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Caps beat Red Wings 6-3 for 11th straight home win

Caps beat Red Wings 6-3 for 11th straight home win

Final score: Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 3

How it happened:  It looked from the start like Washington was on its way to another blowout win as Marcus Johansson put the Caps up 1-0 just six minutes into the game. Andreas Athanasiou, however, responded with two quick first period goals to take the lead. Brett Connolly struck to tie the game at two and cap off a crazy, four-goal first period. T.J. Oshie scored in the second period to give the Caps back the lead, but Detroit struck early in the third with a beautiful goal from Henrik Zetterberg to tie it at 3. The Caps took over from there, however, as Oshie set up the game-winner for John Carlson and then scored a power play tally for the knockout punch.

What it means: The win is Washington’s 11th in a row at home and fifth in a row overall. It is also the tenth straight home game in which the Caps have scored at least five goals. Washington remains undefeated at home in 2017. 

Goals

Capitals goal: Marcus Johansson from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams at 5:57 in the first. Williams left the puck sitting just past the blue line for a streak Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov skated to Petr Mrazek’s right then tried to feed Johansson on the back door. Athanasiou almost intercepted the pass on the back check, but Johansson deftly took the puck back and fired it over the sprawled Mrazek. Caps 1, Red Wings 0

Red Wings goal: Andreas Athanasiou from Thomas Vanek and Ryan Sproul at 13:30 in the first. Athanasiou took the puck from behind the Caps net, then wheeled all the way around the face-off circle with the puck on his backhand. When he finally found a seam, he charged, putting the puck back on the  forehand and ripping a shot from the high slot past Braden Holtby. Caps 1, Red Wings 1

Red Wings goal: Andreas Athanasiou (power play) from Thomas Vanek at 16:23 in the first. Both teams battled for a loose puck in the Caps’ defensive zone, before Vanek finally tapped it loose to Athanasiou who found himself open for the shot and the goal. Caps 1, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: Brett Connolly from Lars Eller and Karl Alzner at 18:30 in the first. Mrazek kicked out the pad to save a shot from Alzner sending the puck to his right on the red line to Connolly. Despite getting shaken up on a check behind the net, Connolly was able to shoot the puck into the net from almost zero angle to tie the game. Capitals 2, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom at 1:16 in the second. After Backstrom broke up a Red Wing drive in the neutral zone, the puck found its way to Carlson who quickly passed the puck up to Oshie for the counterattack. Oshie went far-side with the wrister to beat Mrazek. Caps 3, Red Wings 2

Red Wings goal:  Henrik Zetterberg from Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist at 1:25 in the third. Mantha entered the zone on a two-on-two with Zetterberg and pulled up allowing Zetterberg to get in behind Kuznetsov who was trapped in the defensive zone. Mantha found Zetterberg with a beautiful pass and Zetterberg showed incredible patience before beating Holtby with the backhand to the top shelf. Caps 3, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: John Carlson from T.J. Oshie at 4:15 in the third. Oshie picked the pocket of Danny Dekeyser in the offensive zone then teed up Carlson for the slapshot on top of the face-off circle. Caps 4, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 14:18 in the third. Backstrom and Johansson played keep away behind the net before Backstrom fed Oshie for the one-timer. Caps 5, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: Nicklas Backstrom (empty netter) from Jay Beagle at 18:28 in the third. Caps 6, Red Wings 3

3 stars

1. T.J. Oshie: Not only did Oshie score twice, his pickpocket steal of Dekeyser and led to an assist of the game-winning goal for Carlson.

2. Andreas Athanasiou: It's not everyday you see someone beat Holtby clean with a snapshot, but Athanasiou managed to do it twice Thursday.

3. Marcus Johansson: Johansson opened the scoring with his third goal in three games. He also added an assist in the third period on Oshie's power play tally.

Look ahead: Washington hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday in the last game before the Caps’ bye week. They will be off until Fri. Feb. 17 when they return to practice. Then it’s off to Detroit for a rematch with the Red Wings on Sat. Feb. 18.

Tell us what you think: The Capitals have been the healthiest team in the NHL this season by a wide margin. Does Andre Burakovsky leaving Thursday's game early with an upper-body injury change your thinking before the NHL trade deadline?

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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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