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Barry Trotz calls out 'top guys' as Caps pushed to brink of elimination

Barry Trotz calls out 'top guys' as Caps pushed to brink of elimination

PITTSBURGH—If the Capitals are going to rally from a three-games-to-one deficit in their second round series against the Penguins, the team’s best players are going to need to be much better.

Alex Ovechkin knows it. And his coach knows it, too.

“It’s more right now that we have to find an extra way to get an extra goal,” Barry Trotz said after Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat at PPG Paints Arena. “We got to get an extra save. And our top guys, I thought, weren’t as good as they needed to be.”

Trotz didn’t name names. But he didn’t have to; the box score did it for him:

  • Ovechkin had as many shots on goal—two—as he did minor penalties.

  • Nicklas Backstrom did not record a shot on goal in 20:41.

  • Braden Holtby finished with a sub-.900 save percentage (three goals on 18 shots) for the third time in four games vs. the Pens.

  • The power play went 0-for-4, mustering five shots on Marc-Andre Fleury in 6:41. (Ovechkin negated a power play early in the third with an offensive slashing penalty.)

Sure, it didn’t help that the third and fourth lines didn’t chip in offensively, either. Or that the Caps’ blue line put forth its shakiest collective performance of the postseason on a night when they didn’t have Sidney Crosby to worry about.

[Related: 3 Key observations from Caps Game Four loss to Pittsburgh]

But it was the top players’ forgettable effort that underscored the disappointing result—and Trotz took aim with his unusually pointed postgame remarks.

“They had an opportunity to play well [and] I didn’t think our top guys really stepped up…which was very unfortunate for us,” Trotz said.

Asked about Ovechkin, Trotz declined to be specific.

“I would say our top players didn’t play as well as they need to be,” Trotz reiterated. “They need to be top players, and step up right now.”

Ovechkin, meantime, owned his lackluster effort, saying he didn’t play his game.

“Me personally,” he said, “I have to play much better.”

Ovechkin has one goal in four games against the Penguins. Overall this postseason, he’s tied for fifth in goals with four (in 10 games) and 15th in points with seven.

“Obviously it’s frustrating,” Ovechkin continued. “But we still have games left. The character on this team has been outstanding. I’m pretty sure we understand right now it’s Game 7 every game for us. We’re ready for that.”

Well, they had better be ready. The team will take Thursday off and return to the ice for practice Friday in Arlington, Va.

Game 5 is Saturday night, and the Caps’ margin for error is gone.

“One of the things in playoff hockey is you have to earn the right to play,” Trotz said. “It’s not a given. As I said, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played without a number of players all year and you were going to get their best game. And you needed our best game to beat them. And we knew that. They stepped up.”

Related: Decisive Game 4 goal comes after questionable penalty on John Carlson

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Capitals vs. Predators: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Capitals vs. Predators: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

After sitting out the Capitals' 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens due to a suspension for skipping the All-Star Game, Alex Ovechkin returns to game action on Wednesday for Washington's home contest against the Predators.

Nashville has dropped three of its last four while the Capitals are riding a four-game winning streak.

Here's everything you need to know before puck drop.

CAPITALS vs. PREDATORS: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Nashville Predators

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Wednesday, January 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals-Predators game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Predators game on NBC Sports Washington live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-PREDATORS TV SCHEDULE:

6:30 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

7:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:30 PM: Capitals vs. Predators

10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS-PREDATORS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: None

Canadiens: Ryan Ellis (upper body/OUT), Colton Sissons (upper body/OUT)

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What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

What makes Alex Ovechkin so hard to stop?

With Alex Ovechkin’s one-game suspension over, the NHL now once again faces the seemingly impossible task of trying to find a way to stop the Great 8. Even at 34 years old, Ovechkin remains one of the top goal scorers in the NHL with 34 on the season. He is currently on pace for 56 goals which is almost unfathomable for a player of his age.

Many players in the NHL catch fire before defenses begin to figure them out or until Father Time catches up to them. Coaches and defenses figure out ways to keep star players in check. But not Ovechkin.

“You feel like you're covering him, but he always finds a way,” Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. “He needs just a tiny bit of room to score goals and that's why he has so many goals.”

Not only is Ovechkin the leading active scorer in the NHL by a wide margin -- he leads second place Patrick Marleau by 133 goals -- but he is such a prolific scorer that he could potentially make a run at the untouchable goal record held by Wayne Gretzky.

It is not as if Ovechkin is catching anyone by surprise at this point. Teams know what they are in for when they play the Caps and still they cannot find a way to slow down this grey-haired, 34-year-old veteran player.

It is not hard to figure out the biggest reason for Ovechkin's success: his shot. Once Ovechkin gets his shot off, it is hard for a goalie to get in front of it.

“He's not afraid to put anything on net,” Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck said. “He's got a really good release and if you give him space, he'll take it and he'll make you pay for it.”

“It kind of curves, changing direction every time so it's pretty hard to stop for a goalie,” Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy said. “Like knuckleball, right? So it's very hard to stop.”

Knowing that his shot is so lethal, the focus of a defense must be to prevent him from getting his shot away in the first place. Doing that, however, is easier said than done.

“It's always a challenge playing against him,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He's got that mean streak to his game. When he's coming at full speed it's going to hurt. He gets physical, he gets into the game more. He's always going to get scoring changes, that's how good they are as a team and that's how good he is.”

“He just can score from anywhere inside the blue line so you've got to get up on him,” Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. “ It's been pretty impressive to watch him over the years. You sort of think teams would come up with a gameplan to stop him, but you can't.”

That’s a feeling Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy can relate to.

“[The power play] is where I think you have the biggest challenge with that group of five guys and how to frustrate him, maybe to taking that shot away,” Cassidy said. “Five-on-five, we'll play him like anybody else, try to get a body on him as much as possible.”

It is essentially accepted around the league that if you give Ovechkin an opportunity with the puck, he is going to be able to find a way to get his shot off and get on the scoresheet. He does not need much room to shoot and when he does, it's lethal.

There is only so much you can do when a power forward of Ovechkin's size comes barreling down on you. If you play him too tight, he can create space with his physicality. Play him too loose and he will fire shots from anywhere.

That leaves a defense with only a few strategies.

“Try to keep the puck out of his hand is one thing, stay out of the box is another thing,” Hedman said. “He's got that quick release, he's got that one-timer down to a T obviously. … It's just trying to eliminate them to a few a game. You look at a game sheet and he's got 14 shot attempts and two goals. A good player's going to find the net if they get that many chances, so try to eliminate the shot attempts and try to keep the puck out of his hands.”

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