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Caps miss golden opportunity in Game 4 loss

Caps miss golden opportunity in Game 4 loss

With no Kris Letang for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4, all signs pointed to the Washington Capitals evening up the series at two games. Instead, the Caps were handed a 3-2 overtime loss and now head back to Washington on the verge of elimination.

It was a golden opportunity missed by the Caps, even if the players don't want to admit it.

"They have lots of other guys that are good too," Nicklas Backstrom said. "I feel like they’re a good team."

"Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players," Jay Beagle said. "It was just a matter of we needed to win the game and get the split here and head back to our barn."

RELATED: FIVE STATS TO KNOW AFTER CAPITALS' GAME 4 LOSS TO PENGUINS

Whether the Caps want to acknowledge it or not, the impact of a player like Letang is undeniable.

Letang, Pittsburgh's top defenseman, was suspended for Game 4 due to a high hit he delivered to Marcus Johansson in Game 3. While everyone knows about the Penguins' star forwards like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Letang remains one of the team's most important players. Through the first three games of the series, he has averaged over 32 minutes per game. That means Pittsburgh, already playing without Olli Maatta who has been out since taking a high hit from Brooks Orpik in Game 2, had to somehow replace a defenseman who has incredibly been averaging over half a game in ice time.

Losing a player like that is felt up and down the lineup.

"The six defenseman had to play a few more minutes than we're used to," Ben Lovejoy said.

"Obviously without Tanger on the back end, the way the 'D' played tonight to give us a chance, that was huge," Sidney Crosby said. "A lot of guys thrown into different positions and they came up big for us."

The players may not have wanted to admit it, but Barry Trotz knows his team missed an opportunity on Wednesday.

"We didn’t take advantage of it," Trotz said. "...When Kris got the suspension we knew they were going to rally. They didn’t play their best game [in Game 3] and everybody had to step up on their side and I thought they did."

Now facing elimination, the Caps will somehow have to find a way to win their next three games against a Pittsburgh team that will be getting its best defenseman back for Game 5.

"We're excited to have Kris back," Lovejoy said. "He should be well rested after tonight. We're expecting him to play 44 to 48 minutes in Washington."

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS NEED TO REWRITE SAME OLD SCRIPT

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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