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Updates on Schmidt, Winnik's debut and third-period dominance


Updates on Schmidt, Winnik's debut and third-period dominance

News, notes and quotes as the Capitals catch their collective breath with a day off, followed by Friday night’s home game against the New York Rangers and Saturday night’s visit to Boston:

Schmidt update: Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt sat out Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs after blocking a shot the previous night against the Penguins. The injury is not considered serious, but coach Barry Trotz said he’ll provide an update on Friday. “I’m sure if it was something very permanent I would know that,” Trotz said, “and I don’t know anything right now.”

Comeback kids: The Capitals blew an early 2-0 lead to the Leafs and were outshot 22-12 through two periods, but they awoke in the third period, outshooting Toronto 11-7 and scoring the game-winning goal on a power-play goal by Matt Niskanen.

The Caps have won two straight, three of their last four and are 12-3-0 in their last 15.

“We’ve been winning,” said T.J. Oshie, who assisted on all three goals Wednesday night, “but it really does feel like we’ve been in a little bit of a lull. So we’re fortunate when we’re playing like that we’re able to steal some points from some teams. Hopefully, we can grab this ourselves and not have to lose a couple games to really put our foot back on the gas and get to where we want to be.”

Trotz said it’s hard for him to get too upset with his players because they are finding ways to win games. The Caps have outscored opponents in the third period 83-50 this season. That plus-33 goal differential is tops in the NHL.

“When the game’s on the line guys dig in at the right moment,” Trotz said. “I give the players a lot of credit there. I might get frustrated back there sometimes and the fans can get frustrated, but when the game’s on the line they kicked it up.

“We needed a goal there on the power play and they kicked it up.  When we needed some commitment towards the end we did that. We managed the puck when we had the lead. The one thing that has been common is when it’s on the line guys pay the price and that’s a credit to them.”

RELATED: Trotz says it's 'awkward' passing Ron Wilson

Backy: Nicklas Backstrom’s soft-handed assist on Alex Ovechkin’s 41st goal extended his assist streak to four games (6 assists). He has 28 points in his last 27 games (7 goals, 21 assists). He also won 15 of 18 faceoffs against the Leafs.

Puck Daddy: Taylor Chorney said he will give his 3-day-old son Turner the puck from his first goal as a Capital. It was also his first NHL goal since Feb. 15, 2011.

Grubi dooby doo: Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 of 29 shots to earn his seventh win of the season. He has posted a 1.72 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in his last eight appearances.

Win-nick: Overshadowed by Brooks Laich’s emotional return to Washington, Daniel Winnik logged 13:09 of ice time in his Capitals debut, including 2:07 on the penalty kill, where he worked alongside forward Jay Beagle. Winnik was credited with one shot, three hits and one takeaway.

“It was a little easier playing Toronto because I know how they play and used my hockey sense,” Winnik said. “I thought we (he and Beagle) did a good job. They had a couple shots, but nothing serious and no damage.”

Trotz said he liked his fourth line of Winnik alongside Mike Richards (14:11) and Beagle (13:52).

“The great thing about that line is it gives you a sense of comfort,” Trotz said. “You come out of a power play and you can put them out there. They’ve all been in those situations. You can put them on a top line and say, ‘You’re checking them all night.’”

Ovi watch: Alex Ovechkin scored a goal and has earned 16 points in his last 13 games (12 goals, 4 assists). He has 20 goals in his last 23 games.

Kuz-tastic: Evgeny Kuznetsov has recorded a point in nine of his last 10 games (5 goals, 7 assists) and has earned 29 points in his last 22 games (7 goals, 22 assists).

Mojo: Marcus Johansson played in his 400th game in the NHL, all for the Capitals. He has 222 points (76 goals, 146 assists). Drafted by the Capitals in the first round (24th overall) in the 2009 NHL draft, he ranks fifth in that draft class in points and assists and is tied for seventh in goals.

Back-to-back: The Capitals are now 18-3-1 in back-to-back games this season, outscoring opponents 77-49. They have four more remaining, including a set on Friday against the Rangers (Braden Holtby) and Saturday in Boston (Grubauer).

Assuming Grubauer gets a minimum of four starts the rest of the way, Holtby would get a maximum of 15 chances to get the nine wins needed to break Marty Brodeur’s NHL single-season record of 48 wins.  

Unleash the fury:  The Capitals are 20-2-1 record in their last 23 games at Verizon Center and have outscored their opponents 83-50 during that span. In addition, the Caps are 26-5-2 at home this season.

MORE CAPITALS: Laich says thank you to Caps and their fans

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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.”


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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.