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Caps struggle to diagnose the problem with the penalty kill

Caps struggle to diagnose the problem with the penalty kill

With a 14-2-1 record in their last 17 games, everything has been going right for the Capitals lately.

Well, almost everything.

A Washington team that boasts the best defense in the NHL is suddenly struggling on the penalty kill. Coming into Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins, the Caps had allowed one power play goal in each of their last five games. On Wednesday, the penalty kill was victimized again and it nearly cost them the game.

Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period against the Bruins and looked well on their way to another big win. Just when it looked like the Caps were going to finish them off, however, Washington gave Boston some life with a penalty late in the first period and early in the second.

Brad Marchand scored on each to tie the game at 2. Washington managed only one successful kill on the night in the three power plays the team faced.

RELATED: Trotz provides an update on Justin Williams

Why has the penalty kill been a problem of late? No one can really put their finger on it.

“I don't know,” Matt Niskanen said. “It's been all different types of goals. It's not like there's one thing that's biting us. Record's been decent in spite of that, but definitely our penalty kill's going to have to do better in the future.”

“It's just some mistakes I think maybe that we don't usually make,” T.J. Oshie said. “I think our penalty kill, our four front guys and the guys in the back end do a really good job. Tonight, they just beat us on a couple plays. Something we'll clean up. Some of those things we usually don't let them get to those points.”

The problem is when there’s not one thing wrong, it makes it that much harder to fix.

Head coach Barry Trotz agreed with his players’ assessment after the game, saying the two power play goals the team allowed to Boston came on two very different plays.

“The first one we did a really good job and then we made a real bad change,” Trotz said. “We didn’t get the puck down the ice, it was sort of a real short regroup on their part and we made a bad change. ... The second one, they had a lot of zone time, hit us with a couple seems and we weren't able to get a handle on it.”

One issue could be Jay Beagle’s roll of late.

Beagle played on the second line Wednesday in place of Justin Williams who was a late scratch. He played on the top line in place of T.J. Oshie in New Jersey last week prior to the All-Star break.

Beagle, who Trotz called his “Mr. Fix It” is also one of the team’s top penalty killers. Playing him in the top six means more minutes at even strength would ultimately means fewer minutes on the penalty kill. Trotz also told reporters that he does not think Beagle has fully recovered from the flu which forced him to miss last week’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

Could the penalty kill struggles just be boiled down to Beagle not being 100 percent? If that’s the case, the team better hope he doesn’t dog it in the postseason.

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie accuses Trotz of embellishment after near collision after warmups

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Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

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USA Today

Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist add new chapter to their rivalry Sunday

Everyone knows about the Alex Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby rivalry. Two generational talents who entered the league the same year playing for rival franchises was a dream scenario for the NHL. That rivalry is so great that it can be easy to overlook some of the other great matchups we see between Ovechkin and other players.

On Sunday, we will be treated to another of Ovechkin’s great rivals as Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers come to Washington (12:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

One of the best goal scorers of all-time against one of the NHL’s top netminders? Yes please.

Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer seven times in his career and looks well on his way to No. 8 as he leads the league in goals again with 44. He has hit 50 goals seven times and has the most goals among active players with 651. Lundqvist, meanwhile, won the Vezina in 2012 and has a career save percentage of .919. He is sixth all-time in wins with 448.

These two have had epic battles over the years. Ovechkin has scored 24 goals on Lundqvist, tied for the most he has scored against any netminder over the course of his career. He also has another 13 goals in the playoffs against King Henrik. Lundqvist went so far as to call Ovechkin “one of the best goal scorers of all time” in an interview with Esquire.

Another chapter in the rivalry will be written on Sunday. Who will win this round?

Game notes

Nick Jensen to make his debut

Jensen will make his Capitals debut Sunday against the Rangers after skating in warmups and adjusting to his new team on Saturday. With no morning skate it is unclear who will come out. Christian Djoos was playing right on the third pair which is where Jensen will slot in. Chances are either Djoos or Brooks Orpik will be out.

Pheonix raising

Pheonix Copley will start Sunday after Braden Holtby got the start Sunday in Buffalo. Copley has won his last three starts with a .908 save percentage.

Home sweet home

The Caps concluded a season-long six-game road trip Saturday in Buffalo. Sunday’s game will be the first in Washington since a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 11. Washington has gone 4-1-1 at home since the All-Star break.

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Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

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USA Today

Caps can't complete season sweep, fall to Sabres 5-2

The Capitals could not complete the season sweep of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday as Sam Reinhart recorded a hat trick in a 5-2 loss for Washington. The Caps gave up two goals in the first and chased the rest of the game, but never could erase the deficit.

Saturday's game finished off a season-long six-game road trip for Washington which now heads home with three wins in those six games.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost Saturday.

A misplay by Dmitry Orlov

It has been a tough season for the Caps’ second defensive pair of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. That continued on Saturday as Buffalo got on the board thanks to a mistake by Orlov.

Jack Eichel had the puck along the boards on the right side of Washington’s defensive zone with Niskanen in good position between the puck and the net. Orlov was tailing Jeff Skinner in front of the net and when Skinner went to the right corner, Orlov followed him leaving both defensemen on the right side of the ice and absolutely no one in front. Skinner passed to a wide-open Jason Pominville who buried the goal.

That was just one play in what was a really tough day for the pair which struggled all game long.

A perfect shot

Buffalo cleared their zone with a flip of the puck into the neutral zone. The puck took a few bounces before anyone could settle it and Evan Rodrigues managed to chip it over to Sam Reinhart who had a lane to shoot on Braden Holtby. Holtby saw him coming on his left and slid over to square up, but his momentum carried him just a bit leaving the right corner of the net open. Reinhart wristed the shot into that corner to extend Buffalo’s lead to 2-0 in the first period.

A late power play goal

Washington did not have a great start to the game, but seemed to settle things down in the second period. Alex Ovechkin scored on the breakaway to make it 2-1 and the ice began tilting in the Caps’ favor. At least it was until Nic Dowd took a late tripping penalty with just over two minutes remaining.

Instead of going into the locker room down by only one and feeling confident, the Caps were suddenly on their heels on the penalty kill. Rasmus Dahlin scored with just 31 seconds left in the second frame. That goal put momentum back In Buffalo’s favor.

A quick response

There was a brief moment of hope in the third period for Caps fans as Andre Burakovsky pulled Washington to within one less than five minutes into the third. Reinhart, however, scored his second of the game just 1:27 later to restore Buffalo’s two-goal lead.

Carter Hutton

Washington’s defense was just plain bad in this game. The offense, however, looked pretty good. Buffalo’s netminder was just better.

Hutton turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced including a handful of top-notch saves, especially in the second period. T.J. Oshie tried to sneak a great shot blocker side between Hutton’s arm and body, but he managed to just squeeze the arm together in time to get the stop. He was particularly good against the third line which was Washington’s best line of the day, denying Brett Connolly off a great cross-ice pass from Lars Eller and stunning Eller with a great save as Eller took a pass right on the back door. Eller looked like he had an empty net, but he was skating backward and the pass was just behind him. Eller couldn’t fire a one-timer, because of the position of the puck, he had to control the puck first and fire it. That little delay allowed Hutton just enough time to get over for the save.

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