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How the Caps fixed the team's lack of scoring from the defensemen

How the Caps fixed the team's lack of scoring from the defensemen

Everything just seems to be hitting the back of the net for Washington right now. Monday’s 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes marked the eighth straight game in which the Capitals scored four goals or more and the fourth time in the past six games the team scored six goals or more.

One factor in the team’s recent offensive explosion is also one of the most overlooked: The defense.

Through the first 25 games of the season, Washington had only three goals from its blue liners. Two of those goals were from Karl Alzner.

In the 22 games since, the defense has accounted for 15 goals including two from Dmitry Orlov on Monday.

RELATED: Caps score 6 unanswered to crush Canes

“He has a tremendous shot, obviously,” Alex Ovechkin said after the game. “We always tell him to shoot more pucks.

“He’s more like [Nicklas] Lidstrom. Russian Lidstrom.”

That’s lofty praise, but Monday’s game was not just about Orlov’s individual effort and neither is the defense’s sudden offensive production.

Carolina goalie Cam Ward was slow to react on Orlov’s second goal of the game as Lars Eller stood right in the face of the veteran netminder.

“Especially on the second goal, was in front of the goalie and I think he didn't see my shot so I think it's great for them,” Orlov said. “They go to the net and if I don't score at least [they] can keep the goalie in and get rebound.”

The goal highlighted one of the biggest points of emphasis for the Caps this season: Getting traffic in front of the net. With the staking themselves in front of the net, that has left more opportunities for the defense to step into the play and fire shots and get more involved in the offense.

“In order for a defenseman to score, especially from the [blue line] in this league, you need those screens and those screens to be thought out,” Braden Holtby said, “Not just stand in front of the goalie. We started working on crossing in front of the goalie and you can see the results since.”

It’s not just about making the pretty plays anymore. The team’s current hot streak has been more about deflections, screens and rebounds than finesse plays and breakaways. The goals may not be as pretty, but the final score sure is.

Holtby was quick to give credit to the defense as well, but as a goalie, he knows that it’s a heck of a lot easier to stop a shot from the blue line if he can see it all the way through as opposed to having to fight through traffic to locate the puck.

“Obviously you’ve got to shoot in the right place,” Holtby said. “I'm not taking anything away from the D, but in this league you've got to create traffic in order to give them a chance to score.”

MORE CAPITALS: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY NEARLY EARNS A HOCKEY SMILE AFTER HIGH-STICK HITS HIM IN THE MOUTH

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

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5 reasons the Caps lost to the Jets

A shorthanded Caps team entered Wednesday's game, lost Evgeny Kuznetsov midway through the first period and lost the game midway through the third period.

After playing a tight game for two periods, the Jets finally broke the tie in the third period and added an empty-net goal for the 3-1 win.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost:

So many injuries

Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury, Michal Kempny was out with an illness and midway through the first period, Kuznetsov took an elbow to the head from Brandon Tanev and had to leave the game for an upper-body injury.

Not having your starting goalie, your top line center or a top-four defenseman makes it hard for any team to win, especially against an opponent as good as Winnipeg.

The second period

With no Braden Holtby and no Michal Kempny, the Caps came out ready to play and completely dominated Winnipeg in the opening frame. Washington took a 1-0 lead in the first and outshot the Jets 10-2.

Things completely flipped in the second period.

Winnipeg took to the Caps in the middle frame as they outshot Washington 14-10, drew two penalties and scored a power play goal to tie the game at one.

The first period was about as perfect a game as a shorthanded Caps team could play. The second period, however, allowed the Jets to climb back into it.

Seven seconds on the power play

The Jets utilize a very similar power play to that of the Caps and it’s about as effective. In fact, Winnipeg is the only team with a better power play this season than Washington. That was on the display in the second period when it took just seven seconds for Winnipeg to carve up the penalty kill and score the game-tying goal.

Mark Scheifele was lined up in the T.J. Oshie spot in the slot ready to take the goal line pass from Kyle Connor and he buried it home just seven seconds into the power play.

A Backstrom shot that somehow did not go in

With the scored tied at 1 in the third, Nicklas Backstrom had a chance to give the Caps the lead. It looked like he did just that, but the puck just would not trickle over the line. Backstrom beat Connor Hellebuyck up high but the puck hit the crossbar. It did not go in. It trickled on the goal line before Hellebuyck swept it off with this stick. It did not go in. Hellebuyck could not control it and the puck trickled back on the line again before getting swept out by Dustin Byfuglien. Once again, It. Did. Not. Go. In.

Three different times it looked like the Caps had taken the lead and all three times the puck somehow did not go in.

One tough goal

Give Copley all the credit in the world. He was given the tough assignment of playing in Winnipeg on the back end of a back-to-back after playing the night before. For the most part, he was brilliant Wednesday.

Unfortunately, in a game that was as close as this one was, Copley’s lone mistake proved costly.

Ben Chiarot carried the puck over the blue line and fired a slap shot from distance that somehow got past the glove of Copley.

The puck was knuckling a bit and may have deflected slightly off the stick of John Carlson – it was not clear from the replay – but in a 1-1 game in the third period, Copley needs to save a shot like that. It was harder than it looked, but the Caps really needed that save.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves game after taking an elbow to the head

Evgeny Kuznetsov leaves game after taking an elbow to the head

About midway through the first period, Kuznetsov skated towards the boards when he was hit in the head with an elbow by Brandon Tanev. Kuznetsov was not looking and Tanev clearly raised the elbow for the high hit. He was assessed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head. Kuznetsov left for the locker room.

Kuznetsov was not on the bench for the start of the second period and it was announced soon after that he would not return due to an upper-body injury. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday.

Kuznetsov was just another in a long list of injuries the team suffered for Wednesday’s game. Pheonix Copley got the surprise start in Winnipeg as it was announced prior to the start that Braden Holtby would not dress due to an upper-body injury. Michal Kempny was also out of the lineup due to an illness. He is considered day-to-day.

A hit to the head that caused an injury to Kuznetsov calls into question whether any supplementary discipline will be coming for Brandon Tanev. The hit cannot be deemed anything but intentional and avoidable and it also caused an injury. 

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