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Capitals send five more players to Hershey

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Capitals send five more players to Hershey

The Capitals’ training camp roster reduction continued on Monday when goaltender Vitek Vanecek, forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber and defensemen Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington were sent to AHL Hershey for the start of the Bears’ training camp.

While Vrana, Barber, Djoos and Lewington are expected to compete for jobs with the Bears, Vanecek is tabbed to begin the season with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

“I’m very happy with all of them,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I think they’re going to be a big part of our future. They’ve made great strides.

“There’s nothing wrong with playing lots. The American Hockey League is a tremendous league. I don’t think we’re overbaking them. We just don’t have a spot for them right now. But I’d rather have them overbaked than underbaked.”

Trotz said Vanecek’s ability to learn English has helped accelerate his development under goaltending coach Mitch Korn and spending his first season in North America should continue the progression of the Czech-born goalie.

Vrana, 19, was taken with the Caps’ first pick (13th overall) of the 2014 draft and he will also get his first extended taste of North American hockey after three seasons in Sweden. Trotz said Vrana has the skill, speed and attitude to be a top-six forward in the NHL, just not right now.   

“I just don’t have the room for him,” Trotz said.

Djoos, 21, was a seventh-round draft choice of the Caps in 2012 and will spend his first season in the AHL after spending his playing career in Sweden.

“He is a very gifted young man and he plays the game more cerebrally,” Trotz said. “He’s a puck mover, just a little bit undersized (listed at 6-foot, 162 pounds), but we’ll work on giving him more strength.”

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Lewington, 20, is another late draft pick (204th overall in 2013) who will be starting his first year of pro hockey.

“Lewington is physical and hard to play against, similar to a Brooks Orpik type of guy, with natural leadership skills,” Trotz said.

With Monday’s cuts, the Caps’ training camp roster is down to 22 forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders, including Philipp Grubauer and Justin Peters, who will share the nets tonight against the New York Islanders.

The Caps need to submit their 23-man opening night roster to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Trotz said the battles for 13th forward and seventh defenseman remain open, with Derek Roy, Sean Collins and Chandler Stephenson vying for a spot at the forward position and Ryan Stanton, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney battling it out for the seventh spot on the blue line.

He also said he’s been especially impressed by Collins, a sturdy, 6-foot-3, 201-pound left wing who will play on a third line with Carter Camper and Stan Galiev tonight.

“He’s got a lot of (Joel) Ward qualities,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to watch him really closely. He’s not going to jump out at you and make you go, ‘Man, that guy’s dynamic with his skill level.’ You have to watch closely.

“He gets pucks out, he’s got a good stick, he’s a reliable guy. Like Wardo, he can do a lot of those hard things that some guys can’t do. If you watch him closely he will make you like him as a coach. I think he could be a guy who can find a role on our team. He’s a guy who could be perfect as a 13th forward. He might be a great fit.”

Collins, 26, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps on July 1. A Cornell graduate, he played parts of the last four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets (19 games, 3 assists) and their AHL affiliate Springfield Indians (203 games, 45 goals, 113 points).

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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.

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