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6 keys to a Caps' win in Game 7

6 keys to a Caps' win in Game 7

And so we’ve come to this. Game 7. The Capitals have forced the Pittsburgh Penguins into a winner take all showdown on Wednesday in Verizon. Here are six keys to Wednesday’s Game 7 for the Caps:

1. Score first

The team to score first has won five of six games this series and it’s not hard to figure out why. Both teams have looked completely different when playing from behind. Pittsburgh’s offense is a quick strike, counteroffensive team that likes turning mistakes into odd man rushes and their speed makes those counters lethal. The problem is, at least in this series, the Penguins’ offense has seemingly become dependent on those counters. That’s okay if you’re ahead, but it is difficult to come back from when trailing especially given Washington’s overwhelming shot advantage. That’s when those possession stats really start to matter. As for the Caps, they are a much stronger team when they are patient with the puck. As soon as they start to trail, their shot selection deteriorates as they start firing the puck on net from everywhere as opposed to setting up better opportunities. If you need even more convincing, here's an important stat: The team that scores first in Game 7 is 124-42 all-time including a 5-0 mark in 2016.

RELATED: Making sense of the Crosby concussion saga

2. Avoid 4-on-4

Saying “take fewer penalties” is about as profound as saying “score more than the Penguins,” but for the Caps they need to need to be as disciplined as possible not just to avoid giving up power plays, but also so they can avoid going 4-on-4. Despite all their skill, Washington is horrible when it comes to 4-on-4 play. Through the regular season and the playoffs combined, the Caps have scored only once at 4-on-4. How many goals have they given up? Six, including two on the same penalty in Game 6 on Monday. Washington needs to go into Game 7 with the mentality that matching minors are as dangerous as giving up a power play and avoid it at all costs.

3. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov must produce

Everyone knows how good Alex Ovechkin is and the Penguins will do everything they can to stifle him offensively, but in Washington’s three wins this series, two other players have proven to be critical. In the Caps’ three wins, Backstrom has three goals and two assists. In the Caps’ three losses, he has only one goal and one assist and was held scoreless in two of those games. Similarly, Kuznetsov has tallied two goals and three assists in three wins this series and only two goals in three losses.

4. Braden Holtby must outplay Marc-Andre Fleury

In all three of Washington’s wins, Holtby has outplayed his Pittsburgh counterpart. Far too much blame was being put on Holtby’s shoulders early in the series for the Caps’ struggles. There’s not much a goalie can do against 2-on-1s and breakaways. The problem wasn’t that Holtby was playing poorly, but he wasn’t stealing any games for the Caps either. Sometimes you need those big saves to spark the team. That was definitely the case in Game 5. Just as the noose began to tighten in the third period, Holtby came up with a few key saves and suddenly Washington went from facing elimination to a 4-2 win.

 5. Get better quality shots

The shot disparity between the two teams has been a topic of conversation throughout. When the Caps fell to 3-1 after four games, many were left scratching their heads wondering how could Washington be outshooting Pittsburgh so badly and yet still be losing the series? The answer is poor shot selection. Not all shots are created equal. While Barry Trotz has stressed getting net-front presence, that doesn’t mean just firing shots from the blue line through traffic. Let’s face it, those shots are more likely to get blocked before they ever reach Fleury than they are to get on net. One of the major factors in Washington’s turnaround to this point has been better shot selection. In the three games Pittsburgh has won, the Penguins blocked over 28 shots per game. In the three games the Caps have won, the Penguins blocked only 17 shots per game. That is a clear indication of better shot selection from Washington. They are being more selective, more patient and getting better quality shots.

6. Stay loose

When the Caps went down 3-1, Trotz stressed to the media that he wanted to see more joy in his team’s game. The players all talked about the need to stay loose. You can see the results. Facing elimination and with everyone already chalking this series up as yet another playoff failure for the Caps, Washington had nothing to lose in Games 5 and 6. They played loose and started enjoying themselves and you could see it in their play. After winning two games and reaching Game 7 at Verizon Center, however, now there is something to lose. The Capitals cannot let the pressure change the way they have played the last two games. They need to stay loose, stay aggressive and not play tentatively. That’s when the Penguins take control.

MORE CAPITALS: Did Malkin guarantee a Game 7 win for Pittsburgh?

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

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What Caps prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is doing to show he's ready for roster spot

Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Capitals' informal practices on Monday morning in an effort to get a head start on what figures to be a critical couple of months for the 20-year-old.

When training camp opens in mid-September, he'll be one of a handful of bubble players and prospects battling for two openings on Washington's blue line, if you count the spare. Even for those who don’t make the cut out of camp, it’s a chance to establish their spot in the pecking order for early-season call-ups.

Siegenthaler says he’s ready and looking forward to the competition.

“You work hard even more in the summer if you know [there are jobs available],” he said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “And, obviously, every young guy knows that. I think every guy will get in great shape and do everything for the spot. And at the end, the better one will get a spot.”

“It’s going to be a hard battle,” the 2015 second-rounder added, “and I’m excited to accept that challenge.”

RELATED: Previewing the 2017-18 Metro Division

Siegenthaler is the first of the young defensemen to join the Caps’ informal offseason skates, having arrived from Zurich a few days ago. He wanted to get here early for a couple of reasons: to work out at the team’s top-notch facility and to show everyone how serious he is about earning a spot next month. A year ago, Siegenthaler did not get the chance to play in a preseason game.

“It’s a great opportunity to train here with Nemo,” Siegenthaler said, referring to Washington’s strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish. “I can get used to it and be more ready for camp. I’m trying everything to set my goals high — that’s why I’m here.”

He continued: “I want to show them that I want to play here. I think’s a pretty good sign. I think I’m ready.”

Coach Barry Trotz and his assistants, of course, will ultimately determine whether he’s ready — or at least how close he is to being ready based on camp and the preseason.

Siegenthaler, a left shot who is listed by the Caps at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, said he worked diligently with his personal off-ice coach in Switzerland this summer to improve his explosiveness. He also said he focused on building more upper body strength — another area the staff asked him to address following a solid showing at development camp in June.

“My skating, especially my quickness — it was my weakness over years and years,” Siegenthaler said. “I’m still working on it. You never can get to 100 percent, but you want the highest percentage [possible]. I will be working on quickness my whole career. I think that’s normal. I see improvements right now, and I hope I can improve more [before] camp and over the season.”

Another area where Trotz and company will want to see improvement from Siegenthaler will be his comfort level on smaller North American rink. It takes time, and he’s appeared in just 18 regular season and playoff games for the Bears over the past two seasons.

“It’s another game from Europe,” he said. “In Switzerland, the rink was bigger and you have more time. I need to get in my mind that you can’t always look for a beautiful [outlet] pass, or good pass. Sometimes it’s got to be a chip out with the boards.”

If he’s got to work his way up the ladder, he indicated that he’s ready to do whatever it takes. That said, his focus over the few weeks is going to be a singular one: earning a spot on the Caps’ roster.

“Everything is going to happen quicker, so I got to be ready,” he said. “But I think I am. We’ll see at camp.”

MORE CAPITALS: Devante Smith-Pelly on the list of top 25 most important players

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Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Results: 36-31-15 (87 points). Seventh in division, 12th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Justin Williams, F Josh Jooris, G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Marcus Kruger

Notable departures: F Jay McClement, G Eddie Lack

2017-18 Hurricanes analysis and prediction: Carolina is arguably the most improved team this offseason and also return a stong, young core. The most important move was the trade for goalie Scott Darling. The Hurricanes were ranked 26th in team save percentage last season. If Darling can provide consistency in net, that will be a huge boost. Carolina finished last season eight points out of the playoffs. Even with some questions on offense, they can easily make up that gap with the improvements they made. 

Team: New Jersey Devils

2016-17 Results: 28-40-17 (70 points). Eighth in division, 16th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Nico Hischier, F Brian Boyle, F Marcus Johansson

Notable departures: F Michael Cammalleri, D Mirco Mueller, D Jon Merrill

2017-18 Devils analysis and prediction: After years of looking like they had no direction, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey. The Devils improved tremendously on offense with Nico Hischier, the top overall draft pick, and Marcus Johansson. Did they do enough to end their five-year playoff drought? Probably not, but they did take a big step in the right direction.

Team: New York Islanders

2016-17 Results: 41-29-12 (94 points). Fifth in division, 9th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Jordan Eberle

Notable departures: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Travis Hamonic, F Ryan Strome

2017-18 Islanders analysis and prediction: After firing Jack Capuano midseason, the Islanders went 24-12 under Doug Weight. They then proceeded to do little to help him in the offseason. Jordan Eberle is a solid addition and their three-goalie headache is now solved thanks to J.F. Berube going to Vegas. But this is a team that did not make the playoffs last year and did very little to improve, banking instead on their prospects being able to contribute enough to get them over the edge. To go with the concerns on the ice, there is also a major concern off of it as they will have to deal with the headache of John Tavares nearing free agency without an extension. The noise surrounding Tavares' status will only get louder as the season goes on. Can they compete for a playoff spot? Sure, but they will ultimately be watching the postseason from home.

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