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Second thoughts on Holtby, Ovi, Chorney, Nisky versus Chicago


Second thoughts on Holtby, Ovi, Chorney, Nisky versus Chicago

Sudden thoughts and second thoughts as the Capitals enjoy an unexpected day off following their 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night at Verizon Center:

Holt-beast: Braden Holtby stopped 26 of 27 shots to earn his second win of the season. He had to be at his best in the first two periods when the Blackhawks rebounded from a slow start (outshot 5-0) by firing 20 of the game’s next 30 shots.

“It’s the same thing every night from him,” Marcus Johansson said. “You can’t ask for a better goalie.”

Closing in on 900: Alex Ovechkin’s third-period goal was his second of the season and 477th of his career, leaving him two points short of 900 and 23 goals shy of 500.  Of course, if you count playoff scoring, he’s already got 513 goals and 968 points as a Capital.

Speaking of Ovi: Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen joked before the game, “Why couldn’t Ovi oversleep today? He’s going to be flying tonight.” With that in mind, here are three songs we would have liked to here last night:

“I’m Wide Awake” – Katy Perry

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham

Wake Up (Ovi ), I Think I’ve Got Something To Say To You” – Rod Stewart

I-Carly: Don’t look now but Caps defenseman John Carlson is tied for third among NHL defensemen with four points in his first three games. He’s trailing only Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson (7 points in 5 games) and Colorado’s Francois Beauchemin (5 in 3). Carlson’s two-point night against the Hawks marked his 34th career multi-point game. He also led all skaters in ice time (25:01).

Master of champions: The Capitals have won five straight home games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, including the Hawks’ last visit to D.C. on Jan. 1 at Nats Park.

Staying invisible: Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney played a quietly effective game in his Caps debut alongside Dmitry Orlov. In 12:41 of ice time, all at even strength, Chorney was even on the polus-minus ledger, blocked two shots and recorded two hits and one takeaway.

“I thought he was real steady,” Trotz said. “That’s what you want in that pair. He made all the right plays. There’s wasn’t any time I said under my breath, ‘What are you doing?’ And that’s a good sign for that pair.”

Nisky business: Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen scored his second goal of the season Thursday night and now has three points in his first three games. Last season Niskanen didn’t score his second goal until Dec. 9 in his 27th game of the season. 

In fact, Niskanen already is halfway to his goal total of last season (4). His offensive numbers should continue to climb with his increased offensive role following the departure of Mike Green, who has one assist in his first three games with the Red Wings.

What's next: The Caps have a 10:15 morning skate on Saturday at Kettler, then face off against the 0-3-0 Carolina Hurricanes, who are in Detroit tonight to face the Red Wings.

MORE CAPITALS: Friday Six-Pack: First Q&A of the Capitals 2015-16 season!

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.


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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”