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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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Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

Defense optional as Caps handed 8-5 loss in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks handed the Capitals their fifth straight loss on Sunday in an ugly 8-5 defeat. All five of Washington's goals came from defensemen as the team's top forwards continued to struggle.

Here are five reasons the Caps lost.

Missed early opportunities

The game got off to a great start. Tom Wilson fed Jakub Vrana in the middle for a great early opportunity and Lars Eller had another shot with the rebound. Washington also got a power play less than two minutes into the game and was brilliant with the setup, keeping the puck in the zone for the full two minutes and getting a number of high-quality opportunities.

But they didn’t score and that soon loomed very large.

Brandon Saad put Chicago on the board 6:36 into the first and Patrick Kane scored 80 seconds later to make it 2-0, thus erasing the Caps’ strong start.

The goals have been hard to come by for the Caps so when they had the opportunity to take the early lead, they absolutely had to finish. They didn’t and the game got away from them as a result.

A bad play by Madison Bowey

Bowey will be cringing at the replay of the Saad goal for a while. Saad broke the puck out of the defensive zone and carried it into the neutral zone. Bowey had a bead on him until Saad cut to the center. Suddenly Bowey was caught flat footed. He reached for Saad with a weak stick check which Saad easily fought through with no real resistance and he was in on net. He finished the play with the game’s first goal.

 An own-goal

This was really the moment when you realized this was not going to be a good day for Washington.

Down 2-0, Brooks Orpik managed to sneak a softy through goalie Colin Delia to make it 2-1. Just 28 seconds later, however, bad luck struck the Caps yet again.

Dmitry Orlov and Jonathan Toews battled for the puck right in front of the crease and it bounced into he air. Orlov swiped at it with his glove to try to clear it from danger, but instead knocked it right over Holtby and into the net. The own goal made it 3-1 and signaled that Washington was in for a long day.

An ill-advised penalty

This game felt like it quickly was getting out of hand. Somehow, however, the Caps managed to keep things close. Dmitry Orlov snuck another squeaker through Delia in the second and John Carlson fired a one-timer early in the third to make the score 4-3. All of a sudden, the Caps had signs of life. With all the momentum on their side, however, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for hooking Toews just 23 seconds later.

You could tell what was about to happen.

Sure enough, Kane scored 13 seconds into the power play to restore the Blackhawks’ two-goal lead.

The Toews hat trick

Once again, Washington tried to battle back. Matt Niskanen scored with just over six minutes remaining in the game, the fifth goal from a Caps’ defenseman, to pull the score to 6-5. Toews provided the coffin nail just over a minute later with an absolutely brutal play on Orlov.

Toews entered the offensive zone and Orlov took an awful approach. Toews finessed the puck right in front of Orlov which he should have been able to easily sweep away. Instead, he whiffed completely allowing Toews to regain the puck, step past Orlov and fired it under the pad and into the net.

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Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

Devante Smith-Pelly named a starter in return to Chicago after ugly racial taunts

The top line for the Capitals on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks is Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, but the starting lineup is Ovechkin, Backstrom and Devante Smith-Pelly. Why the change?

It all has to do with the last time the Caps visited Chicago nearly a year ago.

On Feb. 17, 2018, Washington went into the United Center and were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1. But that wasn’t the ugliest thing to happen that night.

While sitting in the penalty box, Devante Smith-Pelly faced racial taunts from some Chicago fans who began chanting “basketball, basketball” at him.

In the wake of the incident, Smith-Pelly handled himself about as gracefully as one could. So, in the team’s return to Chicago Sunday, head coach Todd Reirden felt he should be on the ice for the national anthem.

According to Pierre McGuire during the game broadcast, the idea came from Oshie himself, who advocated that Smith-Pelly start in his place.

The starters traditionally stand on the ice for the anthem while the rest of the players stand at the bench.

Smith-Pelly has remained active against racism in the sport. He and teammate John Carlson invited a youth hockey team whose lone African-American player had faced racial taunts during a game to the Caps’ game on Monday.

Sunday’s move by Reirden is a classy tribute to Smith-Pelly who handled an ugly situation about as well as one could. 

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