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With penalties on the rise, Barry Trotz has begun to take action

With penalties on the rise, Barry Trotz has begun to take action

On at least two occasions during Thursday’s practice, T.J. Oshie skated laps around Kettler Capitals Iceplex as his teammates looked on.

It was a dose of public punishment, doled out by coach Barry Trotz, for Oshie’s trio of penalties in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Penguins.

The infractions were for slashing (two) and holding, and the total represented a season-high for the first-line right wing.  

“Apparently you’re not supposed to take three,” Oshie cracked. “It's been a lot of stick penalties. For me, I was caught in a couple of bad positions, and on two of them I felt like they were going to get a quality chance, so I had to make a play on it.”

Explained Trotz: “It’s a reminder. Sometimes a visual is better than just talking about it. He hasn’t had a lot of penalties in a while but he stacked them up last night. …You’re going to get penalties in this game. I’m not going to skate every guy for every penalty. But when you get a couple or multiple ones, [you might] need a little reminder. It’s a visual for guys like okay, ‘Why is Osh skating?’ It’s a reminder without hurting anybody.”

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In all, the Caps were whistled for seven minor penalties against the Penguins. It probably wouldn’t have been a topic of discussion on Thursday had the rash been an aberration. But it wasn't. It’s become a trend for a Caps’ team that is managing to win despite the growing problem thanks to the league’s third-ranked penalty kill as well as goaltender Braden Holtby’s stellar play as of late.

During the Caps’ seven game winning streak, in fact, they’ve taken more minor penalties than their opponent in each of those contests. They’ve also taken more minors (41, including a couple of bench minors) than any other team during that time frame.

That's probably not sustainable—and Trotz and his players know it.

“[Trotz] can handle the fighting majors and the sticking-up-for-teammates penalties,” winger Brett Connolly said. “It’s the hooking and holding and the penalties when you’re not moving your feet. The penalties in the offensive zone.”

In addition to making players do laps, Trotz has also talked to his team about staying composed when dealing with referees, whether or not they feel the call is justified. Why? Refs are humans, too, and being disrespectful rarely helps matters.

“Last week it was me,” Justin Williams said, referring to taking laps. “I took quite a few [penalties], so I had to do a little bit of skating. T.J. did a little bit of skating today. We have to be accountable for what we do out there, regardless of whether we agree with the calls. I know our bench has gotten a lot better and a lot more calm in the last couple of weeks.”

Williams, who is tied with Alex Ovechkin for the most minors on the Caps (16), added: “Sometimes you’re just better off just going to the box. They’re not going to rescind your penalty. If you’re calm and you’re courteous and respectful of the officials, maybe you’ll get a break later in the game or maybe they might not call a coincidental minor. We’ll feel we’re a much better team 5-on-5,” anyway.

Connolly concurred with Williams’ assessment.

“Those refs take a lot of grief,” he said. “If you’re yelling at them all game, they are going to remember that in the third period. And you might not get a call late in the game when you really need it. Ovi and [Nicklas Backstrom] and our leaders, they can talk to the refs. It’s not really going to change anything if we’re yelling at the refs. They make the call, just go to the box.”

It may not be known for weeks whether skating laps and/or being calmer in their dealings with officials makes a difference for the Caps. But as other parts of the team’s game are starting to come together, players know it’s time to start being more disciplined, too.

“He’s just trying to prove a point,” Connolly said. “We know we can’t be taking penalties down the stretch and into the playoffs. Obviously our penalty kill has been really good, but we want to take some minutes off them. Those are hard minutes for those guys.”

“That,” Trotz added, “is a part of a game where we can still learn and still work on.”

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

The odds have never gone the way of the Washington Capitals.

After years of being the common pick to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup, this was most definitely not the year.

Yet, here we are with the Capitals as one of the final two teams standing.

For their upcoming Stanley Cup Final, the Caps are the underdogs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The opening line from OddsShark has the Golden Knights as -135 money line favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals were listed as +115 underdogs.

Vegas (the betting entity, not the team) has not exactly been the most reliable this year though. After all, the Golden Knights were 100/1 odds to win the whole thing. Now they are four games away.

In their past two series, Washington was not the favorites. The Capitals have not been favorites since the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For years in the Alex Ovechkin era, they have been the favorites to not only go on to play for the Stanley Cup but winning it.

In 2018 they started the season tied for the fifth best odds to win the Cup (14/1), one of their lowest opening marks in the past decade. For the full perspective, Washington was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and behind the Dallas Stars at the start of the season.

Without question this underdog role has fit them quite well, they shouldn’t want anything to change heading into the biggest postseason series in 20 years for Washington D.C.

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