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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.

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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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Why has home ice meant everything in the Caps-Hurricanes series?

Why has home ice meant everything in the Caps-Hurricanes series?

ARLINGTON, Va. – After six games between the Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, it still remains hard to get a feel for the series.

Both teams have managed to win three games, and both teams have blown out the other. The series is not going seven games because one goalie is standing on his head or because any one player is carrying the team. There is no clear matchup that is giving another team fits, no real consistency from game to game.

One undeniable trend, however, has been each team’s success on home ice.

Through six games, the home team has gone a perfect 6-0. That is not exactly how things have gone around the rest of the league as the home team has gone 18-19 in the other playoff series. It also stands in stark contrast to what Washington was able to do in last season’s playoff run to the Stanley Cup.

The Caps were a much tougher team to beat away from Washington in the 2018 playoffs going 10-3 on the road and 6-5 at home. Through six games this year, each of Washington’s three wins have come at home while they have failed to win any of the three games they have played in Raleigh.

“I would definitely say a big impact has been the fans in both arenas,” Nic Dowd said. “And then for whatever reason, it kind of seems like each team has brought a different game on the road vs. at home.”

“Maybe it's just feeding off the crowd or them wanting to play well in front of their fans,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It's been a weird series that way. I'm not really sure why it's been that way, though.”

Home ice offers some advantages to a home team, the most obvious of which is the crowd. That is an advantage that has grown for Washington since last year’s run.

“I just think that a whole different aura was created last year,” Todd Reirden said. “In the beginning of the playoffs, the crowds were better than they were during the regular season, but then by the end of it we had the streets filled, we have so many people that are hockey fans from the DC area that weren’t, that were supporting it, that got hooked on hockey and it grew into something really special and we’ve already felt the effects of that in Round 1 with how the crowd can be and just the energy around the building. It’s at such a different point than we were at last year and I think that’s something special and it’s a great reminder of how we had success last year and we’re going to need every bit of that from our faithful fans and their support during the game because if they were wondering if they make a difference or not, they just can look at the home results.”

“It’s something where the fans can definitely have an impact from the aspect of if it gets loud, they can impact a game and teams can feed off their home-ice advantage,” Dowd said. “We’ve done that this series, we’ve played well in front of our home and we use them. Carolina is a tough building to play in.”

But with all due respect to Carolina and its fans, if the Caps were not rattled by the crowds in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and three Stanley Cup Final games in Vegas, saying the red-clad fans in Raleigh have been able to fluster the defending champs seems an overly simplistic explanation.

There is also a certain familiarity that comes with each rink that may have contributed to slowing down the Caps’ playing style.

“The rinks are a lot of different, and not crowd or anything, but the actual rink -- the ice, the boards, size, everything is different,” Braden Holtby said. “That might have a little bit to do with it. You're more comfortable in the arena you play in a lot, so that might have a little bit to do with it.”

When pressed on what those differences are, Holtby said, "The ice there is different; it's bouncy. We play a more skilled kind of game, puck-moving, and sometimes you have to simplify a lot more there. The boards there are inconsistent. Every rink is different in that way, and you try to test that out. I think moving forward, if we're in this situation again, you've just got to do some more homework on it because you control the controllables and they're fun challenges every time you've got different, unique setups like that."

 

Home ice also makes it easier for a coach to get the matchups he wants. The home team gets to make the second line change allowing the coach to see who the visiting team puts on the ice and adjust the lines accordingly.

That has not played a major factor in this series, however, as the matchups have remained largely consistent through the six games.

Whatever the reason, home ice been a huge advantage for both teams throughout the series. That bodes well for Washington as it hosts Game 7 on Wednesday. It also bodes well for a long run if the Caps can get past Carolina.

With all the first-round upsets, Boston is the only team with more points than Washington that has not been eliminated and they face a Game 7 of their own on Tuesday. Should they lose, it would guarantee Washington home-ice throughout. At that point, it doesn’t matter what the Caps do on the road so long as they continue to defend home ice.

Said Dowd, “We work our [expletive] off all year to get home-ice advantage and we’ve earned it for this exact moment.”

 

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes force Game 7, Stars finish off Predators

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes force Game 7, Stars finish off Predators

Heading into Tuesday, a variety of teams are still set to battle it out in Game 7, now including the Carolina Hurricanes, who defeated the Washington Capitals and evened the series at home Monday. However, others have already moved on, most recently the Dallas Stars, who overcame the Nashville Predators to win a series for the first time in three seasons.

Neither game was an easy battle, though, as emotions boiled over and intensity rose. Here's how Monday's games ended up playing out.

Hurricanes force Game 7 with dominant 5-2 win

After the Caps triumphed 6-0 in Game 5, things looked good yet again for Washington after the first period. However, it would soon evolve into a completely different game as the Caps fell 5-2.

Brett Connolly struck first for Washington about five minutes in, beating Petr Mrazek on a quick shot for his second goal in his second game. Warren Foegele tied the game minutes later, entering the slot and scored after the puck deflected in off a defender. Before the period ended, Alex Ovechkin was able to fire a wrister and put home his fourth goal of the playoffs to give the Caps a 2-1 lead heading into the second.

However, entering the second period, momentum and favor shifted in the Hurricanes' direction. Teuvo Teravainen evened the score just over a minute into the middle frame to make it 2-2. The score would hold unti the third period, when Brett Pesce added another goal to put the Hurricanes in front. Soonafter, Ovechkin appeared to make it even yet again when he crashed the net and pushed a loose puck in the crease past Mrazek, but the goal was waved off on a confusing goaltender interference call.

All momentum appeared lost after that, as Justin Williams and Dougie Hamilton potted goals to extend the lead to three. Washington attempted a comeback, but the lead proved too much, and after Ovechkin was called for slashing and ejected after his emotions took over, any chance at clawing back was spoiled.

Carolina and Washington will play Game 7 in D.C. Wednesday. The Hurricanes have won four straight Game 7s. The last time the Caps went to Game 7 was last season in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa, where they won 4-0.

Stars eliminate Predators with 2-1 OT win

Just a day after the Sharks were able to force overtime with a double overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights, the Stars and Predators found themselves in a similar situation in their Game 6 Monday. Although both teams battled to the end, it was Dallas that was able to win and effectively end Nashville's season.

Austin Watson was able to open the scoring around six minutes in when he jumped on a Brian Boyle rebound and put the puck past Ben Bishop to give Nasvhille the 1-0 lead. In the first period, the Predators managed 19 shots on goal, while Pekka Rinne was able to put aside all 10 of the Stars' shots in the opening frame. From the start, both goaltenders had established that they were coming up big in this one.

The Stars roared back in the second period by heavily increasing their shot totals, and it paid off as Blake Comeau scored his first of the postseason on an odd-man rush to make it 1-1. The score would hold through the remainder of regulation, with Nasvhille leading 40-37 in shots.

About 17 minutes into overtime, John Klingberg was able to strike on a one-timer from the point to win it for the Stars, pushing them to the second round.

The last time they accomplished such a feat was in 2016. Bishop finished with 47 saves, and Rinne put aside 49 shots when all was said and done.

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