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Capitals vow to pressure Neuvirth early in Game 5

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Capitals vow to pressure Neuvirth early in Game 5

On the verge of elimination, the Philadelphia Flyers made a desperation move by turning to goalie Michal Neuvirth in Game 4 over Steve Mason. The result? Neuvirth was able to turn aside 31 shots, backstopping the Flyers to a 2-1 win.

"Neuvy was great when he had to be [in Game 4] so you've got to give him credit," Karl Alzner said.

As good as Neuvirth was at points, his task was made easier by the Caps who allowed the Flyers' netminder to settle into the game before they began to really pressure him.

"We didn't start well," Tom Wilson said. "If a goalie's first five, six, seven shots are easy saves, he starts feeling the puck better, he starts getting more confidence."

RELATED: With Detroit eliminated, is this the end for Pavel Datsyuk?

The Caps managed only two shots on goal in the first ten minutes of the game against a goalie who, prior to Wednesday's game, had only played in three games since the start of March. When Washington finally did get shots on net, there were from the outside with little traffic. Neuvirth wasn't really tested until the latter half of the game.

"We were too perimeter," Wilson said. "The perimeter shots he gloves, he uses his pad. They're easy saves. He doesn't feel like he's under fire. We did a great job in the first three games of making Mason feel like he was under fire and we got to do a better job of kind of getting into the interior and making tougher shots on Neuvy."

The difference for the Caps early in the series was the power play. In the first three games, the Caps had 17 power play opportunities, an average of over five per game, and scored on eight of them. In Game 4, a more disciplined Philadelphia gave up only two power plays and the Caps were not able to convert on either.

With their backs against the wall heading into a hostile Verizon Center for Game 5, as well as the increased attention to after the whistle hits the Caps are calling for after Game 4, chances are the Flyers are going to be on their best behavior to avoid giving more opportunities to the Caps' lethal power play unit.

What will the formula be for the Caps then for beating Neuvirth without the extra man? Simple: More traffic and more shots.

"It's traffic," Alzner said. "Getting guys in front of the net. We were just watching some video of a lot of chances that we passed up coming into the zone where we could've shot and drove the net and had guys in front. Just got a little bit too fancy I think. That's hard for any goalie to deal with a lot of pucks going towards him."

It sounds like a simple formula, but it's one the Caps were unable to follow in Game 4 and it cost them.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps admit to a lack of urgency in Game 4

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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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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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