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Ice time from Game 4 hints some players are struggling against Toronto

Ice time from Game 4 hints some players are struggling against Toronto

Much was made of Alex Ovechkin’s playing time in Game 3 as the team’s captain and best offensive player registered only 15:08 of ice time in a game in which the Capitals ultimately lost.

Following the Game 3 loss, Barry Trotz took responsibility saying, “That’s on me to get him the ice time.”

Ovechkin’s playing time went up in Game 4, but only marginally with 16:31. This time, however, it was easier to explain. Ovechkin registered only 4:51 in the third period, lower than both the first and second. With the Caps leading heading into the final period, there was less opportunity to get the captain more ice time and instead it went to more of the shutdown forwards on the team. Jay Beagle, for example, played 5:10 in the third period.

RELATED: Caps-Leafs Game 6 time announced

For the most part, Ovechkin’s ice time from Game 4 appears to be a non-story, but there are other players from Game 4 who got their minutes slashed and it seems to suggest they may have found themselves in Barry Trotz’s dog house.

Of the Caps’ six defensemen, no one saw less ice time than Kevin Shattenkirk who registered only 12:54. Not only is that the least he has played in a game this postseason, it is the least he has played in the entire 2016-17 season.

When asked about Shattenkirk on Thursday, Barry Trotz told the media that the defenseman was not dealing with an injury and that his reduced playing time was based on the fact that the Caps had only one power play for the game and that assistant coach Todd Reirden, who manages the defensemen, was using the different pairs based on getting the right matchups.

“Todd's back there,” Trotz said. “He wants the certain matchups. We talk about it before the game and he goes from there.”

Shattenkirk did not play particularly well in Game 3 so the fact that his playing time dropped to his lowest should raise eyebrows as it could suggest less trust in him.

But Shattenkirk had it good compared to Brett Connolly.

With a 2-1 series deficit heading into Game 4, Trotz elected to make a minor line change by bumping Tom Wilson from the fourth line to the third and moving Connolly down to the fourth. The result for the third line was great as Wilson scored twice and the line appeared to be reinvigorated. The same could not be said of the fourth line.

Daniel Winnik saw his ice time slashed to 6:37 in Game 4, while Connolly played only 4:26 for the entire game.

When asked why Connolly’s time was so low, Trotz said, “A little bit situational, a little bit, I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”

When in a playoff game the coach is essentially saying he felt more comfortable going with 10 or 11 guys rather than playing Connolly, that seems pretty damning.

Prior to the line change, the fourth line was seen as one of the team’s best shutdown lines. That, however, is not the specialty of Connolly who is more of a skilled type player.

So while switching Wilson and Connolly seemed to benefit the third line, the same could not be said of the fourth line that suddenly seemed to lack identity and the fourth line was underutilized as a result.

This begs the question, if Trotz can’t find even five minutes for Connolly, would he consider switching him out of the lineup completely?

“Obviously [Connolly’s] on the fourth line right now and he just didn't get enough time,” Trotz said. “He's ok with it. He understands that this time of year we're going to do what we have to do and he's just going to be out there preparing like he is and be ready if he gets the call.”

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The Caps are back...ish, Ovechkin celebrates 700 with 701 and the bottom-six shines

The Caps are back...ish, Ovechkin celebrates 700 with 701 and the bottom-six shines

WASHINGTON -- The Winnipeg Jets certainly made things interesting. The Capitals jumped out to a dominant 3-0 lead, but the Jets managed to battle back and force a shootout. Washington got the win, but now we are all left wondering which half of the game tells us more about the state of the Caps.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

They're back...ish

The first half of this game was brilliant. The Caps were dominant in every facet. They were physical, the defense was playing well, the breakouts were crisp, the top-six was dangerous and the bottom-six was setting up offensive opportunities with prolonged shifts in the offensive zone. Braden Holtby was strong in net back-stopping the team to a 3-0 lead...and then suddenly it was 3-3 and the game was headed to overtime.

What the heck?

I was all ready for the story after this game to be that the Caps were officially back, but now it seems too early to declare that.

Look, overall the win over the Pittsburgh Penguins plus this game were the best two games this team has played in a long time. If they keep playing the way they have recently they will win more often than not and will be rounding into form by the playoffs. But they need to work on their full 60-minute efforts.

Let's get physical

This is a physical team and it clearly has been getting back to its identity the past week. It's no surprise the success is starting to come again as a result.

I asked Reirden after the game how much the physical play had to do with the team's turnaround and he had a very interesting answer.

“What we weren’t doing was we weren’t putting pucks in areas where we could go be physical. So, when you’re going to turn pucks over in the neutral zone and you’re not going to put them behind their defense, now you’re not giving your players a chance to go in and forecheck and pressure pucks and force turnovers, which I thought we were really good at early on in the game today in terms of all those pucks that were below the goal line, how we were able to pressure and force turnovers and get possession out of it for the majority of the first two periods. So, that’s our identity, that’s how we have to play and, to me, it’s all set up by the proper puck management.”

The bottom-six

So far so good for Ilya Kovalchuk. The third line looked very offensively dangerous in Kovalchuk's first game with lots of prolonged shifts in the offensive zone. Garnet Hathaway credited one such shift as directly leading to his goal.

"I thought that line played really well tonight," Hathaway said. "I thought they were all contributing and making plays, too, so it was nice building off of their energy. I think you look at that, we get an offensive zone faceoff and then it turns into a goal."

In addition, the fourth line looked a bit rejuvenated with Richard Panik. He collected an assist on Hathaway's goal. If that's the type of performance the Caps can expect from the bottom-six going forward, they are in good shape.

Turning point

The Caps may have won the game, but the turning point was Nikolaj Ehlers' goal.

With Washington up 3-0 in the second period, Michal Kempny wheeled around the net in the face of the forecheck from Patrik Laine. He tried to pass the puck to Radko Gudas, but was off-target. The puck redirected off the skate of Gudas and right to Cody Eakin who was all alone in front of the net. Eakin fired a quick shot which Holtby stopped and he closed up his pads thinking he had the puck. Unbeknownst to him, however, the puck had squirted out. Ehlers spotted it and scored on the open net to breath life back into the Jets. From there Winnipeg would tie the game and force overtime.

Play of the game

The great set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov and the great finish by Alex Ovechkin. What better way to finish the celebration of 700 than by scoring No. 701?

Stat of the game

Yet another goalie goes down to the Great 8.

Quote of the game

Ovechkin scored the shootout winner with one of the best shootout goals of his career.

“Sometime even I don’t know what I’m going to do out there, so I’ll take it.”

Fan predictions

Check, check...oh no! You were doing so well!

Bold.

Just the one and you didn't have to wait too long to get it either.

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Capitals survive 3-goal surge from Jets for shootout win

Capitals survive 3-goal surge from Jets for shootout win

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals saw a 3-0 lead evaporate, but still managed to earn the 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday, their second victory in as many games. On a night in which Alex Ovechkin was honored, he scored the first goal of the game and the shootout winner.

Here is how the Caps won.

701

Right after he was honored in a pregame ceremony for scoring his 700th goal, Ovechkin scored No. 701 less than two minutes into the game.

Evgeny Kuznetsov flashed some of his behind-the-net magic as he skated the puck behind the goal line, then abruptly spun and fed Ovechkin the puck. Ovechkin's first shot was blocked by Nathan Beaulieu, but he whacked the puck out of the air and behind goalie Laurent Brossoit for his 701st career goal.

This marked the second time in as many games Washington scored first, something that has been an issue of late.

Vrana's speed

Jakub Vrana scored a great goal on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to his speed and a great individual effort. He did it again on Tuesday launching himself on his own breakaway.

The Jets broke the puck into the offensive zone, but the rush was halted by the defense of Dmitry Orlov and the backcheck from T.J. Oshie. Jakub Vrana picked up the loose puck and zipped straight down the middle of the ice.

When Vrana grabbed the puck, there were two Jets between him and the net. By the team he reached the opposite blue line, there was only one Jet left who could catch him. Vrana managed one last burst of speed to turn the corner and get behind the defense, then score the breakaway goal to give Washington the 2-0 lead.

The bottom-six

The acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk was meant to improve the offense of both lines in the bottom-six. Obviously he adds offense to the third line, but moving Richard Panik to the fourth should also provide that line with more of an offensive upside. For one game at least, the return on Kovalchuk was very good.

The third line looked tremendous with Kovalchuk skating on the right. The line had a number of dominant offensive zone shifts and was able to work the cycle really well to hem the Jets in their own zone.

Kovalchuk fired three shots on goal.

The fourth line, meanwhile, scored just its second goal in the year in 2020. The line picked up a turnover in the offensive zone off a great forechecking shift and Garnet Hathaway scored on a rebound off a shot by Nic Dowd.

Hathaway's goal was his first since Dec. 23 and he was assisted by Dowd and new linemate Panik.

Braden Holtby

Holtby had another strong performance in net ensuring the Caps could build on their early lead. The Jets fired 17 shots on goal in the second period alone and he stopped 16 of them. He finished the game with 30 saves and made an additional three stops in the shootout.

Physical play

The Caps pushed Winnipeg around in this one. Badly.

While the official hit total was pretty close (25-17), what the Caps lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. They laid a number of vicious hits on the Jets and they just did not have the muscle to match.

Dmitry Orlov in particular was in an ornery mood as he delivered two huge hits. One he delivered to Patrik Laine drew the ire of Andrew Copp. Copp went to defend his teammate and Tom Wilson decided to defend his. Copp qiuckly backed down and did not respond to a few jabs from Wilson or even a big hit from Wilson later in the shift.

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