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Caps succumb to bye week rust, fall to last-place Red Wings

Caps succumb to bye week rust, fall to last-place Red Wings

Final score: Washington Capitals 2, Detroit Red Wings 3 (shootout)

How it happened: A putrid Detroit power play struck in the first period as Frans Nielsen gave the Red Wings the 1-0 lead. Tomas Tatar extended the lead to two, but Zach Sanford finally got the Caps on the board late in the second. The third period, however, turned into the Petr Mrazek show as the Red Wings netminder stood on his head to protect the narrow lead. It was not enough, however, as Daniel Winnik was able to whack in a T.J. Oshie rebound to tie the game late in the third. This game would ultimately require a shootout where Henrik Zetterberg netted the winner.

What it means: The Caps became the latest victim of the bye week letdown with Saturday’s defeat. Washington is 1-5 on shootouts this season. With the loss, the record for teams in the return from the bye is now 3-9-3. With one point, the Caps now hold a five-point lead in the Metropolitan Division, but the loss snaps a six-game win streak.

Goals

Red Wings goal: Frans Nielsen (power play) from Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall at 8:13 in the first. Zetterberg backhanded a pass from the corner to the front of the net where Nielsen was waiting. His first shot hit off the post, but he was able to bury the rebound. Caps 0, Red Wings 1

Red Wings goal: Tomas Tatar from Henrik Zetterberg and Anthony Mantha at 3:33 in the second. A turnover in the neutral zone by John Carlson led to a rush the other way, with Tatar finishing off a tic-tac-toe play for the goal. Caps 0, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: Zach Sanford from Lars Eller at 18:36 in the second. Eller generated a turnover in the neutral zone and carried it into the zone where he was able to find Sanford who snapped the shot past Mrazek. Caps 1, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: Daniel Winnik from T.J. Oshie at 15:12 in the third. Winnik fed T.J. Oshie in the neutral zone and the speedy winger streaked down the right side, firing a shot on Mrazek. The trailing Winnik then whacked the rebound out of midair into the net. Caps 2, Red Wings 2

3 Stars

1. Petr Mrazek: The Caps weren't able to get much sustained pressure on Mrazek, but they did force several key saves from him, especially in the second period when Detroit was still clinging to a 1-0 lead. The save of the game, however, came in the third period as he denied Eller with the toe right on the goal line.

2. Zach Sanford: Sanford had his best game in the NHL, generating multiple opportunities and scoring his second-career NHL goal. He looks like a much more confident player than the one we saw at the start of the season and that's led to a strong performance on Saturday.

3. Henrik Zetterberg: It's rare to see a player make have such a big impact on a game without registering a single shot attempt, but Zetterberg was all over the ice. He registered an assist on each of Detroit's two goals and also scored the game-winning shootout goal.

Look ahead: Washington is back in action on Sunday for another afternoon game in New York against the Rangers. The Caps then wrap up their brief three-game road trip on Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Tell us what you think: The record around the NHL for teams coming out of the bye week is not good. What did you think of the Caps’ effort on Saturday? Did you see any signs of rust?

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Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has been here before. Every goalie in the NHL has good stretches and bad. Really, one thing that defines a goalie is how they overcome those bad stretches. Holtby had perhaps the greatest rebound a goalie could ever have, going from losing his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in 2018 to taking back the crease in the playoffs and leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

But could this year be different?

A poor start is one thing, but there are also other external factors that may be contributing.

In five games this season, Holtby has a .846 save percentage and 4.27 GAA. His save percentage is the worst among all goalies with at least four starts and his GAA is the second-worst behind only Devan Dubnyk’ s 4.56. It’s a small sample size, but those are horrific numbers made worse by Monday’s performance in which he allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled.

“It was a tough game for Braden and I think he'll be the first one to admit it,” Todd Reirden said after practice on Tuesday. “That's a game I think he'd like to do some things different. I think our team could have played closer to our identity than we did to give him a better chance to have success. But the good thing is he's accountable to it, he knows. He's accountable to himself, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to everybody that he can be better than that and when he gets that chance he will.”

But will he?

Just 16 months removed from overcoming the worst stretch of his career and hoisting the Stanley Cup and still only 30 years old, it seems premature to declare Holtby as finished or to assume he won’t be able to dig himself out of this hole.

“Usually it's just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said when asked about overcoming a slump. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you're usually pushing forward too fast and make things [instead] of just letting them come to you. It's just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”

“In times like these - good or bad - it's usually not as good as you think or not as bad as you think,” he added. “You just have to get yourself back to that level mentally where you can break things down and see just those little areas that might be just off a bit that could be the difference.”

But there are two external factors that could be putting pressure on Holtby mentally.

First, this year is the final year of Holtby’s contract. Playing in a contract year can be tough and Holtby certainly would not be the first player to succumb to the pressure that comes with an uncertain future. The second is that his replacement, Ilya Samsonov is now backing him up and doing a pretty darn good job with it.

In three appearances this season, Samsonov, 22, has a .944 save percentage and 1.43 GAA. He was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2015 and the fact that his first season in the NHL happens to be the last of Holtby’s contract is impossible not to notice.

Holtby was asked if his contract or Samsonov’s presence was affecting him mentally.

“I don’t know, I just think it's wanting to win, wanting to get a good start, maybe getting a little ahead of myself,” he said. “In ways, trying to push too hard. Just take a deep breath and just go out and play. I mean, it's seven games in. A couple months, you won't even remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think you can do to help the team win.”

“When you break it down like that, who his backup is, yes it is a different scenario,” Reirden said. “The one scenario that isn't different is that I still have plenty of confidence in him. Lots of confidence in him. He's been through this before. We saw that in the Stanley Cup year and then he ends up taking over and helping us win the Stanley Cup and be a huge part of it.”

While Reirden still professes his confidence in Holtby, the recent struggles as well as Samsonov’s strong play have at least given him pause.

Following Monday’s loss, Reirden said of Samsonov, “He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

Reirden also would not commit to naming a starter for Wednesday’s game against a star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs team, but he seemed to be leaning towards Samsonov to give Holtby time to reset. At least that’s what it sounded like.

“Much like every player, goalies will go through situations like this and I'm sure that's how [Holtby] feels about the start to the year. I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, he gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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