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Barry Trotz wants Capitals to embrace mentality of 'playing fast'

Barry Trotz wants Capitals to embrace mentality of 'playing fast'

As the Capitals embark on a four-game swing to Western Canada, Barry Trotz has a list of areas where he expects to see some progress.

He wants to see more consistency from his power play and penalty kill.

He’d like more even-strength production from his retooled forward lines.

And, in general, he also wants to see his players operate a tick quicker.

Over the past few days, we’ve touched on the first and second items. Today, we’re going to get into No. 3, which Trotz discussed earlier this week.

“When we’re playing fast, we’re a good a hockey team,” Trotz said. “We can play with anybody, any night. When we play slow, we’re not as good.”

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To be clear, Trotz isn’t necessarily talking about skating faster than the opposition. He’s talking about putting stress on the other team by pushing the pace.

For example: is the other team in the midst of a not-so-crisp line change? If so, that’s a great time to force the issue.  

“There’s been a couple of times where we’re accepting the slow play and not pushing,” Trotz said. “Like a controlled breakout when we’ve got a team changing. We want to get [the puck] up [the ice] and see if we can catch them on a poor change. [Instead], we’re sort of just going back and reorganizing all the time.”

Pushing the pace, Trotz added, also increases the odds of catching a defender flat-footed and/or a forward out of position.

“We want to push the play,” Trotz said. “When you don’t do that, you let teams reorganize. You want to catch teams when they don’t have their structure, [when] they don’t have all of their details [on point] and [personnel] in their spots. That’s playing fast. You get a puck, get it up quick. Let’s move it quickly.”

But playing faster isn’t just about the transition game. It’s important everywhere on the rink, Trotz emphasized.

“Let’s get to your spot,” Trotz said. “If you’re supposed to be a post-up guy, get there. If you’re supposed to be the guy that’s driving through the middle, get there. If you’re supposed to be the F1 on the forecheck, get there. If you’re the [F2] or [F3], make sure you get there quick. And then the game happens quicker.”

Trotz reiterated that he doesn’t mean outskating the opposing team, he means making a conscious effort to do everything at a higher RPM. Think the game quicker. React to changing situations faster. Push. The. Pace.

“At times we’ve played very quick and other times we’ve played slower,” he said. “If it becomes a continual mindset, then you’ll play quick all the time. ...It’s nothing to do with speed. It’s just a mindset. Get the puck, move it and let’s go. Play north. When we’re playing north, and we’re on top of the other team, we’ll get our chances and we’ll get our opportunities and we’ll be hard to handle.”

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ SEES VALUE IN AN EARLY SEASON ROAD TRIP

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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