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Capitals stopping opponents by playing heavy game

by Adam Vingan / Washington Capitals

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Since joining the Minnesota Wild prior to the 2012-13 season, forward Zach Parise has faced the Washington Capitals far less than he did as a member of the New Jersey Devils.

After the Wild's 2-1 victory against the Capitals on Thursday, Parise marveled at the distinct differences in Washington's style of play.

"It's not the Washington Capitals high-flying team that I was used to playing against all those years in the East," he said. "They play a really structured game, they know where to be defensively, they don't give you a lot of room in the neutral zone. They made us fight for all our chances and made us fight for zone time. They're a big team, they're physical."

Such postgame analysis from Washington's opponents has been common this season as the Capitals' transformation into a more versatile team under coach Barry Trotz has taken hold.

At an average weight of 209.9 pounds, the Capitals have the heaviest roster in the NHL, among the advantages they utilize.

"I know it's a heavier team than it has been in the past," Trotz said. "I think you play in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs a little heavier style, so you're used to that style on a regular basis and so you get used to it. Size is a weapon and I think we're one of the bigger teams, so why not use it?"

The Capitals play the New York Rangers on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, TVA Sports), the first of three games remaining between the two Metropolitan Division rivals in the final month of the season.

Recently, the heavy style has been associated with the Los Angeles Kings, who have won two of the past three Stanley Cup championships with a brand of physically imposing hockey. All but three players on the Capitals active roster are listed as at least 200 pounds, weight they use to lean on opponents as much as possible.

"I think it starts with going north with the puck," forward Brooks Laich (210 pounds) said. "You push the pace, you go north with the puck and you get in, you make the other team face their net all the time. When they go back for pucks, you finish.

"That guy moves the puck, you finish the next guy. You play well as a five-man unit, so F1 [first forechecking forward] finishes, it goes across to the [defenseman], F2 finishes that guy. It goes up the wall, the D-man goes up the wall, finishes on that winger. That's three body checks within three seconds, which wears them down, makes them feel like we're playing fast, makes them feel like we're more aggressive."

In the defensive zone, the Capitals initiate and absorb contact whenever possible along the boards and in front of the crease. On faceoffs, they bump opposing players in order to prevent them from sweeping pucks back and getting inside position.

"Makes them feel like they're a long way from the net, a long away from scoring," Laich said. "Just always having a shoulder and leaning into somebody all over the ice can really make you feel like a heavy team."

After failing to qualify for the playoffs last season, the Capitals are in position to return this season, holding the first wild card in the Eastern Conference with 15 games remaining.

They feel their newly developed rugged style, when combined with their natural talent, makes them a postseason threat.

"We're playing smarter," forward Tom Wilson (210 pounds) said. "We're not trying all these drop passes and stuff around the blue line. [It] kind of creeps into our game here and there because of the skill that we have, but we've been better about getting back to just making [safe] plays and getting the puck back. Once we get it into the offensive zone, that's when we allow our game to take over and capitalize.

"There's something to be said about having skill and speed. That kills, but if you have skill, speed and you're big, that's the other team's worst nightmare."

Author: Adam Vingan | NHL.com Correspondent

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