Carlson who is being held out, we believe, as a precaution, but Philadelphia started Brian Elliott in net over starter Carter Hart and James van Riemsdyk was out for them. Both teams made roster decisions with an eye on the playoffs, but one of them played much better than the other. I don't think Thursday's game was a product of the Caps not taking a round robin game seriously, it was just a bad game.

Turning point

When Tampa Bay went up 2-0 against the Caps on Monday, the Caps ramped up the intensity and rallied to tie the game before the end of the second period. When Philadelphia went up 2-0 on Thursday, the goal was completely deflating and I don't think anyone watching the game had any real confidence the Caps were going to be able to rally from this one. Hayes just stickhandled as much as he wanted until the seam opened up for Sanheim. That 2-0 lead felt like 5-0 at that point.

Play of the game

The game was leaning more and more in favor of the Flyers in the second period, but a 3-on-1 opportunity for Philadelphia could have made things even worse if not for the pad save by Braden Holtby.

Stat of the game

Washington's lone goal on the night came from Travis Boyd. It was his first playoff point.

Boyd played in two games during the 2018 Cup run but did not record a point in either game. While this may be the "round robin" and not a playoff series, these points do technically count as playoff points.

Quote of the game

Reirden summed this one up pretty well: "You need everybody’s top game. And we didn’t have that tonight. That’s really, to me, the story of this game, is that we need more from everybody.”

To end on a lighter note, Boyd was asked about his goal and said, "First playoff goal, I guess I will take that."

T.J. Oshie then cut in saying, "Many more to come."

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Flyers continue their dominance over the Capitals in round robin win

Flyers continue their dominance over the Capitals in round robin win

The Philadelphia Flyers had the Capitals' number in the regular season and that carried over to the postseason even five months later. Travis Boyd scored the Caps' lone goal in a lackluster performance as they fell 3-1 to the Flyers on Thursday. The loss means Washington will finish third or fourth in the round robin.

Here's why the Caps lost.

Too many penalties

Washington did not give up a single power play in the first round robin game against Tamap Bay. The team certainly made up for lost time on Thursday with a parade to the penalty box. The Caps faced six power plays all through the first two periods. This was not just a case of referees calling the game tight, these were blatant, obvious, bone-headed penalties.

The penalty kill was actually very good and finished perfect on the day, killing off all six power plays. That's good, but the effect of taking so many penalties was evident. Washington was chasing the play, the offense had no rhythm and no momentum.

On Monday, a T.J. Oshie fight sparked the team to rally from a two-goal deficit. On Thursday, the team was playing physically, but it was just reckless and completely took them out of their game.

RELATED: ALL OF THE ROUND ROBIN SCENARIOS TIED TO CAPITALS VS. FLYERS

Faceoffs

You can't score if you don't have the puck. Metrics like Corsi are used to measure possession and in that category Washington broke even at 50-percent. But in another possession metric, Washington was blitzed: The faceoff.

When a team wins a faceoff, they begin the play with possession and Philadelphia got the better of the Caps by a wide margin, winning 67-percent of the faceoffs.

The Flyers were the best faceoff team through the regular season and that was evident on Thursday as they dominated the Caps at the dot.

A bad turnover

Radko Gudas will want this one back. With the puck on his stick behind the goal line, Gudas put on the brakes to shake off the pressure from Travis Konecny. Konecny skated by, but Gudas put the puck on his backhand and tried to pass it through Kevin Hayes who easily picked it off along the boards. Suddenly the Caps were out of position and Konecny was wide open in front of the net. He took the pass, delivered a pretty no-look spin pass behind him to Scott Laughton for the slam dunk.

Nicklas Backstrom clipped the skate of Braden Holtby on the play, not allowing Holtby the chance to stretch out for the save attempt on Laughton, but frankly, he was not going to get there anyway.

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The Flyers' movement

Philadelphia generated a lot of room in the offensive zone with the constant movement of its forwards. This seems obvious -- it's hockey, after all -- but the Caps' defense could not keep up.

Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov drifted up and to the left, Siegenthaler's side, as Hayes continued to stickhandle. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov or either of the two defensemen could even react.

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Capitals prepare for a Flyers team out to show the NHL they are more than just a hot streak

Capitals prepare for a Flyers team out to show the NHL they are more than just a hot streak

The Capitals are back in action for the second round robin game on Thursday as they take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all the action starting with Caps Pregame Live at 3 p.m. Watch the game and stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live.

Here's everything you need to know for Caps-Flyers.

Standings update

Here are the current round robin standings:

Tampa Bay 4 points
Philadelphia Flyers 2 points
Capitals 1 point
Boston Bruins 0 points

Tampa Bay and Boston have both played two games. Washington and Philadelphia have played only one.

Everything is still on the table for the Caps. They can win the round robin but they will have to win on Thursday to keep those hopes alive. A regulation loss will mean Washington can finish no higher than third.

Carlson update: Proceed with caution

The Caps are still being cautious with defenseman John Carlson. Though he continues to practice, head coach Todd Reirden said Wednesday that the team would continue to evaluate his situation on a day by day basis so it is unclear if he will play on Thursday. Carlson did not play in Monday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning after getting tangled up in the team's lone exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The team continues to take a cautious approach with Carlson and that makes sense. It took about five minutes to realize the round robin games were nowhere close to the same intensity as the qualifying round games as none of the top four teams want to risk any injury in these games. Though there is no definitive answer as of yet on Carlson, it would not be surprising to see him sit out again, especially considering the Caps still managed to earn a point without him against Tampa Bay.

In addition to Carlson's possible absence, the team will also be without center Lars Eller who departed Toronto on Thursday to be with his family for the birth of his second child. Travis Boyd is expected to fill-in on the third line in Eller's place.

RELATED: LARS ELLER LEAVES NHL BUBBLE FOR BIRTH OF SECOND CHILD

Here's a projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon - Dmitry Orlov
Michal Kempny - Radko Gudas
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen

Goalie matchup

The Caps will be going with Braden Holtby in net again after he stopped 26 out of 28 shots against the Lightning on Monday. Reirden was very non-committal when asked about Vitek Vanecek and it certainly does not sound as if there is any thought to getting him into Thursday's game.

The Flyers, on the other hand, will turn to goalie Brian Elliott over the young Carter Hart. This a break for Washington after the 21-year-old Hart was fantastic against the Boston Bruins in the team's first round robin matchup with 34 saves on 35 shots. In the regular season, Elliott managed a .903 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

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When last we met

The Caps and Flyers last played on March 4 in an ugly 5-2 loss for Washington. In fact, if you combine the last two games, the Caps have been outscored 12-4 by Philadelpiha. This has been a tough matchup for the Caps this season as the Flyers are the only of the three round robin teams in which Washington has a losing record against this season (1-3-0).

Flyers are still rolling

When the NHL paused the season, Philadelphia had won nine of its last 10. The Flyers were just one point shy of the Caps in the Metropolitan Division standings and, based on how both teams were trending, it seems likely Philadelphia would have overtaken them for the division. If you expected the Flyers to cool off after nearly five months off, however, they showed in their first round robin game that is not going to be the case.

The Flyers rolled to a 4-1 win over the Bruins, the top team in the conference, and now take aim at the top seed in the conference. Clearly this team is not going to fade away with its win streak now well in the past. In just his first year behind the bench in Philadelphia, Alain Vigneault is getting the most out of his team and has already turned them into a contender in the East.

“I think the coaching change did a lot for them, but at the same time, all their young players developed, they got better and they are so good defensively too so I think that is what the coach brought in," Nicklas Backstrom said. "I think it is the combination of everything."

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