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Sunday skate: Capitals' Semin demoted

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Sunday skate: Capitals' Semin demoted

NEW YORK News and notes from Sundays 11 a.m. practice at Madison Square Garden:

Semin demoted: It may be just a one-day slap on the wrist, but right wing Alex Semin practiced on a fourth line with Keith Aucoin and Mike Knuble.

Semin was one of the Capitals best two-way forwards in the first-round series against the the Bruins and led the team with three goals. But he took two ill-advised penalties, including a retaliatory love tap to the back of Ryan Callahans legs that felled him like a cherry tree.

With Semin on the fourth line, Joel Ward moved onto a checking line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks. The top line had Brooks Laich between Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer and the second line had Nicklas Backstrom between Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera.

Schultz back in?: Jeff Schultz practiced alongside defense partner Dennis Wideman , which could mean hell replace John Erskine in the lineup for Monday nights Game 2.

Erskine played just 8:17 on Saturday and was even with one shot and one hit. Schultz has no points and is a minus-4 in four playoff games. The other defense pairings remained the same with John Carlson and Karl Alzner, and Roman Hamrlik and Mike Green.

Shots in the dark: The 14 shots allowed by the Capitals were by far their lowest of the playoffs. They allowed an average of 35 shots in their seven-game series against the Boston Bruins. The Caps managed just 18 shots, which was their second-lowest total of the playoffs behind the 17 shots they managed in the series opener against the Bruins. The Caps are 0-3 in the playoffs when outshooting their opponents.

Unplugged: The Capitals got off to a rough start on their power play, going 0-for-4, including a 33-second stretch with a two-man advantage. They are now 3-for-23 in the playoffs. We just need to move the puck quicker, said Caps defenseman Mike Green.

Killers: The Capitals penalty kill, led by Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendricks and Brooks Laich, continued its excellence, shutting down the Rangers on all four of their power plays. The Caps have allowed just two goals on 27 shorthanded situations.

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Jakub Vrana reassinged to Hershey as Zach Sanford makes the most of his oppotunity

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USA TODAY Sports

Jakub Vrana reassinged to Hershey as Zach Sanford makes the most of his oppotunity

The Capitals reassigned forward Jakub Vrana to Hershey on Sunday following their game against the New York Rangers. Vrana and Zach Sanford were both recalled when the Caps returned from the bye week.

With Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup with a hand injury, the team needed to recall two players: One to insert into the lineup, the other to serve as the 13th forward in case of an unforeseen injury. With two of the team's top forwards recalled, it looked as if Vrana and Sanford would get a chance to compete for Burakovsky's spot on the third line while the he recovered. If that was the case, Sanford appears to have won that competition...for now.

RELATED: Despite loss, Caps starting to find their game

Vrana, a first-round draft pick from the 2014 draft, is seen as having the higher ceiling than Sanford. Sanford, however, scored the game-winning goal in Washington's final game before the bye week against the Anaheim Ducks. That, as well as his strong play in Hershey, earned him the first crack at the lineup.

“He went down after scoring his first goal, traveled all morning, played an afternoon game in [Bridgeport] and was the [Bears’] best player,” Trotz said at practice Friday. “So he should get the first crack at that position.”

Sanford took full advantage as he scored again on Saturday. With Vrana's reassignment, it now appears Burakovsky's spot on the third line is Sanford's to lose.

But Vrana's reassignment could be a temporary one.

The Caps have a day off on Monday, then return to practice on Tuesday and play in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The team has not been shy about moving players back and forth between Hershey in between road games. They may choose to recall Vrana or another forward prior to Wednesday's game.

For now, however, Sanford appears to have earned himself at least a temporary spot in the lineup.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Caps can't solve Henrik Lundqvist

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Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

NEW YORK—As disappointing as Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden was for the Caps, Coach Barry Trotz and his players emerged from the visitors’ dressing room heartened by how the team played over the final two periods.

Indeed, there was a distinct difference between the first 20 minutes, during which the Caps were outscored 1-0 and outshot 19-10, and the final 40 minutes, which saw the visitors battle back and threaten to steal a point on the road from a good, well-rested rested opponent.

“We were atrocious in the first,” Trotz said. “We played poorly and [backup goalie Philipp Grubauer] was outstanding. It could have been 5-0 in the first, not 1-0. But we were able to get through that. In the second and third, we had the better chances and [carried] the majority of the play.”

Sunday marked the Caps’ second game back from their six-day bye week. On Saturday, they started slowly and lost to the Red Wings in a shootout. Including that defeat, teams are 3-12-4 in their first game after the mandatory hiatus.

“For us, it was hard to come back after [the] break, have one practice and [then] play,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored Washington’s lone goal against the Rangers. Saturday’s game in Detroit started at 2 p.m. “and today we played at 12:30. It was kinda tough with no morning skates.”

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps can't solve Henrik Lundqvist

Prior to the bye, the Caps had won six games in a row, rolling up five or more goals in all but one of those contests.

It’s too early to say definitely whether Ovechkin and Co. are back. They are, after all, 0-1-1 since returning. But they certainly looked a lot more like their previously dominant selves after doubling the Rangers up in shots, 22-11, over the second and third periods in an entertaining matinee on Broadway.

So what was the difference between the first period and the rest of the game? Trotz didn’t mince his words.    

“We were engaged in the second and third,” he said. “We were winning our battles. We were managing the puck much better. And we really didn’t give up much. Grubi really got all of his work for the most part in the first period and then after that he didn’t have much.”

From where he was standing, Grubauer said he could see the timing and cohesiveness slowly returning to his teammates’ collective game.

“The break was long,” Grubauer said. “Sometimes you have to find that chemistry.”

He added: “That’s not how we wanted to start, giving up those many scoring chances. But we did a pretty good job coming back [and] dominated the second and third periods.”

Defenseman Matt Niskanen agreed with Grubauer’s assessment.

“The second two periods were a lot better than the first [period], and a lot better than yesterday,” Niskanen said. “So it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Caps will take Monday off and then return to practice Tuesday morning in Arlington before heading to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night showdown with the Flyers.

“It was a lot better, that’s for sure,” Nicklas Backstrom said of the final 40 minutes at the Garden. “I thought the first period was not how we play. But we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to get back to the way we played before. We’ll have another practice before the next game, so we’ve just got to get back at it.”

MORE CAPITALS: Grubauer not enough as Caps drop goalie duel to Rangers