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Shorthanded Capitals show signs of fatigue in road loss to Predators

Shorthanded Capitals show signs of fatigue in road loss to Predators

Final Score: Washington Capitals (41-13-7) fell to the Nashville Predators (30-22-9) 5-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night.

How It Happened: The Capitals certainly showed the effects of fatigue playing just 22 hours after beating the Oilers Friday night at Verizon Center. Things started well with a Tom Wilson goal early in the first period, but things quickly went downhill. The short turnaround made the absences of two key defensive pieces, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, painfullly apparent as Washington surrendered three unanswered goals in the second. It looked as if captain Alex Ovechkin would start a comeback with a goal 4:03 into the final frame, but the tally was taken off the board after replay showed Washington was offsides. By the time Evgeni Kuznetsov scored with less than three minutes left, it was too little, too late.

What It Means: Any team, no matter how talented, is vulnerable on 22 hours of rest and without four key playmakers. The Capitals could have gotten coach Barry Trotz his 700th career victory against the team he coached for 15 seasons. Sure, it would have been poetic, but the realities of the NHL season intervened. The game won't say as much about this team as the way it bounces back, or doesn't, against the Rangers on Tuesday. 

Scoring Summary:

Capitals Goal: Wilson scored just 1:12 into the first period on a beautiful sequence from the Capitals' fourth line. Daniel Winnik dropped the puck back to Jay Beagle, who rifled a pass to Wilson waiting in front of the Predators' net. Washington took a 1-0 lead.

Predators Goal: Roman Josi found the back of the net 1:56 into the second period on a piece of trickery by Filip Forsberg, who faked like he was going for a slapshot, but actually found Josi across the ice to beat Philipp Grubauer to his right post. Nashville evened the score at 1-1.

Predators Goal: Forsberg netted a goal of his own 8:54 into the second period. Winnik turned the puck over, which allowed Ryan Ellis to find Forsberg for the one-timer. The goal gave the Predators a 2-1 advantage, their first of the night. 

Predators Goal: A few short minutes later, Nashville captain Mike Fisher gave his team a 3-1 lead 11:57 into the second. He scored on the power play after Ovechkin was sent to the box for holding. Fisher benefitted from a bit of deception by PK Subban, who faked a shot that was actually a pass to his captain in front of the net. 

Predators Goal: Josi again, this time right off a draw 12:07 into the final frame. The goal came immediately after a questionable holding call that sent Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov to the box for holding, giving Nashville its fifth power play of the evening. 

Capitals Goal: Kuznetsov scored an unassisted, top-shelf goal 17:03 into the third as Predators players appeared to get caught watching in front of their own net. Can't do that against an elite shooter like Kuzy.

Predators Goal: Viktor Arvidsson shot and scored on the Capitals' empty net with 51 seconds left in regulation. 5-2 and that's a wrap. 

Three Stars of the Game:

3 - Tom Wilson: Wilson scored his third goal in the last 16 games. He also required stitches after taking a skate the back of his head, but came back into the game in short order. In the third period, he mixed it up with Predators captain Fisher, who flung Wilson's helmet off and landed a couple blows. Willy certainly showed a lot of fight, but it wasn't enough in the end. 

2 - Filip Forsberg: This one is a dagger given the Capitals history with Forsberg, but he was brilliant on Saturday. His shot-fake set up Josi for the Predators' first goal, which Forsberg followed up with a tally of his own on a one-timer later in the second period. 

1 - Roman Josi: Four shots on goal, two of which slipped by Grubauer, and four blocked shots made Josi the man of the hour in Nashville. 

Looking Ahead: The Capitals' next game comes on Tuesday, Feb. 28 as they head to New York to take on the Rangers. 

MORE CAPITALS: Gretzky loves that Ovechkin 'wants to win a Stanley Cup'

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Capitals return home still short-handed, but with momentum after strong road trip

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Capitals return home still short-handed, but with momentum after strong road trip

The Capitals return home to play the Chicago Blackhawks (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) after a successful road trip (3-1-0), but will still be without forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (upper-body injuries), who remain day-to-day, according to coach Todd Reirden.   

Here are four things to watch:

Holtby’s back

After missing three games with an upper-body injury of his own, Caps goalie Braden Holtby was thrown into the fire down 4-2 at Montreal on Monday. But he played lights out and matched Habs goalie Carey Price save-for-save, finishing with 22 as Washington rallied for a 5-4 overtime win. Holtby now feels good enough as he will start against the Blackhawks tonight. In his past four appearances, Holtby has stopped 116 of 122 shots on goal.

New-look Blackhawks

Chicago’s slow start cost Joel Quenneville his job on Nov. 6. An NHL coach getting fired is rarely news. But when it’s a guy who’s been in his post for more than a decade and has won three Stanley Cups it is still jarring. The results are mixed since Jeremy Colliton took over. Chicago lost his first two games behind the bench, but is 2-0-2 in its past four games. That’s a small step in the right direction, but the Blackhawks are in sixth place in the Central Division.

Wilsonnnnn!!!!!

This was supposed to be the day Tom Wilson returned to the lineup after his 20-game suspension. An arbitrator cut that short last week so Wilson played on all four games of the road trip and had a goal and four assists. Not a bad start. Wednesday he gets his first home game of the year and what should be a raucous reception from the faithful at Capital One Arena. 

Old mates

On Monday, the crowd at Bell Centre booed former Canadien Lars Eller, who promptly took the puck up ice and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. It was a great moment for a player who felt Montreal gave up on him way too soon when trading him to the Capitals. Michal Kempny knows how he feels. 

Languishing on the bench for most of last season in Chicago as a healthy scratch – he played just 31 games - Kempny sees his old team for the first time since helping Washington win a Stanley Cup. Quenneville is gone, but the defenseman would love to show the rest of the organization trading him was a mistake. 

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Capitals mailbag: What to do with Andre Burakovsky

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Capitals mailbag: What to do with Andre Burakovsky

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Nov. 21 edition below. Have you got a Caps question you want to be answered in next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Without a clear go-to guy on the faceoff anymore, who takes the draw has become much more situational.

One thing that was not talked about all that much when the team lost Beagle was that not only was he the best faceoff player on the team, he was also the only right-shot center. Why does that matter? Consider a faceoff in the right circle on a defensive-zone draw. A left-shot center is going to sweep the puck to the center of the ice which is not ideal in the defensive zone. It’s no coincidence that the team signed a right-shot center Nic Dowd in the offseason. Travis Boyd shoots right as well.

If you notice, there are even times when T.J. Oshie lines up in the faceoff circle in place of Nicklas Backstrom and I’m not talking about when Backstrom is kicked out of the draw. I haven’t asked Reirden about this, but I suspect it is because Backstrom shoots left and Oshie shoots right.

So to answer your question, there’s no one player the Caps are looking to get on the ice when they need a draw. It depends on if the puck is on the offensive or defensive zone and in the left or right circle. It’s all a matter of what direction the team wants the puck to go.

Kevin J writes: At what point do you cut bait with a player (Burakovsky) that isn’t meeting expectations? And what do you think you could reasonably get in return?

There’s no question the Caps need more production out of Burakovsky who has only two goals and four points in 20 games. In the final year of his contract, his low production inevitably brings up questions about his future in Washington.

First, when considering a trade, it’s important to remember that all the reasons you want to trade a player away, an opposing general manager will know that. Opposing GMs know he has four points, they know he’s a streaky player and they will certainly know his injury history. The problem with trying to move him now is that the team would be selling low. As frustrating as his production can be, Brian MacLellan is not going to simply trade a player away that the team drafted for pennies on the dollar. He has to be able to get value in return or there is no point.

It’s also important to remember that, unless you get an NHL player in return, you have to find someone to plug into his spot in the lineup. Wayne Gretzky is not sitting in the press box waiting to step in. Are the Caps prepared to give a player like Dmitrij Jaskin an every-day, third-line role? That is probably what a Burakovsky trade would mean.

You also have to consider that Burakovsky is a pending restricted free agent. This will mean the team will retain his rights if and only if he is offered a qualifying offer equal to his current deal of $3 million. If an opposing general manager does not think he’s worth that, he won’t want to make a trade for a player knowing he won’t offer him a qualifying offer. That would mean trading for a player who could walk in the summer.

MacLellan went to great lengths to keep his championship roster together in the offseason. Trading Burakovsky would be trading a piece of that and losing the Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly line that has been effective in the past. He will only do that for the right deal and I believe the return on a Burakovsky trade would be too low to justify at this point.

The Caps may need to at least be open to offers considering Burakovsky’s continued inconsistent production, but I’m not sure there will be that much interest in him until he starts racking up more points.

The Capitals currently have the maximum of 23 players on the roster and are very close to the salary cap ceiling. Obviously, if they acquire a defenseman, that would mean reassigning Jonas Siegenthaler back to Hershey, but that does not clear up much cap space. Washington also has two extra forwards on the roster, but the team is not going to move any forwards until Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov get healthy and return to the lineup.

So yes, the Caps do have room on the roster to trade for a physical defenseman when they get healthy on offense, but they do not have much cap space. Plus, given how well Madison Bowey and Siegenthaler have played, I do not anticipate MacLellan trying that.

There is no question the Caps lost a lot of their physicality when Wilson and Orpik were both out, but Wilson is back, the team’s young defensemen are playing well and there seems to be no need for the team to pull the trigger on a trade.

Nathan S writes: Why does the NHL get away with being so secretive with injuries? Other leagues such as the NFL have very strict reporting requirements. It would seem this would be in best interest of player safety.

The upper-body, lower-body injuries are certainly frustrating to fans (and the media considering how often we get asked what a player’s specific injury is), but that’s not going away anytime soon. Gary Bettman said as much at a recent press conference announcing the league’s partnership with MGM Resorts. While you may believe it is in the best interest of players for teams to announce specific injuries, the league disagrees. The fear is that if you announce a player has a hand injury, you will see opponents go after a player’s hand. If you announce a player has a shoulder injury, opponents will go after a player’s shoulder. By being cryptic, therefore, teams are protecting their players.

The only thing that I believe could possibly change this is sports gambling. The more the NHL dips its toe into the world of sports gambling, the more pressure the league could start to feel from partners over revealing the specific nature of injuries. Otherwise, this is not going to change and it will continue to give the media and fans alike upper-body injuries…er, I mean headaches.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, Caps nation!

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