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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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Prediction recap: Caps pull out narrow Metropolitan Division win

Prediction recap: Caps pull out narrow Metropolitan Division win

The Caps earned two critical points to increase their lead in the Metropolitan Division race thanks to a 2-1 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Here’s a recap of the three bold predictions for the game.

1. Neither team will score on the power play - Correct

Columbus had no power play opportunities until the third period when the Caps took two penalties. The Blue Jackets, however, failed to cash in. Washington, meanwhile, had three opportunities for the game, but was held off the board.

RELATED: Shootout practice pays off for Caps

2. Washington will score at least three goals - Wrong

Sergei Bobrovsky looked every bit the Vezina contender as he turned aside a season-high 44 shots he faced limiting the Caps to only one goal. Good thing Washington has Braden Holtby. Holtby matched Bobrovsky by giving up only one goal for the game.

3. Brett Connolly, Lars Eller or Andre Burakovsky will score - Wrong

The third line had its worst game since Burakovsky’s return showing the J.J. curse is alive and well.

2017 Results: Like both Columbus and Pittsburgh, I earned a point on Thursday but failed to gain any ground.

Correct: 36
Wrong: 64.5
Push: 3

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Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

On Monday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz dedicated a portion of practice to working on the shootout.

Why?

A couple of reasons: The Caps haven’t been good at them this season and that extra point might just come in handy given how tight the standings have become.

On Thursday night, that extra work paid off in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Blue Jackets.

RELATED: Caps put distance between them and divisional foes

With the win, the Caps improved to 2-5 in games decided by the skills competition. More important, though, it helped Washington grow its lead over Pittsburgh and Columbus to two and three standings points, respectively, with nine games left to play.

“Winning in a shootout, which we have not been good at all year, Holts was the guy,” Trotz said, referring to Braden Holtby, who had not won a shootout in five tries. “That was great. That extra point might be huuuge. It might be absolutely huge.”

Of the practice, Trotz said: “It’s paying dividends. We’re working on parts of our game that we need to make sure that we are good at.”

The Caps’ leading scorer and penalty shot specialist, T.J. Oshie, scored the only goal in the shootout. In the 2014 Sochi Games, Oshie beat Bobrovsky four times in penalty shots to lift the United States over Russia. Three times he went 5-hole.

“I thought about it for five seconds, maybe,” Oshie said Thursday night. “I was going to come in and do something different from what I remembered. I saw something different and decided to go 5-hole.”

Oshie added: “I felt pretty fortunate, and luckily that’s the only one we needed because Holts shut the door on the other end.”

Holtby, meantime, made saves on both of the Columbus attempts that were on goal. Another missed the net.

Afterward, the veteran goalie credited the extra work on Monday. In that practice session, Trotz asked Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams to take two shots each on Holtby, who was watched closely by the coaching staff.

“We worked on it a little bit,” Holtby said. “It’s something that I try not to fiddle around with too much because I don’t want it creeping into my regular game because a breakaway is totally different than a shootout. But with the race getting pretty close, [in case we had] another one, we worked on it a couple of days ago in practice to try and get a little better at that for the stretch run.”

And they did get a little better at it. And just at the right time.

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