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Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

When the Caps traded for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, that meant someone else would be coming out of the lineup to make room. That player became Nate Schmidt. Now thrust back into duty for Washington, Schmidt is making it very hard for head coach Barry Trotz to scratch him again.

“Nate's come in and played very, very well," Trotz said. "His ability to get up ice, his ability to skate, he's done a really good job. So yeah, we do have a little bit of an interesting scenario here.”

Schmidt came back into the Caps’ lineup after Shattenkirk was suspended two games for a high hit delivered to Kevin Gravel of the Los Angeles Kings. Schmidt has been outstanding in those two games and scored Washington’s first goal of the game against Minnesota, just his second goal of the season.

RELATED: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

With Shattenkirk set to return to the lineup now that his two-game suspension is up, it was originally assumed Schmidt would find himself as a healthy scratch again.

According to Trotz, however, that may not be the case.

“He stepped in and is making our decisions tougher,” Trotz said. “I think that's an outstanding thing.”

It says a lot about a player when he can step back into the lineup after getting replaced and play as well as Schmidt has. That will no doubt raise his esteem in the eyes of the coaches.

But who will he play for? The answer is not Shattenkirk.

“I think we're going to have to get Shattenkirk in,” Trotz said. “There's no question. I'm not going to keep him out. We've got to get him playing the way we need him to play and he's had a couple days off here.”

It’s important to get Shattenkirk as much playing time as possible as he continues to adjust to the team. Plus, the Capitals showed just how much having a left-right balance on each defensive pair means to the team with what they were willing to give up to get him. Should Schmidt, a lefty, remain in the lineup for Thursday’s game, that then means it will most likely be in place of another left-shot defensemen: Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, or Karl Alzner.

It certainly is an interesting Schmidtuation.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin ends 10-game goal drought

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Penguins fans swarm around Verizon Center to celebrate Game 2 victory over Capitals

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Twitter: @MattBrooksWP

Penguins fans swarm around Verizon Center to celebrate Game 2 victory over Capitals

The Capitals won the President's Trophy, but they can't defeat the narrative against Pittsburgh. The Caps fell 6-2 in Game 2 against Pittsburgh to fall behind 2-0 in the series.

So, that happend. Just a swarm of Pittsburgh fans celebrating on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery across the street on the from the home of the Capitals. 

The Caps will head to Pittsburgh down 2-0 looking to turn things around.

MORE CAPITALS: AFTER A HOT START, CAPITALS GET DOMINATED BY PENGUINS

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Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps drop second at home to Penguins

Hot start turns into disastrous finish as Caps drop second at home to Penguins

Final score: Washington Capitals 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 6

How it happened: The Caps thoroughly domianted the first period in just about every category, but were unable to get a goal past Marc-Andre Fleury through the first 20 minutes. Matt Cullen opened the scoring with a shorthanded breakaway in the second period, but Matt Niskanen scored on the same penalty to tie it at 1. Then things went off the rails.

Sidney Crosby tallied two pretty assists to set up the Penguins' next two goals — one from Phil Kessel, another from Jake Guentzel — as they took a 3-1 lead after the second period. Philipp Grubauer came on in relief of Braden Holtby to start the third period, but it made little difference as Kessel scored his second of the night just 2:19 into the third. Nicklas Backstrom scored soon after to keep the Caps somewhat in the game, but Evgeni Malkin added another Pittsburgh tally to increase the lead to three again.

What it means: The Caps now find themselves in a massive hole after dropping both of their games in Washington. Not only are they down 2-0, the series now shifts to Pittsburgh for two games where they have not won a game all season. Teams that lose the first two games at home to start a series have an all-time record of 18-69.

Goals

Penguins goal: Matt Cullen (shorthanded) at 1:15 in the 2nd. Kevin Shattenkirk fired a shot from the point that was blocked by Cullen. The puck trickled to the neutral zone with both Shattenkirk and Cullen fighting for position. Cullen won that battle, chipping the puck past Shattenkirk for the breakaway. Despite getting hooked by Shattenkirk, Cullen was able to tuck the puck through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. Caps 0, Penguins 1

Caps goal: Matt Niskanen (power play) from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin at 2:09 in the 2nd. The Caps entered the offensive zone and went to the corner where all four penalty killers followed. Niskanen saw a wide open net in front of him and snuck into the slot. Once Backstrom won the puck out of the corner, he passed back to Ovechkin who immediately passed to Niskanen for the wide-open one-timer. Caps 1, Penguins 1

Penguins goal: Phil Kessel from Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel at 13:04 in the 2nd. Guentzel made a neutral zone pass to a streaking Crosby that came in a bit behind him so Crosby used his stick to tap the puck between his own legs to gain possession. As the Caps collapsed on him, he passed to an open Kessel who roofed the shot past Holtby. Caps 1, Penguins 2

Penguins goal: Jake Guentzel from Sidney Crosby at 16:14 in the 2nd. A Justin Williams shot was blocked by Crosby who then dove to tap the puck to Guentzel for the breakout and the 2-on-1. Guentzel skated in and called his own number firing a wrister that beat Holtby cleanly. Caps 1, Penguins 3

Penguins goal: Phil Kessel (power play) from Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin at 2:19 in the 3rd. The Penguins cycled the puck on the power play until Kessel decided to fire a shot from the faceoff circle that snuck in underneath the pads of Grubauer and in. Caps 1, Penguins 4

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom from Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie at 3:44 in the 3rd. The Caps broke into the Penguins' zone on the odd-man rush. Ovechkin's initial shot was saved by Fleury, but Backstrom crashed the net for the open rebound. Caps 2, Penguins 4

Penguins goal: Evgeni Malkin from Phil Kessel and Ian Cole at 5:31 in the 3rd. A wrister from the point from Cole deflected took a couple of deflection before hitting off the stick of Malkin and into the net. It was originaly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie, but it was called a good goal for Malkin after a coach's challenge as the contact occurred well before the goal. Caps 2, Penguins 5

Penguins goal: Jake Guentzel (empty net) from Matt Cullen finished off the Caps with 43 seconds left.  Caps 2, Penguins 6

3 Caps stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom: Backstrom assisted Niskanen's goal for the quick response to make it 1-1. He then added a goal of his own to make the score 4-2 and at least give some hope that the Caps would be able to make a third period comeback.

2. Matt Niskanen: That was a heads up play by Niskanen to realize the penalty killersr were all in the corner. He was up very high in the offensive zone, but with no defenders in the same stratosphere as him, it was the right call and it lead to a goal.

3. Lars Eller: The third line was the Caps' best in the first period. Eller also won 10 of the 12 faceoffs he took for the game.

Look ahead: The series now shifts to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday. Game 5 will be in Washington on Saturday if it is necessary.

MORE CAPITALS: BRADEN HOLTBY BENCHED

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