Capitals

Quick Links

How Devante Smith-Pelly went from healthy scratch to top-line player for the Caps

usatsi_10459854.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

How Devante Smith-Pelly went from healthy scratch to top-line player for the Caps

The Capitals have played in 40 games this season. Devante Smith-Pelly has played in 38 of those, but was a healthy scratch for the other two.

For a player in the situation Smith-Pelly finds himself in, the news that he would be scratched must have been pretty hard to take.

Already on the fourth team in his NHL career at the age of 25, this was a big year for Smith-Pelly. He came to Washington on a one-year deal for only $650,000 after getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils in the offseason, a move that took Smith-Pelly completely by surprise.

Considering his past, you may think things must not be going well for Smith-Pelly in Washington if he is getting scratched, but that is not the case at all.

“Every time I've taken him out, his staying power has been much better,” Barry Trotz said after practice Monday. “There’s growth in his game.”

RELATED: WHY DOES TJ OSHIE SWITCH TO A LEFT-HANDED SHOT IN PRACTICE?

When a beaten-up Capitals team finally got healthy, it meant Trotz would have to make a hard decision about who to take out of the lineup. Initially, Smith-Pelly found himself to be the odd man out.

He was determined to make sure that did not last for very long.

“I've kind of just been trying to show that maybe I bring something to the lineup that you don't want to take out,” Smith-Pelly said.

“He came back into the lineup and I moved him up pretty quick,” Trotz said. “He's making a statement like, ‘you know what? I'm not going to be out again. I'm going to make sure my plays stand alone and make your decisions really, really tough.’”

After getting back into the lineup, Smith-Pelly has worked his way from the fourth line up to the top playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

That type of versatility can be hard to find.

How often do you hear a player described as a top-six or bottom-six player? A top line or a fourth line player?

Different lines have different roles and different players have different roles on those lines. Smith-Pelly has shown a unique ability to adapt to whatever line Trotz has put him on this season.

“His game is one that can play all four lines which is hard to have,” Jay Beagle said. “There's not too many guys who can play on the first, second, third or fourth line. He plays the left and the right. He's incredibly smart out there, easy to play with.”

MORE CAPITALS: WILL NISKANEN MISS TUESDAY'S GAME IN CAROLINA?

Harder than being able to play all four lines is doing it as frequently as Smith-Pelly has.

“Sometimes you click right away, sometimes it takes a couple days or games to kind of get the right chemistry going,” Smith-Pelly said. “For me, my game doesn't really change so it's more just about reading off different guys. A center like [Backstrom] is pretty easy to play with at the moment. It doesn't take too long and I don't mind jumping around for sure.”

In his first game back on the top when Trotz shuffled up the lines, Smith-Pally tallied an assist on Matt Niskanen’s goal, his first point since scoring a goal on Dec. 12 against Colorado.

“For me, I think I've always played my best when I'm heavily relied on,” Smith-Pelly said. ”It's good for my confidence knowing that when things are changing. I'm kind of a guy who gets a look at those high lines.”

Quick Links

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

he win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

RELATED LINKS:

Quick Links

Tarik's 3 stars: Ovechkin said Caps would even the series, on Thursday, he helped them do it

Tarik's 3 stars: Ovechkin said Caps would even the series, on Thursday, he helped them do it

COLUMBUS — Alex Ovechkin confidently predicted earlier this week that the Caps were going to win twice at Nationwide Arena and take their first round series back to Washington knotted, two games apiece.

And, on Thursday night, that’s exactly what Ovechkin made sure his team did.

No. 8, who was playing in his franchise-record 101st playoff game, scored his third goal of the playoffs early in the final frame and the Caps beat the Blue Jackets 4-1 in Game 4.

Tarik’s Three Stars of Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4

1. Tom Wilson, Capitals

After a slow (and penalty-plagued) start to this series, Wilson has become a force. Yes, he took another minor, but the good is far outweighing the bad these days. Big Willy recorded a goal, an assist and a team-high seven shots. 

2. Braden Holtby, Capitals

Holtby had his best game in, well, a long time. He stopped 23 shots, including all eight he saw in a contentious second period.

The goal he surrendered was a nearly unstoppable tip-in by Boone Jenner.

3. T.J. Oshie, Capitals

Osh just plays the game so dang hard.

So it should come as no surprise that he delivered in his team’s biggest game of the season to this point. Oshie, of course, scored the game-winning goal on the power play midway through the second period.

It was No. 77’s second tally of the series. He also directed six shots at the Columbus net and made a couple of hits...all from a player who's been fighting through injury the past few weeks.

Agree? Disagree?

Let us know what you think in the comments.