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Trotz gives Caps day off the ice, hints at changes

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Trotz gives Caps day off the ice, hints at changes

Coming off a physical 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and facing back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers Friday and Saturday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz cancelled practice on Thursday, instead directing players through a video session.

Trotz said he thought the Verizon Center was “really warm” Wednesday night and several players lost a lot of body weight in the loss to the Penguins. The team measures each player’s body weight after every game.

Defenseman Karl Alzner said it was a good move by the head coach.

“Last night was our toughest physical game we played so far and I think guys were feeling it a little today,” Alzner said, referring to the combined 61 hits between the Pens and Caps. “It came at a good time.”

“Sometimes,” Trotz said, “rest is a weapon.”

Left wing Jason Chimera said Thursday’s video session emphasized some of the details that led to scoring chances on both sides. Several players said too many neutral zone giveaways led to offensive chances by the Penguins, who were outshot by the Caps 34-25.

“It wasn’t like a rip-your-butt session,” Chimera said. “We did some good things, we did some bad things and like every game you learn to correct some things and try to do what you did good, better. We didn’t play too bad last night. It’s just like playoffs, you’ve got to move on from it right away and don’t let your mistakes compound.”    

With the Caps sitting in third place in the Metro Division with a 6-2-0 record, Trotz said he will make a few lineup changes for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets, who have won two of their three games since replacing head coach Todd Richards with former Lightning, Rangers and Canucks coach John Tortorella.

“I would probably say yes, absolutely,” Trotz said. “Maybe Latts (Michael Latta) or Gally (right wing Stan Galiev) because they haven’t been in, and Schmitty (defenseman Nate Schmidt). I’d say there will be a couple changes.”

Schmidt, a left-handed shooter, has been learning to play the right side at practice, while Dmitry Orlov is growing accustomed to playing the left side after starting the season on the right. If that holds true, the Caps likely would replace Taylor Chorney with Schmidt.

As for the fourth line, which was on the ice for Phil Kessel’s game-winning goal Wednesday night, rookie center Chandler Stephenson could sit out his first game after playing his first six in a row. Stephenson, 21, has averaged 8:01 in ice time and is a minus-3 in those games.  

“Being on a fourth line is sometimes tough for a young player,” Trotz said, “because most young players that get called up are playing 20 minutes a night in Hershey and then all of a sudden they’re playing eight and that’s a hard role.

“That’s why a lot of teams have three veteran players on that fourth line, because they know how to deal with that.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz wants Capitals to show more resilience

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Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

Can Braden Holtby quiet goalie controversy, rebound from tough start?

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has been here before. Every goalie in the NHL has good stretches and bad. Really, one thing that defines a goalie is how they overcome those bad stretches. Holtby had perhaps the greatest rebound a goalie could ever have, going from losing his starting job to Philipp Grubauer in 2018 to taking back the crease in the playoffs and leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

But could this year be different?

A poor start is one thing, but there are also other external factors that may be contributing.

In five games this season, Holtby has a .846 save percentage and 4.27 GAA. His save percentage is the worst among all goalies with at least four starts and his GAA is the second-worst behind only Devan Dubnyk’ s 4.56. It’s a small sample size, but those are horrific numbers made worse by Monday’s performance in which he allowed three goals on three shots before being pulled.

“It was a tough game for Braden and I think he'll be the first one to admit it,” Todd Reirden said after practice on Tuesday. “That's a game I think he'd like to do some things different. I think our team could have played closer to our identity than we did to give him a better chance to have success. But the good thing is he's accountable to it, he knows. He's accountable to himself, he's accountable to his teammates, he's accountable to everybody that he can be better than that and when he gets that chance he will.”

But will he?

Just 16 months removed from overcoming the worst stretch of his career and hoisting the Stanley Cup and still only 30 years old, it seems premature to declare Holtby as finished or to assume he won’t be able to dig himself out of this hole.

“Usually it's just getting back to the basics of things,” Holtby said when asked about overcoming a slump. “A lot of times when things are going your way, you're usually pushing forward too fast and make things [instead] of just letting them come to you. It's just getting back to the basics of playing, trusting your instincts and not letting it affect you. Just go out and play.”

“In times like these - good or bad - it's usually not as good as you think or not as bad as you think,” he added. “You just have to get yourself back to that level mentally where you can break things down and see just those little areas that might be just off a bit that could be the difference.”

But there are two external factors that could be putting pressure on Holtby mentally.

First, this year is the final year of Holtby’s contract. Playing in a contract year can be tough and Holtby certainly would not be the first player to succumb to the pressure that comes with an uncertain future. The second is that his replacement, Ilya Samsonov is now backing him up and doing a pretty darn good job with it.

In three appearances this season, Samsonov, 22, has a .944 save percentage and 1.43 GAA. He was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2015 and the fact that his first season in the NHL happens to be the last of Holtby’s contract is impossible not to notice.

Holtby was asked if his contract or Samsonov’s presence was affecting him mentally.

“I don’t know, I just think it's wanting to win, wanting to get a good start, maybe getting a little ahead of myself,” he said. “In ways, trying to push too hard. Just take a deep breath and just go out and play. I mean, it's seven games in. A couple months, you won't even remember this conversation. You just stick to the process and keep doing what you think you can do to help the team win.”

“When you break it down like that, who his backup is, yes it is a different scenario,” Reirden said. “The one scenario that isn't different is that I still have plenty of confidence in him. Lots of confidence in him. He's been through this before. We saw that in the Stanley Cup year and then he ends up taking over and helping us win the Stanley Cup and be a huge part of it.”

While Reirden still professes his confidence in Holtby, the recent struggles as well as Samsonov’s strong play have at least given him pause.

Following Monday’s loss, Reirden said of Samsonov, “He's doing what he's supposed to be doing, and that's to make it like a decision every night of who's going to be considered to play that game.”

Reirden also would not commit to naming a starter for Wednesday’s game against a star-studded Toronto Maple Leafs team, but he seemed to be leaning towards Samsonov to give Holtby time to reset. At least that’s what it sounded like.

“Much like every player, goalies will go through situations like this and I'm sure that's how [Holtby] feels about the start to the year. I'm confident that we've got a few practices here, he gets to reset and work with [goalie coach] Scott Murray and get things settled in and then he's ready to go again.”

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How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

How to Watch: Maple Leafs at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream

Sitting firmly at third place in their respective divisions, the Capitals and Maple Leafs are both eager to grab another win for themselves in this classic Atlantic vs Metropolitan division matchup. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Wednesday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals, Game 8 of the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS VS MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals vs Maple Leafs

9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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