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Slumping Caps need to turn possession into goals

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The Washington Capitals definitely haven’t lacked for shots in their last three games.

But they have lacked goals, which is why they lost all three — 4-2 to Toronto (35 shots), 3-0 to the Islanders (38 shots), and 2-1 in a shootout to Tampa Bay (35 shots).

And so the Caps have been left searching for solutions.

“I think we need to be a little more gritty, go in front of the net instead of all three guys trying to cycle the puck all the time,” veteran center Nicklas Backstrom said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I mean, we need a least one guy in front of the net. Shots, rebounds—that’s the kind of goals that goes in these days. We have to be able to go in front of the net and go to the dirty areas and create second chances.”

He may be right.

Or, maybe it’s just been bad luck.

Either way, the Capitals have once again been a dominant five-on-five possession team this season, with a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks second to only Boston. But a quarter of the way through the schedule, they only have the NHL’s 19th-best offense (2.52 goals per game).

Last season, when they romped to the Presidents’ Trophy, the offense ranked second (3.02).

It hasn’t helped that Washington’s power play hasn’t been near as dangerous, with only 11 goals through 23 games. Last season, the PP had 19 goals by the 23-game mark. 

Individually, the laggards include Evgeny Kuznetsov, with just three goals; Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, and Justin Williams, with only two each; and John Carlson, with none.

For the record, Alex Ovechkin has 12, so it’s not on him.

Thanks to solid team defense and goaltending, the Caps have still managed a pretty impressive record (13-7-3).

But in case you haven’t noticed, the Metropolitan Division is starting to emerge as the new power grouping in the NHL, with the Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly a threat to take one of the three automatic playoff spots.

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The Capitals host Jack Eichel and the Sabres tonight. A loss to Buffalo, combined with a Boston win over Florida, and the Caps would actually find themselves outside the playoff picture.

True, Washington would still hold games in hand on most of its competition, so it’s no time to panic.

But it’s a wake-up call all the same. There’s a lot more competition in the Eastern Conference these days. Nothing is guaranteed.

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.