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Brett Connolly knocked out of Thursday's game by Erik Gudbranson

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Brett Connolly knocked out of Thursday's game by Erik Gudbranson

The Capitals entered Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks without the services of Matt Niskanen, Tyler Graovac, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom. Another name was added to that list early in the second period when Brett Connolly left the game due to an upper-body injury after taking two hits from Vancouver defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

Connolly had the puck along the boards with his back to Gudbranson. He tried to put on the breaks and change direction, but Gudbranson didn't bite and instead caught Connolly with his shoulder. It looked as if the hit sent Connolly's head into the boards.

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Connolly was slow to get up and made his way directly to the bench. Soon after he made his way down the tunnel and his night was over.

That was actually not the first big hit Connolly had taken from Gudbranson on the night.

At the end of the first period, Connolly took a blindside shoulder to the head that knocked him down to the ice.

According to the team, Connolly will be re-evaluated on Friday.

MORE CAPITALS: CRAIG LAUGHLIN TAKES A TWO-WHEELED TOUR OF VANCOUVER

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Pressure and confidence has taken Brett Connolly from a healthy scratch to potent scorer

Pressure and confidence has taken Brett Connolly from a healthy scratch to potent scorer

Brett Connolly is the Caps’ hottest scorer with three goals in two games, but this past week almost never happened.

With the team finally healthy, Barry Trotz has a tough decision to make every game with 13 forwards and only 12 spots in the lineup. Connolly was going to be scratched for the game on Jan. 11 against Carolina, but Andre Burakovsky came down with an illness before the game and did not play that night or travel with the team to Carolina the next. Connolly did not score on Jan. 11, but he scored a late game-tying goal in Carolina to set up Jay Beagle’s miracle buzzer-beater. In the team’s return from the bye on Thursday, Connolly scored twice including another late, game-tying goal.

This past week really is a perfect encapsulation of how Connolly’s NHL career has gone. A first-round draft pick from the 2010 draft, Connolly is brimming with talent but always seems to be on the end of two extremes. Either he is scoring like one of the Caps’ top offensive players, or he is battling just to earn a jersey every night.

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That pressure seemed to overwhelm Connolly when he first came into the league, but now it is leading him to excel.

“There's just a lot of competition through our lineup which is pushing guys to be better and it's making us a better team,” Connolly said Friday after the team’s morning skate. “We're just looking to keep going here, we're looking to keep pushing each other. We're going to make everybody better, we're going to be a better team because of it.”

Connolly came to Washington in the summer of 2016 as an unrestricted free agent on a one-year deal worth only $850,000. He became a UFA after the Boston Bruins elected not to give him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. For a player to go from a sixth overall draft pick to fighting to playing on a one-year deal just to keep his career alive was quite the fall, but Connolly responded with 15 goals and eight assists to earn himself a new two-year contract with Washington.

“When you're drafted in this league there's a lot of expectations,” Connolly said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for other guys just to find that fit on a team. It all comes within yourself, I think. You're the only person that kind of knows how much you can bring to the table every night and how much potential you have. It comes from within.”

The way Connolly responded again this season after a near scratch cannot be lost on the coaches.

But if it was desperation that was fueling him before, now it’s confidence.

“It's all about feel, getting your touches and playing with confidence,” Connolly said. “I think when you go through these stretches, I've been through these stretches before, just try to get open. It just feels like whenever you're shooting it, it doesn't matter how good of a shot you get off sometimes, it just finds a way in.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHICH CAPS CAN MAKE A SECOND HALF RUN AT SOME NHL AWARDS?

It’s not hard to see why he may be feeling so confident. In addition to scoring three goals in the past two games, Connolly also has 12 goals on the season. That puts him at third on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin (28) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (13).

“I feel like I’m finally kind of figuring out the game and figuring out the way I need to play,” said Connolly.

Whether he has truly turned the corner on his career or if this is just another high in a career full of extreme highs and lows remains to be seen. But so long as he keeps feeling the pressure and confidence that has fueled him thus far, he should certainly remain among the Caps' top scorers for the season.

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2018 NHL Awards Tracker: Resetting after the bye week

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USA TODAY Sports

2018 NHL Awards Tracker: Resetting after the bye week

A week by week look at where the race for the major individual NHL awards stands and which Caps could be in contention.

There is not much movement from the Caps on the Awards Tracker this week because of the bye week. It's time to reset and look at which players could make a second-half run at some hardware this season.

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

All-Star snub aside, you cannot deny the impact Carlson has had on this team this year. He is fifth in the NHL in ice time per game and second among all defensemen in points with 35. His play on both the offensive and defensive end of the ice should have him on the shortlist of Norris candidates, even if he's not among the top three just yet.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Braden Holtby

In contention for: Vezina

Yes, Holtby’s GAA and save percentage are not as good as in previous years, but he is excelling at perhaps the most important stat of all: Wins. Holtby sits second in the league in wins with 24. Of all the goalies ranked in the top ten for wins this season, only one, Pekka Rinne, has played in fewer games than Holtby's 34.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Alex Ovechkin, for the moment, leads all players in goals with 28 and he is doing it at the age of 32. What's more, he is the best player on a team sitting in first place in the competitive Metropolitan Division, a place not many expected the Caps to be in this season.

Barry Trotz

In contention for: Jack Adams

There's no question over who is getting the most out of his talent and that is Gerard Gallant in Vegas. But a reasonable argument could be made to say Barry Trotz is doing his best coaching job in Washington this season with the Caps in first place int he division. Given all the uncertainty over this team when the season started, the fact he has gotten them to this point should at least put him in consideration.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!