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NHL Power Rankings: Caps enter 2018 in first place

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Caps enter 2018 in first place

In the midst of a three-game losing streak and a lengthy goal drought, things seemed pretty dire for the Caps midway through the week. Wins over two of the best teams in the NHL helped turned things around in a big way.

Much has been made of how competitive the Metropolitan Division is this season so it shows you just how hot the Caps have been of late that they can drop three straight, win the next two and enter 2018 in first place.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Granted, they hold only a one-point lead over the Devils and New Jersey has two games in hand. But let's take a look around the division. Philadelphia can't decide if they're a good team or not, Pittsburgh is the weakest they have looked in years, the Islanders won't scare anyone until they fix their goaltending situation, Columbus is floundering, Carolina and the Rangers are a few pieces away from being contenders and the Caps just handily dispatched New Jersey for the second time this season.

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like five of the eight Metropolitan teams could make a legitimate argument that they were the top team in the division and the other three were not that far behind. Now it would be hard to argue against Washington.

How do the Caps stack up against the rest of the league? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.

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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.

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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

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USA TODAY Sports

What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

El-Bashir: Through the Caps' first 45 games, there have been some great goals, scintillating saves and thrilling overtime sessions. But the biggest moment, to me, wasn’t really moment at all. It was the day or so after the Caps cratered in Colorado, 6-2, on Nov. 16, because they came back a totally different team vs. Minnesota on Nov. 18.

Following that blowout loss to the Avalanche, Coach Barry Trotz had a “man-to-man talk with the group” and challenged each individual to look himself in the mirror. When a coach does that, there are typically two ways a season will go—to the top or down the drain. Trotz wasn’t sure which response he’d get, but he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “The way they came out [against the Wild] told me everything I needed to know,” Trotz said to me and Rob Carlin on the Caps Extra Podcast (11/29).

RELATED: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON SO FAR?

The really good stuff begins around 13:00, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it:

    

Including that 3-1 win over the Wild, the Caps are 18-5-2 in their last 25 games and have shot straight to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 38 points are tied with the Golden Knights and Bruins for most in that time frame. 

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has accrued 15 goals and 15 assists in those 25 games. Only four players—John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—have more points during that time period.

Indeed, every season has a turning point. For the Caps, it happened, collectively, after bottoming out in the thin air of the Mile High city.

Regan: There have been several moments that have stood out from the first 45 games of the season, such as Nathan Walker becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL and scoring in his first game on a night in which Alex Ovechkin also scored four times. Jay Beagle’s buzzer-beater against the Carolina Hurricanes will also stand as one of the best moments of the season when it is all said and done.

But I will go a bit more sentimental with my pick and choose Ovechkin’s hat-trick performance in Toronto for Alex Luey.

That night could not have been any more special. Ovechkin invited Luey, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, to attend the game with his family after he heard his story. Luey and Ovechkin were virtually inseparable for the night as Luey was on the bench for warmups and then was with Ovechkin for all of his postgame interviews.

That alone would have been a touching story, but it got so much better.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS!

Ovechkin promised Luey he would score for him before the game. He more than delivered with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 win over Toronto in what was a magical night for both him and the Luey family.

You couldn’t write a story so perfect and if you did everyone would think it too unbelievable. Yet it happened and it was by far the best moment of the season.

We may be only 45 games in, but this one will be hard to top.