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Capitals seeking a breakthrough against playoff teams

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Caps need to find way to beat playoff teams

The wins were nice, but the Capitals need more if they are going to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff chase. They blew one chance to finally beat a top-tier team Sunday night in New York. They will have two more cracks at another later this week.

Only two teams in the NHL entered play Tuesday with more points than the New Jersey Devils (9-3-4, 22 points). The defending conference champions, who lost to the Los Angeles Kings in last year's Stanley Cup finals, shook off the departure of star forward Zach Parise to free agency and are still rolling. This week they visit Washington (5-9-1, 11 points) for a rare set of consecutive games against the Caps on Thursday and Saturday at Verizon Center.

"We need to find ways to win against those teams," forward Troy Brouwer said. "We thought last game [against the Rangers] we had little glimmers of good play, but we got outworked, and they just had a lot of good persistence around that puck. So we've got to find that in our game. And we've got to try and find ways to get points against good hockey clubs because where we are isn't good enough."

Washington had its three-game winning streak snapped Sunday -- but those victories came at the expense of Florida twice and Tampa Bay. The Caps have yet to beat a team currently sitting in a playoff position yet this season through 15 games -- the others came against Philadelphia and Buffalo -- and so they remain in last place.

Washington finally received a stellar effort from one of its young goalies when Braden Holtby stopped 38 of 40 shots and almost stole a win from the Rangers in a 2-1 loss.

"That's the nature of the game. You just have to go with it, ignore it for a bit," Holtby said of the praise he received after the New York game. "You know what you sign up for as a goalie: You usually get too much credit for wins and too much criticism for losses is usually what happens. You get used to it after a while."

Caps coach Adam Oates said that injured forward Brooks Laich (groin) did not skate at all on Tuesday. Laich has yet to play in a game this season. Meanwhile, defenseman Mike Green (lower-body injury) jumped onto the ice for just a few minutes wearing a baseball cap and a sweatshirt. He did not play against New York on Sunday and remains listed as day-to-day.

Oates was hopeful Green could practice Wednesday. The lockout-shortened schedule easing a bit can only help. Washington had a day off Monday and gets two practices before facing the Devils. They also have next Sunday and Monday off before playing the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the Southeast Division.

"It was the first real chance to get a good skate, some conditioning, some drills, some battles," Oates said. "Just a real practice day where we know we don't have a game tomorrow, so the guys can mentally get into it."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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