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Long break gives Caps chance to address issues

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Long break gives Caps chance to address issues

The good news for the Caps as they head into a four-day break in the schedule is that when they’ve allowed an opponent to score first this season they are 5-3-1.

The bad news is they have scored first in just seven of their first 16 games.

“We have a game plan every day, so it’s the room that has to fix it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters on Saturday after cancelling practice. “I don’t think I have to fix it.  We talk about coming out quick and getting on people, but it has to come from the room.

“I have not shot a puck or made a save or made a hit or anything. It really has to come from the room and that’s where you rely on leadership. I’m going to put that on the leadership to get the room going.”

CAPITALS: Trotz on Ovi: 'I think he wants to get it over with'

On Friday night against the Calgary Flames, the Capitals allowed their visitors to take a 2-0 lead before storming back with third-period goals from Michael Latta and Jay Beagle to force overtime, where Sean Monahan ended it with a bullet under the crossbar.

“We played our best at the end,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Once we got down two you saw what kind of level we could get to so I think the challenge for us is let’s get to that level more often and earlier in games. Don’t wait around. We have a good enough team to come out at the drop of the puck and dominate more. We’re doing a great day of finding our game and I loved our response -- that’s a good characteristic -- but we can’t de doing it all the time.”

Caps left wing Brooks Laich agreed.

“With the caliber of hockey team we have, we expected more,” Laich said. “I know it’s three games in four nights, but they traveled too. (The Flames also were playing their third game in four nights and had played in Tampa on Thursday night). You look at our hockey team and it’s a game we should have had.”

With the overtime loss, the Caps (11-4-1, 23 points) picked up a point on the Rangers but saw that point disappear on Saturday when the Rangers (13-2-2, 28 points) beat the Ottawa Senators in a shootout on Saturday. The Islanders (21 points) and the Penguins (20 points) are close behind in the bunched-up Metro Division, which could change its order by the time the Caps are back in action.

The Capitals don’t play again until visiting the Red Wings in Detroit on Wednesday in an 8 p.m. Rivalry Night game. So far this season the Caps have gone 1-4-0 when they’ve had more than two days off between games.

“A little break for guys that are banged up I think is always good,” said Trotz, who noted the break comes at a good time for defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has missed the last two games with a lower body injury. “The one thing the break does sometimes is gets you out of a rhythm and gets you into a relaxed mode and not in a game mode.

“We have to make sure we change that.”

MORE CAPITALS: Slow starts are fast becoming a troubling trend for Caps

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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