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Capitals could use more goal production from their defense

Capitals could use more goal production from their defense

ARLINGTON — Over the past five games, the Capitals have gotten three goals from defensemen — two off the stick of Matt Niskanen and another from John Carlson.

And while that represents solid progress for a team that got virtually no goal production from its blue line over the first two months of the season, the Caps could use a few more in their ongoing search for goals.  

Through the season’s first 30 games, Washington’s blue line has scored six goals for an offense that ranks 14th in goals per game (2.67).

The same group of players had 15 goals at this point last season.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to catch up — we’re a third into the season,” coach Barry Trotz said after practice on Monday.

“But it’s starting to come on the backend a little more. Early, we had virtually nothing back there. ...Guys are behind last year’s production.”

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Trotz added, “Your third and fourth [forward] lines being able to chip in [helps secondary scoring]. Your blue line isn’t considered a line, but they are very important for your offense.”

Indeed, nine of the top 10 teams in goals scored per game this season have received at least two times as many goals from their blue line as the Capitals.

Among those teams, the Flyers lead the pack with 21 and are closely followed by the Canadiens and Predators, who have 19 apiece.

In Montreal’s 2-1 win Saturday night at Verizon Center, the game-winner was scored by defenseman Jeff Petry, who joined the rush and finished a pass from Max Pacioretty. The goal was Petry’s 6th of the season. For comparison’s sake, Niskanen and Karl Alzner lead the Caps with two goals apiece.

Carlson says he doesn’t believe much has changed in the D’s approach year-over-year. But he did acknowledge that it’s something the Caps have discussed recently.

“Lately we’ve talked about different ways to screen the goalie, different ways to improve our shooting from the point,” Carlson said. “The chances are there, they’re just not going in. But I think it’s picking up. We’ve seen a lot more grade-A scoring chances from the point. We’ve done a better job of going to the net and taking the goalie’s eyes away. So let’s see if that changes.”

Carlson also hopes that the recent upturn in the Caps’ power play will lead to more goals from the defense. His only goal, in fact, came on the man advantage against the Sabres five games ago.

“As a defenseman, you get your best chances to score on the power play,” he said. “Our power play is picking up now. …[The slump] is not from a lack of effort or trying. All of us pride ourselves on how hard we work. Some guys go out [to practice] early. Some guys stay really late. When you do stuff like that, good stuff will happen. And that’s what we’re hoping for.”  

Nate Schmidt was a little more blunt. He said the blue line has to step up in the goal scoring department if the Caps are going to reach their full potential this season.

“I think our group expects a little more out of ourselves, myself included,” said Schmidt, who hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 7, a span of 63 regular season games.

“We’re used to a little more from our backend. I think for us to be hitting on all cylinders, that’s a part of our game that needs to increase.”

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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