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Stephenson all smiles after being 'thrown in the fire'


Stephenson all smiles after being 'thrown in the fire'

When Chandler Stephenson woke up on Thursday morning he had no idea he’d be making his National Hockey League debut for the Washington Capitals later that night.

Sent down to the Hershey Bears on the last day of training camp cuts on Oct. 5, Stephenson, 21, was asked to hop in his car and get to Washington in time to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Without the benefit of a morning skate, Stephenson did as he was told and logged the most important 8 minutes and 43 seconds of his life in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.

Back home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a herd of family and friends huddled around televisions waiting to see when No. 18 would hop over the boards.

“I told them I was playing and they couldn’t really believe it,” Stephenson said after the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Hawks. “I was kind of thrown in the fire. I know my dad was a little disappointed he couldn’t be here. It’s not a short flight from Saskatoon.”

RELATED: Friday Six-Pack: First Q&A of the Capitals 2015-16 season!

With the Capitals playing at home again on Saturday night (7 p.m., CSN) before embarking on a three-game trip to western Canada, Stephenson said he wasn’t sure if any family members could make it to D.C. in time for Saturday’s game. Or whether he would be in the Caps’ lineup.

“We’re kind of playing everything by ear,” he said.

If first impressions are lasting ones, Caps coach Barry Trotz may have a tough time pulling Stephenson from the lineup. In his limited action Stephenson had one giveaway, one takeaway and won five of six faceoffs while playing on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Stan Galiev.

“Chandler was really good,” said Trotz, who, like Stephenson, played for the Regina Pats of the Western League. “I thought he showed good patience. Positionally, he’s really, really good. That’s his strength.

“I thought he was just fine. You look across and you’re seeing Jonathan Toews and (Patrick) Kane and the Stanley Cup champions for your first game and sometimes that can be a little overwhelming. But he didn’t seem overwhelmed at all.”

At least not on the outside.

“With all the jitters and all the nerves, I thought it was good to keep as calm, cool and collected as I could,” Stephenson said. “(Laich) was awesome. He’s been in the league for a while and he tried to keep me as calm as he could. Having (Galiev) on the wing was good because we had some chemistry last year in Hershey. So it was good to see a familiar face on my line.

“Playing a team like the Hawks was a big test,” he said. “It was good getting those four preseason games. It helps you feel more comfortable. You can’t help but think what’s at stake and all the fans. It was very, very special for me.”

MORE CAPITALS: Second thoughts on Holtby, Ovi, Chorney, Nisky versus Chicago

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?


NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.


Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

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