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Defense comes up big on both ends in Caps' win over Senators

Defense comes up big on both ends in Caps' win over Senators

The Caps' defense limited the Ottawa Senators to only one goal and scored both of the Caps' tallies in a 2-1 win on Sunday.

How it happened: Kyle Turris opened the scoring in the second period. With the puck trickling into the corner of the defensive zone, Matt Niskanen went to retrieve, but it took an unfortunate bounce over his stick allowing Ryan Dzingel to take possession behind the net. He fed a wide open Turris in the slot who buried it into the back of the net. The Caps tried to tie it with a Hail Mary pass from John Carlson to spring Justin Williams for the breakaway. He was stopped by goalie Mike Condon, but T.J. Oshie did not give up on the play. He retrieved the puck behind the net and teed up Karl Alzner for the monster slap shot that beat Condon.

The defense struck again in the third period as Taylor Chorney fired a one-timer off a pass from Brooks Orpik past Mike Condon for what would prove to be the game-winner.

What it means: Washington now has five points in its last three games. The Caps are now 17-6-3-1 on New Year's Day and have won five straight on Jan. 1.

Turning point: Down 1-0, the Caps faced a critical penalty kill late in the second period as Nicklas Backstrom was called for holding. In a game in which Washington was struggling to generate much offense from its forwards, a 2-0 deficit would have been a tough hole to dig out of. Instead, the penalty killers did their job and Alzner scored the equalizer just seven seconds after the penalty expired.

Turning point part II: The Caps held a 2-1 lead in the third period and then were hit with not one, but two minor penalties at the same time. Brooks Orpik was called for a trip and Evgeny Kuznetsov was given a slash to boot meaning the Caps faced a full two minutes of a five-on-three power play. The penalty killers, however, were up to the task thanks in large part to Braden Holtby who was fantastic. The kill was a huge momentum swing for the Caps.

Defense is the best offense: The Caps struggled offensively in the first period as they defaulted too much to their defense. Saturday's win in New Jersey highlighted the effectiveness of deflections and screens, but Washington may have taken that lesson a bit too seriously as five of the team's eight shots on goal in the first period were by defensemen. It should come as no surprise then than both of the team's goals ultimately came from blue liners Alzner and Chorney. The goal is Alzner's third of the season and the 19th of his career. Chorney's goal, meanwhile, came in just his seventh game of the season. It is his second goal as a Cap and the third of his career.

Special teams ups and downs: Just as the penalty kill began heating up for the Caps, the power play has suddenly gone cold. Washington killed all four power plays it faced Sunday and has not allowed a power play goal in seven straight games. The Caps, however, also failed to score on either of their two opportunities and have not scored with the man advantage in six straight games.

Third is the new first? Washington's best offensive line by far was the third line, specifically Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky. Eller and Burakovsky were the only two forwards to generate shots on goal for the Caps until about midway through the game. While neither player got on the scoresheet, both players combined for seven shots on goal on the night. 

Look ahead: The Caps’ three-game home stand continues Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then the hottest team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on Thursday.

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John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals


John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

Before the Capitals dominated the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, they stopped off in Columbus on Saturday for what was expected to be a great game between the top two teams of the Metropolitan Division.

It wasn’t.

Instead of two heavy-weights trading blows or the Columbus Blue Jackets going after the Capitals in an attempt to exact some measure of revenge for last season’s playoff loss, Washington blew apart Columbus in a one-sided, 4-0 affair.

As you could imagine, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was displeased with the result and sounded off on Monday in typical Tortorella fashion.

"I'm embarrassed as the coach of this team," Tortorella told reporters, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline. "I missed something along the way. I'm part of it also. I'm embarrassed that we embarrassed our organization."

The Caps took control of Saturday’s game early with three goals in the first period. The physical battle that had been the trademark of last season’s playoff series never came. Washington pushed and received no pushback from a Columbus team that looked like a shadow of the team that had jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Caps.

"It was disgusting," Tortorella said. "After our last home game, that debacle, 9-6 [loss to Calgary], to show up on a Saturday night for first-place seeding, against a team that knocked us out of the playoffs, in front of a full house, it's embarrassing."

The Blue Jackets seem to be reeling a bit of late. On Dec. 4, Columbus coughed up a 4-1 lead allowing five goals in the second period to the Calgary Flames in what turned into a 9-6 loss. A narrow overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday was followed by the blowout loss to the Caps and on Tuesday, Columbus allowed two goals in a span of 1:18 late in the third period that turned a 2-1 victory into a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.

Washington and Columbus have been locked in a standings battle the last few weeks (and years) with both teams vying for supremacy over the Metropolitan Division. Now, the Caps hold a five-point lead for first place in a division that seems to be rapidly declining. At mid-December, we are still waiting to see if another team can emerge to push Washington late in the season in a battle for first place in the division. A contender has yet to emerge and, the longer the season goes, the less likely it seems that someone will.


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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

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T.J. Oshie says he was held out of the lineup longer than he wanted to be as a precaution

On Nov. 14, T.J. Oshie suffered a concussion on a hit from Josh Morrissey. The concussion sidelined him for nearly a month. He finally returned to the lineup Tuesday for a game against the Detroit Red Wings, but it sounds like he was medically cleared to return sooner.

During the team’s morning skate on Tuesday, Oshie revealed he had wanted to return a week sooner, but had actually been held out as a precaution.

“I've been good now for about a week and a half,” he said. “This is the longest [concussion] I've sat out. I wanted to play last week. We were pretty careful about it, and the guys that were in the lineup did an outstanding job of allowing them to give me that rest.”

This was the fifth documented concussion of Oshie’s career. While there is still much we do not know or fully understand about concussions and their effects on the brain, it certainly appears as if the severity of a concussion and concussion symptoms can worsen with successive injuries. As a result, the team’s medical personnel took no chances when it came to Oshie and held him out of play even after he was medically cleared to return.

“I felt good so what we did paid off,” Oshie said following Tuesday’s game. “It was an open conversation, a bunch of conversations between me and [Jason Serbus] our head medical trainer and really all our whole team of doctors. We went through it day by day. As it lingered on it was a couple of days by a couple of days and once I started feeling good they let me go. We took it slow and I got a week in of bag skates so legs-wise I felt pretty good out there. That was kind of the process for me.”

Oshie admitted there had been times in the past he thought he was ready to return, but it was clear after returning he had not fully recovered which could have been a factor in the team’s decision to be extra cautious.

“Every concussion's different. This one was different than all the last ones. It's really just not coming back until you're ready. I've had some where you think you're ready to play and you're pretty sure, maybe not 100 percent sure, and then a couple games in you get hit or your head hits something or whatever it is and you don't have a concussion but you have a headache now every time you get hit for sometimes a month or so.”

Oshie suffered a concussion last year after a hit from San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton. He returned to game action 15 days later, but did not look quite right initially and registered only a single point in his first seven games after returning.

If you believe the team’s decision to hold Oshie out had anything to do with that, however, Oshie disputes that notion.

“Last year I don't think I came back too quick,” he said. “I wasn't able to find ways to score, really. I was missing some passes that I normally don't miss. Everyone kind of jumps on the goal-scoring drought stuff, but I felt like I was doing a lot of good things away from the puck. I was keeping the puck out of our net and I was creating chances for teammates to score. It was a learning experience, but I felt like I was 100 percent when I came back last time.”

But why was it even necessary for the team to hold Oshie back? With his repeated history of concussions, not to mention his family’s history with Alzheimer’s, it may be surprising to some that Oshie had hoped to return earlier or that he wanted to return at all.

While the long-term effects of repeated concussions are still being studied and debated within the medical community, it is not a stretch to believe that repeated blows to the head can be detrimental to one’s health.

Oshie was asked if he felt concerned after suffering repeated concussions. His answer? “Not really.”

“I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned about what's going to happen to me, I'm not going to play at the top of my game,” Oshie said. “Doesn't really concern me. I just kind of roll with the punches every day and if it does, it does. Hopefully it doesn't.”