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With a 1-3 record in shootouts, Caps are spending more time practicing it

With a 1-3 record in shootouts, Caps are spending more time practicing it

ARLINGTON—Over the past few weeks, the Capitals have started dedicating more time in practice to working on shootouts.

Why? A couple of reasons: The standings point awarded for a skills competition victory could prove critical later this season. And, well, right now the Caps aren’t very good at them, despite a bevy of skilled forwards and a top goaltender.

In fact, through 32 games, the Caps have gone to the shootout four times—and they’ve won just once.  

“It’s part of the game,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “If it wasn’t part of the game, we wouldn’t work on it. But it is; they’re valuable points. We've got some dynamic shooters and good goaltending, we just haven’t been on the right side enough. You never know when those two or three or four points during the year could make a big difference.”

RELATED: Power Rankings: Make or break time for the Caps

The Caps’ most recent trip to the shootout—a 3-2 loss in Philly last Wednesday—left Trotz feeling like they had allowed a valuable point to slip.

“We had an opportunity,” Trotz said. “Scored the first one, got a save. If we can score another one or get that extra save, then we’re able to come back. We lost a point that we could have had. We’ll keep working at it.”

Trotz doesn’t incorporate shootout drills into practice every day, but it’s been happening more and more in recent weeks. It typically happens toward the end of practice and takes the form of an intrasquad competition. The Caps divide into two teams and alternate shots on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, who are stationed at either end. By the end, there’s usually a little trash talk and/or whooping and hollering.

It’s a fun way to wrap up practice. But it also serves a purpose: T.J. Oshie and Co. get to polish their moves, while Holtby and Grubauer can focus on deciphering a shooter’s tells and work on remaining patient as the shooter bears down on the net.

The Caps have a pair of top shootout performers in Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Oshie is a perfect 3 for 3 this season, with one game deciding goal, and Kuznetsov is 2 for 4.

At the other end, Holtby is 0-3 in games decided in the shootout, allowing seven goals on 12 shots against. He’s also not a fan of deciding games in a skills competition. Grubauer, meantime, earned the Caps’ only shootout win, at Carolina on Dec. 16, though it should be noted both Hurricanes’ shooters were officially credited with missing the net.    

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as automatic,” Trotz said, asked if his team should be better based on its collective skill level. “It’s a skill set. It’s not really about natural goal scoring. It’s about reading and deception and being able to sell your wares coming into the goalie and then executing.”

“Like T.J., he goes in there with three or four moves and he executes,” Trotz added. “And that’s why he’s so good. He sells deception. He doesn’t have a lot of tells and when it comes to the execution part, he’s able to do that. We have a lot of guys that can do that. You’d be amazed at some guys that are so skilled and then you throw them out there and they do something totally different and are not able to get it done.”

As the league prepares to return from Christmas break, Detroit has been best in shootouts (5-0) while Toronto has been worst (0-5). The Caps rank toward the bottom, but Trotz feels like they could and should be higher.

And they’ll keep working at it until they are.

“That’s something we can be better at,” he said, “everything from Holts’ patience on those [shots] to us executing. So it’s not one thing. It’s a little bit of both.”

MORE CAPITALS: Who's hot and who's not?: Holtby rediscovering Vezina form

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."

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