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Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

Now that the NHL trade deadline has passed, the NHL’s stretch run is officially set to begin.

For Barry Trotz and the Capitals, that means just one thing: Keeping the accelerator firmly pressed to the floor, despite owning the best record in the league.

“Working with a lot of purpose and understanding that we’re building our game,” Trotz said Thursday, asked about his post-deadline message to the team.

“And not back off,” he added. “Everybody [else] is getting into playoff mode, let’s make sure we’re in playoff mode. As they say, ‘Let’s not go around games, let’s go through games.’ That’ll harden us for the playoffs.”

A year ago, the Caps cruised into the postseason, going 10-6-4 in their final 20 games.

Just six of those of those games were won in regulation.

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This year’s stretch run begins with a three-game home stand that kicks off with the Devils on Thursday night. The Flyers and Stars are also slated to visit Verizon Center. All three of those teams are currently out of the playoff mix.

How the Caps perform in those games could be an indication of their collective focus.

Tom Wilson, for one, knows what he wants to see from the group.

“The hockey now is kind of taking the form that it’s going to have down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Wilson said. “As we go here, there’s going to be teams that aren’t in [the playoff race] that have younger players that are trying to establish themselves and play hard against us. We’re top of the league right now, so any team that plays us is going to be putting their best foot forth.”

“There’s really going to be no easy games, whether it’s the young guys trying to work hard and establish themselves in the league on a team that’s out, or a team that’s really trying to push for that playoff spot,” Wilson continued, “the hockey really picks up. That’s perfect for us. We’re going to embrace that and hope to keep building our game.”

Asked about finding the balance between pushing hard over the final five weeks and being fresh for the playoffs, Trotz said he doesn’t think anyone on the Caps should be at risk of burning out.

“I don’t think we’ll burn out because I don’t think we’ve had to extend our lineup all year,” he said. “In the past, I could see that for some teams [because] you’re playing your top guys heavy, heavy minutes. We haven’t done that all year. If our guys come to [the media] and say, ‘Well, I’m burnt out.’ Don’t believe them. It’s just an excuse. During the year, guys have come to me and said, ‘You know I can play more. I can play more minutes.’ And I said, ‘No, this is about the long haul.’”

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Barry Trotz explains why he believes this year's Capitals team is different

Barry Trotz explains why he believes this year's Capitals team is different

If you walked away from Washington’s Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking to yourself, “same ol’ Caps, same ol’ story,” it’s not hard to understand why. This team has not made it past the second round of the playoffs since 1998 and have beaten the rival Penguins only once in nine postseason meetings.
 
Last year’s dream season in which the Capitals were virtually uncontested through the entire season as the top team in the NHL was brought to an abrupt end in the second round at the hands of the Penguins in six games. After another Presidents’ Trophy winning season, seeing the Caps lose Game 1 to Pittsburgh at home has already left many fans feeling despondent.
 
But that’s not how the Caps feel.
 
“We're in a different place,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Friday’s practice when comparing this team to last year’s. “I think we feel that we still can build on our game.”
 
In many ways, the Capitals were actually the better team in Game 1. Washington held a large advantage in terms of shot attempts (72-32) and scoring chances (41-15) and still walked away with the loss. And yet, despite dominating on paper, Trotz still felt his team had more to give.
 
“I think last year, we came at them real hard and go, what else can we do?” Trotz said. “I don't have that feeling this year. I know we can do more, we know we can do more. That's a great thing to have is we know we can be better, we know we can do more.”
 
“I could lie to you and say that, but I’m not,” Trotz added as he stressed to the media that his confident rhetoric was not simply coach-speak.
 
Despite what happened on paper, the game appeared to be very even as it played out. The big difference seemed to be that every mistake the Caps made ended up in the back of their net.
 
Trotz’s confidence was likely not simply a brave face to wear before the media, but necessary for his players as well. If there was a feeling from last season of “What more can we do?” it would be hard to shake that feeling considering the picture the numbers paint of a dominant Caps’ performance in Game 1. The fact is, if they continue playing the way they did, they will come out on the winning end more often than not. The difference will be cleaning up those mistakes that a championship caliber teams like Pittsburgh always take advantage of.
 
All three of the goals Washington gave up in Game 1 were preventable. The first came when Matt Niskanen pinched too far into the neutral zone off the opening faceoff in the second period. A turnover led to a 2-on-1 in the wrong direction. Pittsburgh’s second goal was the result of Braden Holtby getting a glove on a slap shot from Olli Maatta but not holding onto it, leading to a rebound opportunity that Sidney Crosby finished. The third came with Brooks Orpik high in the neutral zone. A stretch pass left the defense exposed and Kevin Shattenkirk went after Scott Wilson as opposed to staying more center to account for the trailing Orpik and a wide-open Nick Bonino.
 
In terms of overall play, there’s not much more you can do if you dominate the defending Cup champs. What they can do, however, is cut out those mistakes, prevent those preventable goals and not dwell on them as they go forward in the series.
 
“I think we've learned to go forward, I think we've learned to park things and that's what the change is, that's where we wanted to get to,” Trotz said. “I don't know if we're fully there or not, but we're going in that right direction so I'm excited about the rest of the series for sure.”

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

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Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Caps Coach Barry Trotz says he’s confident Braden Holtby will rebound from a Game 1 performance that the goalie found to be lacking.

“I thought he was fine but he didn’t think he played as good as he could,” Trotz said. “But I do know this—and I’ve told you this—he is a guy that responds.”

On Friday morning, Holtby was among the first players on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex—and he quickly got to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.

In Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Holtby allowed three goals on 21 shots, including a pair on the first seven shots he faced.

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Why is Trotz so confident that Holtby will rebound? Because history says he will.

Holtby has generally responded with a strong individual performance after losses in the playoffs. In fact, he’s posted a .933 save percentage, 1.92 goals against and two shutouts in postseason games following a loss.  

“He’s going to be better tomorrow, and that’s good for us,” Trotz said.

Holtby’s Game 1 performance comes on the heels of an uneven first round for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Against Toronto, he yielded 14 goals in the first four games before locking down the Leafs in Games 5 and 6, stopping 61 of 63 shots to lead the Caps to the second round.

On Thursday night, Holtby got off to a strong start, turning back an early blitz by the Pens, including a point blank pad stop on Patric Hornqvist to keep the game scoreless. Holtby also made a critical breakaway stop on Phil Kessel–and the ensuing rebound attempt by Bryan Rust—as the Caps scrambled just after falling behind 2-0.

Overall, though, Holtby felt he could have been sharper. In particular, he said he did not like Sidney Crosby’s first goal or his execution on Nick Bonino’s third period shot that slipped between his blocker and side.

After the game, Holtby vowed that both he and the Caps would be ready for Game 2 on Saturday night.

“I don’t think we’re frustrated,” Holtby said. “We realize that we played a really strong game. I know I need to be better if we’re going to have success, and that’s basically the bottom line.”

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