- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2015

The biggest concern for Barry Trotz entering the Washington Capitals‘ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night was how far, and how quickly, his team had fallen away from the details.

The Capitals had earned a point in 18 of 19 games by controlling the puck and limiting shots, with strong goaltending certainly making things easier. When that streak of success ended on the road against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 16, a general malaise persisted in the four games that followed.

Trotz, aware of his team’s capabilities, challenged his players on Wednesday morning. The coach demanded that they identify their weaknesses from the past two weeks and confront them against the Penguins, all while reminding them that any individual shortcomings could have an adverse effect on the rest of the team.

The result? A 4-0 throttling of the Penguins at Verizon Center that offered a reminder that when the Capitals are on, they can be a dangerous team.

“We’re not a team that can rely on four or five guys to carry us, like some other teams,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said after the game. “We need everybody on board, and tonight was a good example of that.”

Washington’s shutout of the Penguins came at an important time, especially with games against Montreal and St. Louis, a pair of playoff-bound teams, looming this weekend. A slip-up against Edmonton, one of the two worst teams in the league, sent the Capitals into the all-star break with a reality check: Despite their recent success, there is still work to be done.

When they returned on Tuesday at Columbus, the six-day layoff did the Capitals no favors. They were sluggish and uninspired in a 4-3 loss, which did not bode well for the next day. After all, the Capitals had won just one of their eight previous games when playing twice in two nights — and even then, it was an overtime victory against the hapless Carolina Hurricanes in November.

Instead, between Trotz’s admonishments and the players’ acknowledgements, Wednesday night’s game was much better.

“When you go up and down the lineup, I thought that we played with a lot of purpose, a lot of order,” Trotz said after the game. “We had a plan, and we worked the plan, so yeah, that was more of the team that I’m used to seeing.”

A pair of goals from Alex Ovechkin — one at even strength in the first period, one on the power play in the second — helped the Capitals take a 2-0 advantage. The goals propelled Ovechkin into the league lead in the category; now with 29, he has scored 13 goals in 13 games, including 12 in January.

Yet aside from the scoring, there was a commitment to the finer details. The Capitals won 62 percent of their faceoffs, marking the sixth time in seven games in which they’ve held that advantage. Third-line center Eric Fehr, who scored the Capitals‘ third goal, won 17 of his 22 faceoffs — including 13 of 17 over Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

Trotz frequently matched the third line with the Penguins‘ combination of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and David Perron, hoping that the combined grittiness of Fehr, left wing Brooks Laich and right wing Joel Ward would neutralize that scoring line.

Puck possession was also key. In the first period, Jay Beagle, who replaced Andre Burakovsky as the top-line right wing, kept the puck in the offensive zone despite falling to a knee, then sent it back to center Nicklas Backstrom before Ovechkin redirected defenseman Karl Alzner’s shot from the left point.

And, on Fehr’s goal, a forecheck from Laich prevented the Penguins from regaining possession, with Laich getting the puck to Orpik before Fehr swooped in and scooped the puck past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from a sharp angle.

“We went from 2-0 to 4-0 by being really strong,” Trotz said. “But, we were really strong just by being diligent on getting pucks out and taking care of business in our own end. When we did, teams are trying to press and you’re gonna get those chances and you can extend those leads. When you’re backing up, sometimes, you tend not to skate, and we just kept skating.”

Though the Capitals had drifted away from dictating the pace during their four-game slide, Trotz was confident that, if forced to do so, they could match and counter any opponent’s playing style.

The more-physical Penguins gave them that test — but, for the second time this season, the Capitals shut them out.

“We’ve got a lot of big guys on our team that can play a skill game, that can play a physical game, that can play a defensive game,” Fehr said. “We like to think we can adapt to anything, especially with our D-men. They can play strong defensively or they can get up on the ice and be really effective. I think that works really well for us.”

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