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At the Rink: Canucks at Capitals

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals recently have concentrated on establishing a more consistent net-front presence offensively. Their play in the same area at the other end of the ice also has been highlighted.

After being hired in May, coach Barry Trotz identified Washington's defense around the crease as one of a few areas in need of improvement.

In recent games against the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, each team was able to exploit Washington breakdowns and lapses in coverage, which allowed players to drift into the slot for uncontested deflections and rebounds.

"I think last few games interior defense hasn't been that big of a problem. It's been individuals that have been the problems," Trotz said. "In critical moments just not having proper sticks, those type of things. That can be tightened up a little bit."

Defenseman Brooks Orpik, signed during free agency to enhance the Capitals' coverage in that region of the ice, has not been particularly concerned with their overall play around the net, though he said the last few games has magnified it.

"I don't think it's something that's hampered us throughout the year," Orpik said, "but definitely the last couple games it's something that’s hurt us a little bit."

The process to prevent in-tight opportunities begins as soon as the opposition enters the defensive zone, with each skater finding his specified coverage area and establishing position. If the puck heads toward the net, tying up sticks and boxing out opposing forwards is paramount, which the Capitals admit they have struggled to do at various points this season.

"If the play takes a while to develop it's pretty hard to prevent them from getting to the net, but then you've got to at least control his stick and battle hard for rebounds," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "I probably have given up too many second-opportunity type of goals, rebound goals than what we like, probably.

"Goalies a lot of times have the responsibility of stopping the first one, whether it be through traffic or not, but the second opportunity, that's on defensemen and low forward."

The Capitals opponent Tuesday, the Vancouver Canucks, will play the second game of their seven-game trip through the Eastern Conference. The Detroit Red Wings snapped the Canucks' three-game winning streak Sunday in a 5-3 victory, but Vancouver has lost consecutive games once this season.

"Our effort was OK versus Detroit, but we have to be better," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "We'll come back strong."

Here are the projected lineups:


Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata

Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Alexandre Burrows

Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Linden Vey

Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Luca Sbisa - Kevin Bieksa

Ryan Stanton - Yannick Weber

Ryan Miller

Eddie Lack

Scratched: Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado

Injured: Zack Kassian (finger), Tom Sestito (lower body), Dan Hamhuis (lower body)


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Troy Brouwer

Brooks Laich - Eric Fehr - Joel Ward

Jason Chimera - Andre Burakovsky - Jay Beagle

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt - Jack Hillen

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Michael Latta, Liam O'Brien

Injured: Aaron Volpatti (upper body), Mike Green (upper body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery)

Status report: Green will miss his fourth straight game Tuesday, but he could return later this week. ... Laich and Chimera will switch places at left wing on the third and fourth lines, respectively.

Who's hot: Miller has won four of his past five starts; he has two shutouts in that span. … Niskanen has one goal and five points in his past four games.

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