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Caps bounce back with rout of Bruins

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Caps bounce back with rout of Bruins

The Capitals set an unrealistic goal this season – going the entire season without back-to-back losses -- and so far they’ve met it.

The Caps followed a sloppy 5-2 loss in Manhattan on Tuesday night with a hard-fought and much cleaner 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night at Verizon Center, improving their record to 9-3-0 overall and 4-0-0 following losses.  

“You’re able to climb the standings when you do that,” said Caps fourth-line left wing Brooks Laich, whose first goal of the season early in the second period stood up as the game-winner.

“You can’t lose two or three in a row. You get passed by a couple teams. I think if you win two out of three every week you end up with the Presidents’ Trophy.”

(In case you’re wondering, the longest the Caps have ever gone without consecutive losses was back in the 2007-08 season when they went 47 games without back-to-back defeats. That team erased a 6-14-1 start to reach the playoffs for the first time with Alex Ovechkin).  

On Thursday night, the Caps’ ninth win in 12 games moved them past the New York Islanders and into a first-place tie with the New York Rangers (7-2-2) atop the Metro Division standings. They have now beaten the Bruins in four straight meetings dating back to last season and Braden Holtby, who struggled in Tuesday night’s loss in New York, has allowed just one goal to the Bruins in those four wins.

 “When you take a guy out of rhythm, sometimes they need a game to get back in rhythm,” Trotz said of Holtby’s three-day break before the Rangers game. “If you look at Holts’ record if he gets more than two days off he’s a little bit shaky on that first start, or the team is, one of the two. But if he gets two or less it’s pretty darn good.”

Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots, including a left pad stop on Jimmy Hayes when the score was knotted at 1-1 on goals by Hayes and Alex Ovechkin.

Laich gave the Caps the lead with a dirty goal 4:10 into the second period when he gained position in front of the net and got a piece of Dmitry Orlov’s heavy shot from the point. Laich’s line with Michael Latta and Tom Wilson spent much of the night in the offensive zone and the result was Laich’s first goal of the season.

“I love it, man. Best day of my life,” Laich said. “I still consider myself a two-way player, not just a penalty killer or defensive assignment player. I put a lot of pressure on myself to produce. It’s frustrating when pucks don’t go in and I’ve tried to keep on the road and don’t jerk the vehicle one way or the other.”

Orlov also played one of his strongest games of the season, recording one shot, one assist, two hits and two takeaways in nearly 15 minutes of ice time.

And so now the Caps will move on to their next game, a date with Mike Babcock’s Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. 

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin, Laich score as Capitals blow out Bruins

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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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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