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Alzner on losing two in a row: 'We hate it'

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Alzner on losing two in a row: 'We hate it'

The Capitals and Dallas Stars are the only two teams in the NHL that have gone the entire season without suffering consecutive regulation losses. Ironically, both teams are 0-1-1 in their last two games and will look to break their losing streaks tonight.

While the Stars visit the Rangers, the Capitals will be in Boston to visit the Bruins. The Caps’ training camp goal of not losing back-to-back games this season was foiled by the Blue Jackets, who pulled out a 5-4 shootout win Saturday night in Columbus.

“That’s the thing about this team right now,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who has four goals in his last four games. “When we lose one we try to win the next one. We almost did against Columbus.

“They score the tying goal with like a minute left (1:08) and we had a chance in overtime to get the lead and in the shootout as well. The chemistry and the experience means a lot.

“We haven’t had that kind of slump where we go down and then go up like every (other) year. All this year we’re like the same level and it’s a good thing. We just have to stick with it and play the same way.”

RELATED: Ovechkin says it's 'too far' to think about 500

While the Stars are 11-1-0 following losses this season, the Caps are 8-0-1. Capas coach Barry Trotz said it was a stated goal before the season to avoid consecutive losses, but he noted the Caps managed to get a point out of their two-game road trip to Carolina and Columbus.

“One loss can turn into two, to three, to four pretty quick with the way the schedule is and the teams you can run into,” said Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, noting the Caps follow tonight’s game with visits to the Islanders in Brooklyn and the Rangers in New York.

“That’s why we (set a goal) like that. How do you manage to do it? That’s tough.

“The two biggest things is our desire to not lose. We hate it. The thought of another team celebrating on the ice with us is not something we want to have.

“The other thing is the attitude in the dressing room. We lose a game and the next day it’s like nothing ever happened. We’re still energetic and we’re still having fun in the ice and in the room. When you lose some guys aren’t playing great and that gets in your head. But we have a job as teammates to get everybody excited for the next game.”

So far, that strategy has worked. But with the Bruins coming off a humbling 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the New Year’s Day Winter Classic, the Caps know they’ll have their hands full tonight.

“I’m sure they’re fired up,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We want to play better than we have the last few games.

“Overall, we’re trying to get that mentality now that we want to win every game. We’re not satisfied. It’s something we really talk to each other about as players.

“It’s important we don’t look too far ahead, especially if you look at this road trip. Three really good teams, all in playoff spots, and it’s really important we play our best hockey and not get into a losing streak. It’s important to turn this around right away.”

MORE CAPITALS: Could injuries have Capitals exploring a trade?

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

The Capitals had a very familiar look to them when their first group took to the ice for Sunday’s practice. With 41 players on the roster, the team is still split into two groups with each practicing at different times. The first group on the ice Sunday, however, looked an awful lot like what the Caps’ lineup could look like on opening night:

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

With Dowd playing on the fourth line with the rest of the NHL roster, did head coach Todd Reirden tell us Dowd is the front-runner to win the center job?

Jay Beagle’s departure in the offseason left the team in need of a fourth line center and it has been an open competition all throughout camp. Sunday’s lineup seemed to be the best indication yet which way the coaches may be leaning.

But don’t read too much into that, Reirden said. That job is still very much up for grabs.

“I still think it's a competition,” Reirden said after practice. “The lines will be different tomorrow. We just wanted to do a particular practice that involved that group of more veteran roster guys, it's still definitely a full-on competition. You'll see different players in that game on Tuesday and you'll see different lines tomorrow. That was just by design to get some familiarity with some players that have played in the past together and see how that looked at this stage of camp.”

Dowd also said after practice that he certainly did not take Sunday’s lineup to be any indication of where he may stand with the coaches.

“I spent so much time my first couple years of pro just trying read in to where you are, what's the lineup and it just causes a lot of worry,” he said after practice. “You ask a lot of players, it's just a waste of time. I just find my name and move on and that's the case every day.”

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Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

There is a lot of excitement over Capitals’ new winger Sergei Shumakov.

The transition from the KHL to the NHL, however, may take longer than the preseason will allow.

When Evgeny Kuznetsov heard the rumors about Shumakov possibly moving to the NHL, he was quick to reach out.

“I call his agent and call him and they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple teams,’” Kuznetsov said. “And, then, ‘What do you mean a couple teams? It’s only one team.’ Then, after that, they signed after a couple of days.”

Thus the transition from the KHL to the NHL began.

General manager Brian MacLellan worked to keep the Capitals’ championship roster largely intact and made very few additions to the team.

Nic Dowd was signed on July 1 to compete for the fourth line center role left open by Jay Beagle’s departure. The second addition was Shumakov, a Russian player about to turn 26 with no North American experience.

Shumakov appears to be the latest of the low-risk, high-reward moves MacLellan has routinely made since taking over as general manager. The team took similar chances on Brett Connolly who has become a staple on the Caps’ bottom six and Devante Smith-Pelly who signed in 2017 after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract.

“We see a player that has the ability to score and high-level skill,” MacLellan said of Shumakov. “We're not sure how it translates over here yet. We're just going to let him come in and find his way and put him in some spots and see what he can do."

Shumakov hails from the same town as Kuznetsov, Chelyabinsk, which is why Kuznetsov first reached out to Shumakov to recruit him.

“We’ve been together from 5 to 17 years old and play on the same line, so it’s always nice to have your friend,” Kuznetsov said.

But as excited as he is, Kuznetsov is also not naïve to the challenge that now faces Shumakov.

Fans are understandably excited about what Shumakov can add to the team as a tremendously skilled winger who scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games in the KHL last season. But the transition from the KHL to the NHL can be a challenging one.

What makes it so difficult?

“Everything,” Kuznetsov said. “The language, the game, the lifestyle, the mentality. It’s not easy when you’re 26 and you have to change everything in your life.”

The ice is smaller in North America meaning players have less room to maneuver. That makes the game faster paced and a lot more physical.

It is a transition that not everybody is able to make. For every Kuznetsov, there is a Vadim Shipachyov who lasted only three games in Vegas last season before he went back to the KHL.

That makes the preseason critical not just for the team to evaluate Shumakov, but also for him to adjust to the game.

Camp got off to an inauspicious start as visa issues delayed his arrival. Shumakov missed the first two days of camp and did not hit the ice until the fourth day. There is also a language barrier to work through as he does not speak English. When he finally did get on the ice, Reirden grouped him with the team’s other Russian players who could quickly get him up to speed on everything the coaches were saying.

Shumakov made his preseason debut on Friday and showed he is very much still a work in progress. He took a high-sticking penalty on his very first shift and ultimately finished the game with one shot on goal and no points.

With the regular season looming, Shumakov will likely need more time to adjust than the preseason will allow. One option that the team has, however, is to send Shumakov to the AHL. Not only is Shumakov on a two-way contract, but he is also waiver exempt meaning there is no risk in re-assigning him to Hershey.

The best thing to help Shumakov transition will be to play as much as possible. With the regular season only two weeks away, he may need a trip to Hershey before he is ready.

“He’s a skilled player and he can bring a lot of offensive chances to our game,” Kuznetsov said. 

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