Daniel Sprong scored four minutes and 40 seconds into Saturday’s game against the Flyers. But by the end of the night, he was demoted and moved off the second line.
After having 2-0 and 5-2 leads over the Flyers, the Capitals hung on to win 5-4 over the Flyers and narrowly avoided collapsing.
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette threw some subtle shade at the second line after the game. The trio of Daniel Sprong, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana was on the ice for two second-period Flyers’ goals.
“I actually didn’t mind our third period,” Laviolette said. “The period I struggle with is the second period. I thought we turned the puck over too much and we weren’t on top of our game. If you’re turning the puck over in the neutral zone – or even the defensive zone – pucks are coming back at you quick. They were able to score a couple goals. We probably gave up seven or eight scoring chances just from turnovers. A couple of them ended up being goals.”
Laviolette said it wasn't the third period that annoyed him. It was the second, when turnovers and failed clears led to the goals by JvR and Patrick. "Pucks are coming back at you quick," he said. #Caps
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) March 14, 2021
On the first goal, Daniel Sprong failed to clear the puck, choosing to pass the biscuit up the middle of the ice to Jakub Vrana on his backhand. Instead, Sprong muffed it and the puck went directly to James van Riemsdyk, who scored easily as Ilya Samsonov was not set and square to the shooter.
Later in the period, after several failed clear attempts by Justin Schultz and Dmitry Orlov, Vrana could not get the puck out of the zone as well. Eventually, Nolan Patrick one-timed home a pass from Jakub Voracek to trim the Capitals’ lead to 3-2.
In the third period, Sprong was replaced by Conor Sheary on the second line.
Sheary replaced Sprong on the line with Kuznetsov and Vrana in the third period.
You can probably deduce the reasoning. https://t.co/CozQ4RANx3
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) March 14, 2021
By the end of the night, Evgeny Kuznetsov played only 15:52, which was less than fellow centers Nicklas Backstrom (23:00) and Nic Dowd (17:16). The Capitals had only three healthy pivots after Lars Eller with down with a lower-body injury early in the first period. Vrana (11:37) and Sprong (11:12) also got the second and third least amount of ice time on the Capitals, finishing behind only Richard Panik (9:24).
As for Samsonov, who many fans blamed on social media for several of the goals during the Flyers’ comeback bid, Laviolette gave the young Russian a vote of confidence. “I thought he had a tight game going on. The ending was not his fault. We could have done things better. They had an extra attacker on the ice.”
When asked it was concerning that the Capitals had given up seven goals in the last three games in the third period, Nick Jensen believed that was just a part of doing business when having big leads late.
“It’s obviously something that we want to address but at the same time, you gotta realize a majority of the time in these games we’re coming into the third period with the lead,” Jensen said. “I think any team — especially teams in our division — are going to come out and they realize how important these games are and put their final push whereas we gotta have the mentality where we have to match their intensity or exceed it. It’s not easy to do. It’s not overly-concerning. It’s not a surprise that teams come out in the third when they’re down and come out hot and put that push on. It’s something we expect but it’s something we’ve gotta keep working on.”
The Capitals are winning — they’re 11-2-1 (23 points) since February 16 — but it’s clear there are some things the team is managing under the hood. The team is struggling to close games out. Laviolette is also trying to get the most out of the second line, which has a high offensive output (Jakub Vrana is second on the team in goals) but appears to struggle defensively.
Screenshot courtesy of NBC Sports Washington
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