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Bye week grades: Special teams

Bye week grades: Special teams

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they take a look at the special teams.

El-Bashir: The Caps’ power play is fourth in the NHL through 56 games, connecting at an impressive 22.1-percent. The penalty kill, meantime, sits third at 84.5-percent. 

Let’s start with the power play. 

It got off to a disappointing start after finishing fifth last season (21.9). How bad did it get? From opening night through Dec. 1—a span of 22 games—Alex Ovechkin-led unit slipped as far as 25th, having converted just 14.3-percent of its man advantages.

Those days, however, seem like so long ago. The unit suffered some fits and starts throughout the rest of December but in the end, the Caps’ skill (plus some minor scheme tweaks on both units) won out. Now? The unit has reclaimed its position as a persistent threat after dominating since the calendar flipped to 2017. In fact, from Jan. 1 through Wednesday’s games, a span of 21 games, Ovechkin and Co. have the best percentage (32.7) in the league.

The Caps have fewer power play goals through the same number of games last year. But they’ve more players with at least one goal—12 players vs. 9—and they’re getting a bit more out of the second unit.  

The penalty kill, on the other hand, has been a bit steadier. With the exception of a rough patch from Jan. 16 – Feb. 1, a forgettable span that saw the unit yield a power play goal against seven times in eight games, the Jay Beagle-led unit has been among the most reliable aspects of the Caps’ game.

Since that hiccup, the penalty kill has corrected its issues (in short, Trotz said the unit had become too passive) and has snuffed out 13 of 14 shorthanded situations over the past five games. 

Why is the PK especially important for the Caps? They still take too many penalties. In fact, since Jan 1., they’ve taken more minors (82) than any other club.  

Overall, the penalty kill deserves an ‘A+.’ The power play, however, gets downgraded a bit because of its (really) rough start. 

Grade:  A-

RELATED: 5 things to know about Tom Gilbert

Regan: The overall numbers are good as the Caps boast the fourth-best power play at 22.1-percent and the third-best penalty kill at 84.5-percent. But those numbers hide inconsistencies from both units.

The power play really struggled at the start of the season, falling to 25th in the NHL at the start of December. The unit has suffered goalless streaks of five and six games this season. In three different games, the Caps have had six power play opportunities. Of those 18 opportunities, the power play has scored only once.

The Caps’ recent hot streak has also masked some of the team’s struggles with the penalty kill. The PK unit gave up at least one goal in six straight games from mid-January to the start of February.

But really, the biggest problem for Washington happens before the penalty kill begins. This team is taking too many penalties. Only five teams in the NHL have been shorthanded more times this season than the Caps. Surprisingly, that number is worse at home where the Caps have been shorthanded the third most times in the entire league.

When you look at the stats and see Washington near the top of the league in both power play and penalty kill, it’s easy to assume there are no problems there and for the most part, there’s not. Despite the early struggles, I’m not concerned with an Alex Ovechkin led power play and Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik have proven to be one of the most formidable penalty kill pairs in the NHL. The problem for both the power play and the penalty kill is a weak second unit.

Take it from me. As someone who has seen how much this team focuses on the power play and penalty kill in practice, seen how many times they change the personnel of the second units and heard how much Barry Trotz talks about penalties after games and practices, special teams is an area in which the Caps are still looking to improve.

Grade: B+

MORE CAPITALS: Bye week grades: goaltending

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Capitals vs. Penguins: Game 2 time, TV channel, how to watch, live stream

Capitals vs. Penguins: Game 2 time, TV channel, how to watch, live stream

The Capitals trail the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 in their best of seven series after a tight 3-2 loss in Game 1 on Thursday. With two games in Pittsburgh on the horizon, Washington will look to pull one back in a critical Game 2 at home on Saturday.

Expect the officials to be more of a factor in Game 2. There were only two power play opportunities in Game 1 and they both went against the Caps. The team tried hard not to voice their displeasure atter the game, but it was clear they were not happy.

Braden Holtby managed only 18 saves on 21 shots in Thursday's loss. He took responsibility for what he felt was a poor performance and will look to bounce back in Game 2. History suggests he will have a strong night.

Despite the 1-0 deficit to Washington's hated rival, it is still far too early to panic. Not only is it a long best of seven series, but head coach Barry Trotz believes this year's team is different from the one that was unable to defeate Pittsburgh a year ago.

RELATED: CAPITALS vs. PENGUINS PLAYOFF PREVIEW

CAPITALS VS. PENGUINS GAME 2 HOW TO WATCH

Who: Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
What: Game 2 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Second Round
When: 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 29
Where: Verizon Center
Online Stream: NBCSN's live stream page. Watch Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. and Caps Extra following the game with CSN's live stream page here.
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Radio: 1500 AM (Capitals Radio Network)

RELATED: STANLEY CUP POWER RANKINGS

WHEN IS CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2?

The Capitals and Penguins square off in Game 2 of their 2017 second-round playoff series on Saturday, April 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

WHAT CHANNEL IS CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2 ON?

Game 2 of the Capitals-Penguins series will be broadcast on NBC and CBC in Canada.

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2?

Capitals-Penguins Game 2 is available to stream live here through NBCSN's live stream page. Caps GameTime and Caps Extra pre and postgame shows are available to stream live here through CSN's live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE LINES FOR CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2?

Here are the projected lines for Capitals-Penguins Game 2:

CAPITALS

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Daniel Winnik - Jay Beagle - Brett Connolly

Defense
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Kevin Shattenkirk

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Chandler Stephenson, Paul Carey, Karl Alzner, Taylor Chorney

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS GAME 1 LINES

Forwards
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Scott Wilson - Nick Bonino - Conor Sheary
Chris Kunitz - Matt Cullen - Tom Kuhnhackl

Defense
Ian Cole - Justin Schultz
Brian Dumoulin - Ron Hainsey
Olli Maatta - Trevor Daley

Goalies
Marc-Andre Fleury starts with Tristan Jarry as backup

Scratches
Carl Hagelin, Carter Rowney, Mark Streit, Chad Ruhwedel, Matt Murray

RELATED: 2017 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2 BETTING LINES

Stanley Cup Odds: Capitals 7/2 (+350), Penguins 17/4 (+425)
Game 2 Spread: Capitals -1.5
Game 2 Over/Under: 5.5 goals
Game 2 Money Line: Capitals (-150), Penguins (+120)

CAPITALS-PENGUINS GAME 2 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

CSN ON TWITTER:
— CSN's official Capitals account CSN Capitals 
— Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir
— Capitals Digital Producer JJ Regan
— Capitals Desk Producer Troy Machir

Be sure to check out CSN's Facebook page, and CSN's Instagram account

Keep up with all the action here with Capitals GameZone and join in on the conversation here with Capitals Pulse.

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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