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6 storylines to watch in the second half of the Caps' season

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USA TODAY Sports

6 storylines to watch in the second half of the Caps' season

The Caps are halfway through the season which means there are 41 more games and over three months to go until the playoffs. That’s 41 games worth of storylines, 41 games worth of highlights, 41 more chapters in the 2017-18 regular season.

Here are the biggest storylines to watch as the Caps begin to enter the second half.

1. What will the Caps do with John Carlson?

This is the biggest question facing the team by far. Carlson is on the final year of his contract that carries a cap hit of just under $4 million and he is due for a significant raise. He leads the Caps in ice time with 26:20 per game and is second among all defensemen in points with 31. Barry Trotz has really relied on Carlson this season and it makes you wonder if the Caps can afford to lose him. Then again…can they afford to pay him? As the Caps look like they are headed to the playoffs again, that essesntially takes the option of selling Carlson at the trade deadline off the table. That means letting him walk or re-signing him. According to Cap Friendly, Washington already has about $58 million committed to players next season not including pending free agents Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Taylor Chorney and Philipp Grubauer. Re-signing Carlson would not leave the team a lot of wiggle room to replenish the supporting cast.

RELATED: FIRST HALF SEASON GRADES FOR THE CAPS

2. When will Alex Ovechkin reach 600 goals and 500 assists?

Ovechkin currently sits just 16 goals shy of 600 and six assists shy of 500. The question is not if he will reach those milestones, but when? Once he reaches 600 goals, he will be one of only 20 players in NHL history to reach that mark. He will also be the second player in Capitals franchise history to reach 500 assists, the first of course being Nicklas Backstrom.

3. Will the offense regress?

Much has been written in recent days about the analytics surrounding the Caps’ offense. Those numbers point to a regression in the near future. Even if you’re not big into analytics, the fact that the Caps rank dead last in the NHL in shots per game is a concern. The team’s offensive production is not sustainable unless Washington starts getting more shots on goal. Something’s got to give. Will the Caps end up getting more pucks to the net in the second half of the season or will they ultimately fall victim to the regression the numbers predict for them?

4. How much will the rookies progress?

At the midway point of the season, the Caps have four rookies in their lineup in Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Djoos and Bowey in particular have had significant roles on the team’s defense and in all likelihood will remain in those roles for the rest of the season. Most coaches will protect their rookie defensemen by shielding them from their opponent’s top competition and giving them more favorable matchups. Trotz has done just that. The problem is, that gets a lot harder to do in the playoffs. Not only are the teams better in the postseason, but opposing coaches are going to look to exploit Washington’s green defense. When coaches are allowed to focus on one team for several weeks as opposed to several teams in just a few days, they can develop gameplans to get the best matchups they can. With not one, but two rookies on the blue line, teams are going to find a way to get their top playmakers on the ice against them. Djoos and Bowey are going to have to play well beyond their years this spring because they will be facing much tougher competition.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT OUR INTERVIEW WITH TOM WILSON IN THE LATEST CAPITALS FACEOFF PODCAST

5. Will the Caps roll the dice at the trade deadline again?

With all the roster turnover over the summer, it was not clear the direction the Caps would go this season. At this point, they have established themselves as a playoff team, but one with some clear weaknesses (see No. 4 above). How aggressive will general manager Brian MacLellan be at the trade deadline to address those weaknesses? Washington has made a trade at or around the trade deadline in each of the last five years. There are a lot of reasons to sit this one out, not the least of which is the team’s salary cap constraints which would make any type of deal very difficult. But you also have to consider that we ultimately do not know how much longer the playoff window will be open for this core or how long Ovechkin will be able to out-skate Father Time.

6. Will Pittsburgh make the playoffs?

There are two major hurdles for the Caps when it comes to the playoffs. One is the second round, the other is the Pittsburgh Penguins. This year, however, there is a chance Washington may not have to worry about the latter of those two hurdles. The Penguins are currently out of playoff position and they have played three more games than both of the wild card teams they are chasing. If Pittsburgh does not make the postseason, that will make the road to the Stanley Cup look a lot clearer.

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Caps will rock the blue in March as they reveal blue Stadium Series jersey

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Via @Capitals Twitter

Caps will rock the blue in March as they reveal blue Stadium Series jersey

Are you ready to rock the blue?

The Capitals will trade their familiar red look for navy blue in March as they revealed their jerseys for the Stadium Series game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Caps revealed the jerseys via Twitter on Wednesday.

Here's a full view of the front and back.

The team also released a statement explaining the inspiration for the new look.

Inspired by the Capitals’ classic identity and fused with the most advanced uniform technologies available in the new adidas adizero Authentic NHL uniforms, the special edition Washington Capitals’ 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ uniform is a salute to the game’s locale – Annapolis, MD. Marking the first time in Capitals history the team will wear a navy-blue uniform, the overall design aesthetic pays homage to the U.S. Navy and highlights key elements of the Capitals’ identity. Each element of the Capitals’ visual identity has been emphasized to create bolder, more visually pronounced uniforms that are meant to make a statement and be more recognizable in the larger outdoor stadium setting.

The Capitals’ special edition crest design centers around the team’s informal nickname, CAPS™, and is stylistically aligned to the team’s current wordmark. Additionally, the crest incorporates the three stars from the team’s primary moniker, which also honors the Washington, D.C. city flag. The pants feature a new contemporary "W" with three stars of the city flag, which also serves as a subtle nod to the Washington monument.

Additional design details include a bolder one-color version of the Capitals’ numbers for better visibility in the outdoor stadium setting. As a historic tribute to team’s hometown, the numbers are accentuated with a perforated pattern based on Pierre L’Enfant's original grid plan for the city of Washington, D.C. A strong white shoulder yoke serves as a nod to the classic stars & stripes from the clubs’ past uniforms and the thick red stripes and hem stripes evoke thoughts of the city flag of Washington D.C. To complete the look, the jerseys are donned with a special edition 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ patch on the right shoulder of the jersey.

You will get to see these jerseys in action on March 3 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

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Caps prospect watch: Colby Williams suspended 3 games for high hit

Capitals prospect defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended three games by the AHL for a high hit he delivered to Danick Martel of Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Per a statement released by the league on Tuesday:

Hershey Bears defenseman Colby Williams has been suspended for three (3) games as a consequence of an illegal check to the head of an opponent in a game at Lehigh Valley on Jan. 13.

Williams was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 21.1 after being assessed a match penalty. He missed Hershey’s game vs. Lehigh Valley on Jan. 14, and will also miss Hershey’s Wednesday (Jan. 17) at Springfield and Saturday (Jan. 20) vs. Lehigh Valley.

The hit came in the second period of Saturdays' game. Martel skated after a loose puck in the neutral zone, but Williams cut him off with the brutal hit. The hit appeared high and Martel was down on the ice for several moments. He ultimately had to be helped off by trainers. Hobbs was assessed a match penalty and ejected from the game.

You can see the hit here.

Martel suffered a broken jaw on the play.

The suspension is a tough one for Williams. He was held out of Sunday's game and will also miss Hershey's games on Jan. 12 and the Outdoor Classic on Jan. 20 at Hersheypark Stadium. Missing that game will certainly sting.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • Riley Barber scored his 12th goal of the season on Saturday. He is now tied for the team lead in goals with Chris Bourque.
  • Travis Boyd picked up an assist in Sunday's loss to Lehigh Valley. The assist is the 100th career assist for Boyd who has played in 193 AHL games.
  • Garrett Pilon made his debut with the Everett Silvertips after getting traded from Kamloops last week. Head coach Dennis Williams offered glowing praise after his first game on Wednesday saying, "I think Pilon is going to get better and better. I think I might have to harp on him to shoot pucks a little bit more." Pilon responded with a hat trick on Saturday, just his second game with the Silvertips. In four games over the week, he recorded four goals and one assist.
  • Brian Pinho scored a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over Boston College on Friday. He now has 10 points in his last six games. “Brian always does the right thing,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman. “That’s part of him coming in and playing the wing the first year and learning what it takes. Having a lot of older guys ahead of him. But he had a lot of older guys to look up to when he got to the program. Now, I think Brian is that older guy and I think he’s doing a terrific job being that leader that our team needs. He’s really comfortable with that right now.”

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.