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Barry Trotz says Caps have worked to eliminate the 'cheat' from their game

Barry Trotz says Caps have worked to eliminate the 'cheat' from their game

Last season, the Caps claimed the Presidents’ Trophy with a franchise record 56 wins.

This season, Barry Trotz and Co. have once again put themselves in position to finish atop the league standings.

But there’s one big difference between the squads—at least in Trotz’s estimation. What is it? Trotz says it’s the players’ increased attentiveness to detail in the defensive zone.  

“Last year, we had a lot more cheat in our game,” the veteran head coach said. “We’d still win the game, but we would have a little cheat in our game. Last night’s game [against the Hurricanes], instead of being 5-0 it was 5-3.”

“We were thinking that because we cheat in certain areas that we’d get more offense,” Trotz added. Instead, “we’re finding out that if we don’t cheat that we’re going to have even more offense than if we were cheating.”

And, boy, have the Caps had more offense, especially as of late.

RELATED: Winnik: 'Hopefully we don't make any trades'

Since Jan. 1, in fact, Washington leads the league in several key statistical categories.

They’re No. 1 in wins (16), standings points (33), goal differential (+46) and power play goals (16). They’ve also shut out six opponents, including back-to-back 5-0 wins over the Kings and ‘Canes.

When Trotz uses the word “cheat”, one thing he’s referring to is forwards heading north before the puck is secured in the defensive zone. It can lead to a quick transition to offense. But it’s also risky; if the puck is not secured, it can create a prime scoring chance against.

“Be on the right side of the puck,” Trotz said. “Our game is about instinct. If [a teammate] has full control [of the puck] then you can stretch the zone and look for seams where we can get you the puck. But if the puck is in doubt, let’s make sure we’re on the right side of the puck. Let’s err on the side of caution. If you’re trying to force things or trying to cheat on the wrong side of the puck, then you have the puck less. We want the puck. When we don’t have it, let’s do the right thing to get it back.”

Although Trotz has preached D-zone detail all season, he said the team’s recent surge has reinforced the message in the dressing room.

“Having those reps [and] understanding the connection between playing a real good 200-foot game with detail allows you to get more offense and have the puck more,” he said. “And when we have the puck, we’re a happy group and we seem to be able to show off what we can do and use our skill set.”

“So,” Trotz added, “the repetition of doing it right and getting results has been the major [reason] we’ve been more consistent.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz explains Sanford recall

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”


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3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.