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Barry Trotz calls Alex Ovechkin's recent spate of penalties 'unacceptable'

Barry Trotz calls Alex Ovechkin's recent spate of penalties 'unacceptable'

Although the Capitals rallied for an overtime win over the Sabres on Monday night, Coach Barry Trotz had some sharp criticism for his team's captain following the game.

Alex Ovechkin was whistled for his team-leading 11th minor penalty in the second period—and Trotz was none too pleased about it.

He didn’t like the timing of the penalty or the type of infraction. And he definitely did not like the fact that it’s become an all too common occurrence for Ovechkin in recent games.   

“Unacceptable,” Trotz said. “He’s our leader [and] he can’t take those penalties. He has to be on the right side [of the opponent].”

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Trotz added: “I’m going to address it harshly with him tomorrow. There’s way too many of [those].”

The slashing call on Monday appeared to be a weak one. Ovechkin reached out and whacked Marcus Foligno on the hip with the blade of his stick, but it was not hard and there did not appear to be any malicious intent.

Still, though, the referee raised his arm…and once again, Ovi was headed to the box. The penalty also came at a bad time for the Caps, who struggled horribly late in the second period.

What troubled Trotz the most, however, was the fact that it’s become a trend for his team's best player and leader in recent games.

In fact, over the past five contests, Ovechkin has no goals and six minor penalties (three slashing calls, two tripping infractions and one interference foul).  

In all, six of Ovechkin’s 11 penalties this season are slashes.

Trotz indicated that many of Ovechkin's penalties could be avoided if he continued to move his feet rather than using his stick to impede/engage the opponent. 

“If you’re working, then you don’t need to do that,” Trotz said. “We’re going to address that. He’s got to lead by example; he’s the captain and right now he’s [got] way too many penalties on his behalf.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps snap losing streak with Johansson's two goals

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Now one goal from 700, close calls from when Ovechkin was stuck on 698 loom large

Now one goal from 700, close calls from when Ovechkin was stuck on 698 loom large

When Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick in six minutes against the Los Angeles Kings to pull him to within two goals of 700, it felt like the milestone would soon follow.

Instead, Ovechkin finally scored goal No. 699 on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens snapping a five-game goal drought, his longest of the season. During that stretch, it is easy to think that perhaps the pressure was getting to him.

When you look back at the games and all the near misses, however, you begin to realize that Thursday’s goal could very easily have been No. 700 if not for some spectacular saves and bad luck.

Here are all the near misses Ovechkin suffered from 698 to 699 that slowed Ovechkin's quick march through history.

The butt deflection: On Feb. 10, just two games after his hat trick against the Kings, it looked like Ovechkin had scored No. 699 against the New York Islanders. Ovechkin parked himself in front of goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Johnny Boychuk tried to muscle him out from in front of the net. John Carlson fired the puck right as Boychuk engaged Ovechkin which hit the mass of bodies in front and deflected past Greiss. Everyone thought the puck had deflected off Ovechkin's butt and was No. 699, at least initially. The Islanders’ game broadcast called it Ovechkin’s goal and It even looked as if Ovechkin may have thought it was his as he gave an emphatic fist bump in the air. The replay, however, showed that the puck never touched him and deflected off of Boychuk.

The moments between when the goal was scored and when it was announced as Carlson was one full to trepidation. What happened if Ovechkin scored again before the first goal was announced? Would no one know if it was 700? What if he scored 700 and the first one was called back? Luckily none of that happened. The goal belonged to Carlson and Ovechkin remained at 698.

The Boyd-Ovechkin connection: Travis Boyd seems to have some chemistry with Ovechkin. Boyd has 31 career NHL points with eight goals and 23 assists. Two of those eight goals came on assists from Ovechkin and three of Boyd’s assists have been on Ovechkin goals. The two almost connected again in Colorado on Feb. 13. Boyd came hard on a forecheck and collected the puck behind the offensive goal line. He drew two Colorado defenders to him leaving Ovechkin open in front of the net. Normally, an automatic goal for the Great 8, Ovechkin stood poised for the wrist shot, but went forehand to backhand to try to fool Philipp Grubauer. It worked. Grubauer went to the butterfly, but tried a desperate poke check as Ovechkin deked around him and just managed to get a stick to the puck, knocking it over the net.

Raanta robs Ovechkin: By the time Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes rolled around, you could tell Ovechkin was done waiting. With an early power play opportunity, Ovechkin fired a one-timer from the office that Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta was able to stop with the pad. Later on the same power play, Ovechkin crashed the net and battled Raanta for a loose puck that Raanta somehow managed to keep out of the net. Ovechkin finished the night with 16 total shot attempts and eight shots on goal, but no goals as Raanta stood on his head to deny him.

A lucky bounce: Ovechkin fired another four shots on goal Monday against the Vegas Golden Knights, but his best opportunity came off a bizarre bounce that Marc-Andre Fleury lost sight of. Tom Wilson flung the puck toward the net and missed. It bounced off the boards and back out to a waiting Ovechkin. Fleury had come off his post presumably thinking the puck was headed around the other side of the net, but quickly recovered and stuck out his pad just in time as Ovechkin began digging for it. Somehow Ovechkin was not able to push it through Fleury’s big golden pad and his goal drought extended to five games.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan doesn't think the Capitals are playing the right way

Caps GM Brian MacLellan doesn't think the Capitals are playing the right way

Braden Holtby's eyes immediately raised to the ceiling as he knew Ben Chiarot's one-timer had beaten him. The Montreal Canadiens defenseman scored the overtime winner on Thursday to hand the Capitals a 4-3 loss. Montreal came into Thursday's game with five straight losses including one to the lowly Detroit Red Wings. And yet, it was the Caps, a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, that saw its woes extended for yet another game.

Washington has now lost three games in a row for just the second time all season - and the first time since October. They have lost five of six overall and, since Dec. 23 have gone 11-11-1. Their impressive lead over the Metropolitan Division is now gone as Washington sits tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins with 80 points, but Pittsburgh holds a game in hand.

A Capitals team that does not often suffer through major adversity through the regular season is certainly doing so now. General manager Brian MacLellan knew that even before Thursday's loss.

"I don't think we're playing the right way," MacLellan said Wednesday. "I think there's a little cheat in our game. I think we're playing teams that are very well-structured in the neutral zone and we're not willing to do the right things to counteract that. I think we gotta get more in the mindset of we're willing to play a 1-0 game and we're not there right now. It's a team effort. The forwards contribute to it, defense contributes to it, and we got to get all on the same page here and play a tighter game."

The team acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon in a trade on Tuesday and, though MacLellan was firm that this was a move he would have made anyway, it is fair to wonder just how much the current state of the team forced his hand.

"I think sometimes our defense is getting pinpointed for it where I think team defense should be more the focus of the criticism," MacLellan said. "I think our forwards contribute to the pressure that's put on our D: wall play in our own end, back pressure, lack of a forecheck. I think our team game is off, and that results in poor defensive efforts from basically our team."

With the trade deadline on Monday and the team continuing to struggle in its own zone, will MacLellan's frustration turn into more additions to the roster? Given the team's limited cap space, that seems unlikely. If there are additions to be made, they will likely be depth ones unless MacLellan intends to trade away roster players in a sudden move to shake up the team.

More likely, the solution is going to have to come from within and the onus will fall on both the coaches and the players. Clearly adjustments are needed from the coaches to put the defense in a better position, but the responsibly also falls on the players who are making far too many mistakes on the ice with misreads, poor puck management and no team defense.

"It's frustrating to be where we are at this point," MacLellan said, "But I think it's a work-in-progress and hopefully it's a bit of a wake-up call that we have to (play) that way."

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