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How a bad line change cost the Caps in overtime loss to Predators

How a bad line change cost the Caps in overtime loss to Predators

For much of the game Thursday, the Capitals looked like the better team than their opponent, the Nashville Predagors. But the Predators were able to force overtime and one mistake ended up giving them the win over the home team.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was on the ice at the start of the overtime period. After about a full minute, he tried to make the quick change, but there was just one problem: Nashville still had the puck.

“The 3-on-3, if the other team possesses the puck, especially if they're standing in the neutral zone, you can't change,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “They're just waiting for you to go to the box and then they're passing it. It's an automatic 2-on-1. … The change ended up creating a 2-on-1. It's the decision to change that created the chance.”

Predators forward Ryan Johansen had the puck in the Caps’ offensive zone, but retreated to the neutral zone when he saw he had no room to work with. He skated near the boards on the side opposite of the benches.

At this point, about one minute had elapsed in overtime. Kuznetsov had been on the ice the entire time.

RELATED: Caps fall to Preds in OT, lose fifth of last six

An average NHL shift is about 45 seconds long. One minute of ice time in 3-on-3 with more space to work with will tire you out pretty quick. With Johansen in the neutral zone away from the benches, Kuznetsov made a break for it to try to make a quick change leaving the left side of the ice wide open.

“When you have the puck, especially 3-on-3, it's all about possession and decisions,” Trotz said. “When you don't have it, you have to be positionally sound and you have to be patient and you can't make poor decisions.”

With Ovechkin skating in pursuit of Johansen and Kuznetsov on his way to the bench, that left two Nashville players wide open with nothing but John Carlson between them and the net. Johansen made the pass to Viktor Arvidsson who skated in behind Ovechkin and the break was on. Kuznetsov immediately turned around before he reached the bench and skated in pursuit, but by then it was too late. You can see the full play in the video above.

Braden Holtby said after the game that he and Carlson “got a little crossed up” leading to Carlson leaning a bit too far towards P.K. Subban who was on the rush and leaving Arvidsson too much room to shoot. Arvidsson took advantage.

But when caught on a 2-on-1, there’s only so much the goalie and defenseman can do. The play that triggered the situation was a poor decision by Kuznetsov who tried to make a break for the bench when the Predators still possessed the puck.

Said Trotz, “We made an in-between decision, they capitalize on it and we're sitting here with one less point than we feel that we could have.”

MORE CAPITALS: Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

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Caps make 17 cuts Sunday, pare roster to 36

The Capitals have made another significant round of cuts, reassigning 16 players to AHL Hershey and releasing another.

Among the players headed to the Bears are: forwards John Albert, Mathias Bau, Chris Bourque, Dustin Gazley, Hampus Gustafsson, Tim McGauley, Garrett Mitchell, Mason Mitchell and Wayne Simpson; defensemen Kristofers Bindulis, Connor Hobbs, Tommy Hughes, Lucas Johansen, Hubert Labrie; and goalies Adam Carlson and Vitek Vanecek.

The club also released forward Stephen Collins.

The highest profile cuts were Johansen, the team's first round pick in 2016, and Hobbs. The Caps have high hopes for the young blue liners, but it’s obvious both will benefit from some seasoning in the minor leagues as they make the leap from junior to the pro ranks.

Hershey’s training opens on Monday.

After taking Sunday off, the Caps will return to practice on Monday with a roster of 36 players—and three preseason games left to sort out the position battles.  

Forwards Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Liam O’Brien, Anthony Peluso, Zach Sill, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana and Nathan Walker are left battling for the three available jobs up front.

Meanwhile, defensemen Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Jyrki Jokipakka, Tyler Lewington, Aaron Ness, Jonas Siegenthaler and Colby Williams are competing for the two open spots on the backend.

Although some players, such as Chiasson and Walker, have already begun to separate themselves from the others, you can expect the competition to intensify over the next week. The Caps host the Devils on Wednesday, then play at the Hurricanes on Friday and at the Blues on Sunday.

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Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Did Barry Trotz show us what his fourth line will be to start the season?

Barry Trotz likes to play his cards close to the vest. With roster battles and lineup holes surrounding the team, there are plenty of questions for the Caps that need answering this preseason. If you look at how Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes ended, however, he may have given us at least one answer.

At the start of the game, Jay Beagle centered a line with Devante Smith-Pelly and Wayne Simpson on his wings. By the end of the game, Nathan Walker was playing on the left with Beagle at center and Smith-Pelly on the right.

"Walker was giving us some energy, he was giving us some speed and I just made that flip," Trotz told reporters after the game. "I just thought Walks was starting to make things happen. His speed was noticeable, his will on the puck if you will was really good. I thought that'd be a good fit. I just moved him over there and I thought he had an effect on the game."

Could that have been a preview of the team's fourth line?

RELATED: CHIASSON, WALKER MAKE THEIR CASE TO MAKE THE TEAM

Walker turned in another tremendous performance showing great energy, speed and grit. Despite being 5-foot-8, he still remains a feisty player who could be found at the center of every scrum. He exchanged hits and jabs with the 6-foot-3 Klas Dahlbeck multiple times throughout the game and even drew a penalty on the Carolina defenseman as he drove the net after managing to slip away from a hit along the boards.

"He's one of those hard guys to play against because ... they're on you all the time," Trotz said. "When you can affect the opposition and take them out of their game because the way you play, then you're pretty effective."

That brings us back to the lines. The Caps have not one, but two openings on the fourth line to play alongside Beagle. The fact that Trotz put Walker and Smith-Pelly on that line, two players fighting for a spot in the lineup, could be a preview of what the fourth line may ultimately look like to start the season.

That would be just fine with Beagle.

"It's fun to play with a guy who brings that much energy," Beagle said of Walker. "He's always had that energy and he's always been a little guy who grinds it out and isn't afraid to get in there and get in the corners and wins a lot of battles. He's awesome to play with. He's a lot of fun."

At this point, given how he has played in his two preseason games, it is hard to see how Walker does not make the roster. His energy and style are a perfect fit for what the Caps need on their fourth line. He would be an excellent compliment to Beagle and that has not escaped Trotz's notice.

"I think they might enjoy playing together, but they're effective together," Trotz said. "They get on the puck, they work you over and they tire you out. I'll tell you that."

With other players such as Alex Chiasson, Riley Barber and Anthony Peluso still vying to make the team, it is still too early to tell if this is definitively what the fourth line will look like, but the trio certainly made their case.

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