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First Round

Capitals tinkering with defense pairs for Game 2 against Hurricanes

Looking for best combinations minus injured Kempny

by Harvey Valentine / Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals are still adjusting to life without defenseman Michal Kempny, and they're doing so at a time when there is little margin for error.

Kempny, acquired in a traded with the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 19, 2018, worked his way up to a first-pair role with John Carlson. But with Kempny out for the season after tearing his left hamstring March 20, the Capitals are looking for the best way to cover the 19:11 in ice time he averaged.

Late in the regular season, coach Todd Reirden paired Nick Jensen with Carlson, shifting the right-handed Carlson to play the left side with Jensen, another righty. The two were together for much of a 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 2 in the best-of-7 series is Saturday at Capital One Arena (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS).


[RELATED: Complete series coverage]


Reirden also paired Dmitry Orlov with Matt Niskanen, and played Brooks Orpik with Christian Djoos, though the Capitals mixed things up during the game. The same pairings were together at practice Friday.

"I think you saw a lot of different combinations [with Carlson] yesterday, but the primary one is Jensen and his ability to be able to skate and take away time and space from the opposition," Reirden said. "He's hard in areas around our net. He's willing to block shots and competes hard.

"I thought he did some good things and some things that can be improved on as well. That's where we're at with our defense and our overall game. We feel like we can play better, we can play better than we did last night."

Carlson (25:32), Niskanen (24:36) and Orlov (22:18) played the most in Game 1. Jensen played 15:53, all but 33 seconds at even strength.

Washington took a 3-0 first-period lead and survived a third-period Carolina rally when the Hurricanes scored twice and came close to tying the game during two late power plays. The speedy, aggressive Hurricanes outshot the Capitals 29-18.

"We knew that they are a high shot-volume team," said Jensen, who made his playoff debut in Game 1 after being acquired in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 22.

"I think we did a pretty good job of taking sticks away in front and those rebounds, those second chances are what they want. That's how they score. They get pucks to the net and then everyone is scrambling in front of the net and they get those backdoor tap-ins."

Video: Capitals hold off Hurricanes to win Game 1 at home

Reirden wants to see the Capitals spend less time in their own end in Game 2.

"We knew they were going be down aggressively on the forecheck with their defense, pinching down often," he said. "And for us, just the execution of coming out of the defensive zone with possession or getting opportunities from them being aggressive like that could be executed a little better."

Jensen had a similar analysis.

"I think [we] played a little too much [defensive] zone and not enough in the [offensive] zone," he said, "so we've got to find a way to get the puck out of the zone a little better and pin them in their zone a little more."

Djoos played 7:48, 1:13 in the third period, and was on the ice for each of the Carolina goals.

"Every game's situational," Reirden said. "In that situation, last night in the third period with him playing a little bit less, we had two penalties to kill and then we had a situation where we're in 5-on-6 (after Carolina pulled its goalie). We talk all the time about putting players in a situation to succeed. If we were behind that game 3-2 then it probably would have been reversed."

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