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Blackhawks twist the ‘Dagger’, hammer Capitals

Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews vies for the puck with Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie during Chicago’s 7-1 win Saturday night. (Jeff Haynes/AP)

CHICAGO — Of all the players to allow in on a two-on-zero, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would be the pair you would most hope to avoid. But as soon as Brooks Orpik turned the puck over at the blue line, there they were, rumbling toward Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby. He slid to stop Toews’s shot, but Kane punched in the rebound, the goal close to an inevitability.

And then for the fourth time Saturday night, “Chelsea Dagger” blared through United Center, igniting the largest crowd here this season. One minute 10 seconds later, the catchy goal song by The Fratellis roared again after Ryan Hartman split two Capitals defensemen and skated right up the middle of the ice for a point-blank shot on Holtby. Fifty-seven seconds went by, and there it was again, after a power-play goal from Artem Anisimov.

The dagger continued to twist during the 7-1 rout, one of the Capitals’ more humiliating losses of the season. Through two periods, the Blackhawks, losers of eight straight entering this game, had a five-goal lead with 33 shots to the Capitals’ 12. Holtby was mercifully yanked after two periods, with Philipp Grubauer in net for the third.

“Obviously, it doesn’t sit well,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “This group is much better than it showed tonight. This game is probably going to go in the garbage can. I expect a lot more from this group. We weren’t good. We got beat in every aspect of the game tonight, and that falls on the group, myself, my coaching staff — everybody.”

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The loss and its brutal nature reinforced an obvious need for Washington with the trade deadline looming Feb. 26. The Capitals, relying on two rookies among their top six defensemen, need help on the blue line. The forwards share the blame for some of the breakdowns, but a team that allowed just 27.8 shots per game last season is yielding more than 32 shots this season. The struggles aren’t entirely unexpected after the offseason departures of Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

Washington has been plagued by inconsistency all season, and the past week has been a fitting picture. The Capitals blew a two-goal lead in Winnipeg for an overtime loss Tuesday. Two nights later, they played one of their more impressive games of the season in a 5-2 win in Minnesota, snapping a 13-game home point streak for the Wild. Then came Saturday night’s effort, and with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington’s lead in the Metropolitan Division is down to just one point, although the Capitals have two games in hand.

“It’s frustrating the fact that we’d like to show up every night and believe we can win every night and put the effort forward that we need to,” Holtby said. “You know, consistency is one of those signs of maturity and signs of professionalism and signs of leadership. I think our leadership group — and that includes me — needs to be better and more accountable and step up in order to improve our team.”

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Holtby blamed himself for the game’s first goal, an odd-angle Toews shot. “It starts with me on that first goal; it’s not a very good way to start off your team, and that’s just one of those things that I need to be better at,” he said.

Capitals forward Tom Wilson deflected in Matt Niskanen’s shot from the point to tie it. Wilson had never scored more than seven goals in a season; three goals in the past two games have him at 10.

But the Blackhawks continued to get comfortable in the Capitals’ zone, pelting Holtby with a whopping 22 shots during the opening 20 minutes. Less than three minutes after Wilson tied the score, Brandon Saad wove a pass through two defenders to Vinnie Hinostroza in front. Holtby stopped Hinostroza’s shot, but Saad scored on the rebound. Then in the last minute of the period, Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov dived in front of the goal line to make a kick save on Tommy Wingels, but with two seconds until intermission, Nick Schmaltz beat Holtby for a 3-1 Blackhawks lead.

Then three goals in 2:07 during the second period had the arena jumping and dancing to their beloved song. “Chelsea Dagger,” indeed.

“We’re getting stuck in our zone for a long period of time, and it seems like we’re chasing guys around,” Orpik said. “So maybe we have to switch something there. I don’t know. Because there’s a handful of shifts where we get stuck for a good minute-plus. That tires you out, the way we’re chasing the puck. That, and obviously we had some bad turnovers throughout the game.”

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