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Why Caps blame themselves for loss to Penguins

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Why Caps blame themselves for loss to Penguins

Say this about the Capitals’ 3-1 Rivalry Night loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at Verizon Center: No one in the losing dressing room was sweeping mistakes under the carpet.

Not defenseman Brooks Orpik, who allowed Penguins forward Beau Bennett to go wide on him and drive hard to the net to deposit his own rebound with 1:52 gone in the third period, just 24 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps a long-awaited 1-0 lead.

“It was a pretty good hockey game up until the one shift,” Orpik said. “(Bennett) was coming late with speed. It was probably a misread on my part there, especially since something we talk about is not giving up any chances the shift after we score.”   

Not goaltender Braden Holtby, who didn’t like his rebound control on Bennett’s goal.

“He went low blocker, which is a tough spot, but that’s a save we try to eliminate the (rebound) going to the other side,” said Holtby, who stopped 22 of 24 shots to suffer his second loss. “It caught the inside of my blocker and right onto (Bennett’s) stick. It’s bad luck in some ways, but we practice to eliminate that.”

And not head coach Barry Trotz,  who acknowledged he was not clear in his communication with Holtby when, with just under 2 minutes remaining in regulation and the Caps down by a goal, he pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, only to see Nick Bonino flip the puck into the unguarded net just as Holtby arrived at the bench door.

MORE CAPITALS: ANALYSIS FROM WASHINGTON'S LOSS TO PITTSBURGH

Both Trotz and Holtby reacted angrily after the goal, with Trotz slamming his notepad and Holtby slamming his stick

“I didn’t communicate that well,” Trotz said. “I was looking down the ice and I thought I was waving him (onto the bench). I told the guys that’s on me. I’ve got to communicate that better.”

Holtby pointed out it was the first time this season the Caps have had to pull their goalie and that it would be corrected before Friday night’s game against Columbus.

“Yeah, I think we just got a little crossed up,” Holtby said. “There was quite a while without a whistle and it kind of snuck up on us. It’s the first time we’ve been in that situation this year so we’ll learn not to make that mistake again and be more clear on listening to instructions.”

As for the Penguins’ game-winning goal by Phil Kessel with 3:49 gone in the third period, a play in which Evgeny Malkin avoided a stick check by Caps fourth-line center Chandler Stephenson to find Kessel in front of the net for his second straight game-winner, Trotz said he wasn't pleased.

“Not much, really,” Trotz said when asked what he thought of his fourth line of Stephenson (minus-1), Brooks Laich (even) and Andre Burakovsky (minus-2). “They gave us maybe two decent shifts. They’ve got to be better for us. That’s not good enough.”

With all that said, the Caps did throw 34 shots at Marc-Andre Fleury, only to see him deny Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson twice each on the doorstep, and Alex Ovechkin five times.

The much-hyped Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry was pretty much a dud, with neither player factoring in the scoring. 

In 22:27 of ice time, Ovechkin recorded five shots, had five more blocked and one miss the net, delivered four hits and was a minus-1. Crosby saw 18:21 in ice time, recorded four shots, had one blocked, won 18 of 26 faceoffs and was even on the plus-minus sheet.

Backstrom, who along with Jay Beagle helped keep Crosby off the scoresheet, said the Caps could have had a different result if they were better against Fleury.

“We didn’t capitalize on our chances," Backstrom said. We had a 1-0 lead and we should have done something better with it. Sometimes I thought we were sloppy in the neutral zone, the passes weren’t there. That’s something we have to be better at.”

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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