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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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NHL Playoffs 2019: All the division winners have been eliminated in the first round

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NHL Playoffs 2019: All the division winners have been eliminated in the first round

Never before has the NHL – or among other pro sport leagues in North America – seen all of the division winners knocked out in the first round of the postseason. That changed Wednesday.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who finished as the first wild-card in the regular season, were able to finish off the Washington Capitals with a 4-3 OT victory Wednesday, and with that win, they were able to emerge as the fourth and final wild-card team to advance to the second round.

Carolina joins the ranks of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars as the other underdogs to move one step over to the Stanley Cup.

Columbus has perhaps had the best series these playoffs so far, as they were able to claw back from a 3-0 Game 1 deficit against the top-seeded and Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning to win 4-3 and then win the next three games of the series for the sweep.

After falling 4-0 to the Calgary Flames in Game 1, the Avalanche were able to storm back and win four straight to take the series in five games. Calgary was the first Canadian team to be eliminated from the postseason, and there are no more Canadian teams moving on to next round.

Lastly, Dallas was up for a battle against the Nashville Predators, but in a back and forth series, they eventually went up 3-2 and were able to win Game 6 with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory.

Columbus will face the Boston Bruins and the Stars will face the St. Louis Blues in the second round starting Thursday, while the Hurricanes will open their series against the Islanders and the Avalanche will face the San Jose Sharks starting Friday.


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Capitals’ title defense halted in first round as Hurricanes stun Washington in overtime

Capitals’ title defense halted in first round as Hurricanes stun Washington in overtime

WASHINGTON – The Capitals are the defending champs no more. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 7 on Wednesday, Washington was stunned as the Carolina Hurricanes rallied for the 4-3 overtime win 

The Hurricanes now advance to face Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders int he second round starting on Friday. Washington, meanwhile, is left to ponder what could have been as their quest to repeat is now officially over.

Here are five reasons the Caps saw their season come to an end on Wednesday.

The second period

The Caps took control of the game early with two goals in the first seven minutes of the game. With all the momentum on their side and the crowd going berserk, Washington could have ridden that momentum to the comfortable win much as they did in Game 5. Unlike in Game 5, however, Carolina was able to find life in the middle frame with two goals of their own.

Sebastian Aho got the Hurricanes on the board with a shorthanded tally. Evgeny Kuznetsov restored Washington’s two-goal lead, but Teuvo Teravainen responded just over three minutes later to make sure the Hurricanes stayed within one through the second period.

A one-goal deficit with a period to play is hardly insurmountable and a confident Carolina team left the ice through 40 minutes despite the fact that they were still trailing. They had life and that meant they had a chance.

A shorthanded goal

Up 2-0, the Caps were handed a power play in the second period after Jordan Martinook was called for tripping Nick Jensen. Rather than stepping on Carolina’s throat, however, Washington instead allowed the Hurricanes right back into the game as they gave up a shorthanded goal to Aho.

After a scrum in front of the net Carolina’s net, Brett Pesce came away with the puck. Aho immediately went out to the neutral zone and began tapping his stick for the puck. Instead of just clearing it, Pesce passed it up to Aho. John Carlson was in good position to defend him, but had to drfit more to the middle with Teuvo Teravainen streak to the front. Aho saw he had some room and skated and chipped an innocent looking puck at Braden Holtby, probably looking for the rebound to set up Teravainen. Instead of setting up Teravainen, however, the puck bounced back out to Aho. Carlson and dove in front to block the shot and was out of position to defend leaving Aho all alone to shoot his own rebound and score.

Teravainen’s lightning fast shot

This play turned into one of the biggest plays of the game. Kuznetsov responded to Aho’s goal to make it 3-1 Caps, but Carolina was determined to score before the second period came to an end.

If you blinked, you would have missed it.

After a prolonged offensive shift for the Hurricanes, the Caps were on their heels. Pesce tried to pass from the blue line, but Carl Hagelin got his stick there to block it sending the puck bouncing toward the slot. Aho went after it, but missed. Instead it came to Teravainen who took one touch to control, then fired the quick shot before anyone realized what had happened.

Suddenly it was a one-goal game and Carolina had life.

Jordan Staal's game-tying goal

After taking momentum at the end of the second period, that certainly carried over to the start of the third. The Hurricanes were a step faster than Washington out of the game and it did not take long for them to get the game-tying tally.

Staal streaked into the offensive zone off a line change by Washington. The pass was perfect to lead Staal into the zoen and he had enough time to aim and fire the wrister before Jonas Siegenthaler was able to get over to challenge him. Tie game.

An overtime deflection

It was only a matter of time. The Caps may have started off as the better team, but Carolina took control and were easily the best team in overtime.

The Hurricanes fired off the first nine shots of the extra period before Washington was able to get a puck on the net. It only made it to a second overtime because of the brilliant play of Braden Holtby. Holtby made 17 saves in both overtime before he was finally beaten.

It was a deflection by Brock McGinn that ultimately ended the Caps' season after over 90 minutes of hockey.