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Capitals' forwards must improve defensively

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Washington Capitals boast maybe the deepest and most talented set of forwards in the NHL, and scoring goals rarely is a problem for the group.

Defending against them was another matter Saturday night. Coach Bruce Boudreau was not happy with the effort from his forwards in their own end of the ice in a 3-2 win in Columbus. The Stanley Cup Playoffs rapidly are approaching, so it was a concern that swiftly was addressed. 

"I think we just have to be more careful," Eric Fehr said. "We have to make sure we have a third guy high and not take as many chances. A couple of times we got caught with everyone in front of the net and they had odd-man rushes the other way. I think there were also a couple times when we got caught cheating leaving the zone before our D-men got the puck out. Those are the two things we need to focus on."

Added David Steckel: "I don't think there was enough (urgency) Saturday night as there has been against other teams. It is not a trend or anything, but it happened for one game and we heard about it. I'm pretty sure it won't happen again."

Yielding odd-man rushes was a problem, especially in the second period. The Blue Jackets had a pair of 4-on-2s that were a result of the forwards not hustling back.

There also were too many coverage breakdowns once Columbus had the puck in the zone, and that led to Antoine Vermette's second goal of the game, when he was wide open in front of Jose Theodore. If it weren't for some stout work by Theodore and a few of the team's defensemen cleaning up the mistakes, the result could have been very different.

"As forwards we didn't get the puck deep and we were turning it over a lot, so therefore we had to backcheck," Steckel said. "Usually when guys lose the puck they are the first guy back to make up for it because they know what they did. We didn't have that drive the other night in Columbus and allowed too many odd-man rushes.

"It is a two-way street. You want to have the 'D' have good gaps and turn the other team over so your forwards can go, but at the same time if our forwards aren't applying enough back pressure than our 'D' can't do that. Obviously if one isn't working the other can't and from our standpoint -- yeah, the forwards didn't backcheck."

The Capitals are the highest-scoring team in the League, averaging more than a half-goal per contest more than any other club. They also boast the highest goal differential at plus-79, which is 23 better than second-place Chicago.

Defensively the Capitals are not as proficient. Washington has yielded 2.78 goals per game, which is the third-worst among the 16 teams that would be in the postseason if it started today.

"I think it is something we (as forwards) need to work on right now," Fehr said. "I don't think it is something we can just change all of a sudden. We need to be playing the right way going into the playoffs and that is something we haven't been doing the past few games. We need to be in better positions defensively and that will also lead to better scoring opportunities."

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