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Will Devante Smith-Pelly earn a bigger role with the Caps?

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USA TODAY Sports

Will Devante Smith-Pelly earn a bigger role with the Caps?

Although Devante Smith-Pelly has been used as a fourth liner and penalty killer thus far, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz hinted on Wednesday that it’s possible the winger will eventually earn a bigger role in Washington.

“With him, he’s been moved around a couple of times,” Trotz told reporters in Vancouver, where the Caps face the Canucks on Thursday night (10 p.m. NBC Sports Washington).

“Sometimes you tend to not trust your own game,” the coach continued. “And I want him to trust his own game. I think he’s got some upside to him.”

Smith-Pelly arrived in Washington on a two-way contract and in need of a strong training camp to lock down a spot. He did exactly that and has earned a sweater for each of the Caps’ first nine games.

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The 25-year-old Scarborough, Ontario native is still searching for his first goal but he does have three assists—all of them primary helpers. DSP’s three points, in fact, are the most among Washington’s fourth liners, as are his 10 shots on goal.

Smith-Pelly’s role and time on ice, however, have fluctuated quite a bit in the opening weeks of the season. He’s seen as much as 15:05 of ice time and has been a top-pair penalty killer. But he’s also seen as little as 6:02 of ice with virtually no PK minutes.

Despite the inconsistency with which he’s been deployed so far, Trotz said he sees more responsibility in Smith-Pelly's future here, particularly as he gets more comfortable within the Caps' game. 

“I think he can play with higher-end players,” Trotz said. “I think he can play different roles. He’s going to get that opportunity.”

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Trotz didn’t say when he envisions Smith-Pelly getting that opportunity. But with the Caps banged up, struggling to score consistently and needing more production from wingers not named Alex Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie, Trotz sounded like a coach who’s at least entertained the thought of promoting Smith-Pelly.

“We’re only nine games into it. He’s going to get that opportunity. He’s shown it in the past,” Trotz said. “He played in Anaheim with [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry and people like that and had decent success.”

Smith-Pelly has indeed flashed offensive ability in the past. In the 2014 playoffs, he led Anaheim with five goals in 12 games while frequently skating alongside Getzlaf and Perry. At the end of the 2015-16 season, he scored eight goals in 18 games as a New Jersey Devil.

So the potential is there, and he's shown it in small doses this season.  

“He gets some good looks,” Trotz said. “He gets himself in position to get those looks. Now we just to find the back of the net a little bit.”

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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

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Philipp Grubauer earns his long-awaited first win of the season after another strong performance

Less than 90 seconds in, Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning very much had a feeling of déjà vu.

With Phillipp Grubauer getting the start against the best team in the league, the Caps took a penalty just 44 seconds into the game. Grubauer failed to freeze the puck on two different opportunities allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in play and score the early goal to go up 1-0.

“I thought early, they score a minute basically into the game and you're like, OK here we go,” Barry Trotz said.

“I was laughing, here I go again,” Grubauer said.

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Wins have been hard to come by for Grubauer this season. Coming into Fridays’ game, he had none. An early goal against a team as good as the Lightning could have been a backbreaker.

But not this time.

Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 in the first period and that’s when Grubauer took over.

“When it was 1-1, I thought Gruby made some real key saves for us,” Trotz said.

 

He added, “They were getting people to the net and they were dangerous all around. He made some real huge saves for us and we got him more than a goal.”

For the first time since Grubauer’s first start this season back on Oct. 9, the Caps gave Grubauer a lead to protect in the second period courtesy of Devante Smith-Pelly. That not only gave Grubauer confidence, it also allowed his teammates to focus more on playing well in front of him rather than taking chances in the offensive zone in search of a goal.

Bottling up a team as explosive and talented as the Lightning is not easy, but Grubauer was up to the task.

Friday’s 3-1 win was Grubauer’s first of the season. His record now sits at 1-5-1, a record his teammates know is not reflective of how well he has played for them.​

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“I know the guys are thrilled to get a win for Gruby because they know he shows up as a pro every game,” Trotz said.

That was evident after the game as Grubauer's teammates were effusive in their praise for the German netminder.

“Not an easy position to be a backup goalie and he's kept a good attitude throughout this even though we haven't played well in front of him,” Matt Niskanen said.

 

It was hard to figure out afterward just who this game meant more to, whether it was Grubauer whose family is in town for his birthday Saturday and who was in attendance Friday, or his teammates.

“My parents were here so I'm really, really proud to give them a good game and get the win for the boys,” Grubauer said.

Said Niskanen, “Everyone's smiles were a little bit bigger today for him. He played really well. He earned it.”

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Lightning

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Lightning

The Caps started a daunting back-to-back on a high note with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday. Tampa scored first, but the Caps would score the next three goals to earn the win.

Here's why Washington won.

A good response to Tampa’s early goal

When Alex Ovechkin tied the game at 1 late in the first period, it felt inevitable. Tampa Bay took an early 1-0 lead off a power play goal by Vladislav Namestnikov. Rather than spark the Lightning, however, it seemed to wake the Caps’ up from their turkey coma. When Tampa scored, they held an early 3-0 shots-on-goal advantage over Washington. For the rest of the period, the Caps outshot the Bolts 16-4. Ovechkin was a man on a mission as he was all over the ice. In recent weeks, we have seen the Caps at times lack energy at the start of games, but their response to Tampa’s early goal was impressive.

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Caps gave Philipp Grubauer a lead to protect

It's been rare this season for Grubauer to protect a lead. So rare in fact that it has not happened since his first start of the season on Oct. 9 which also came against the Lightning. When you are playing from behind, the skaters have to take more chances offensively which can sometimes leave goalies out to dry. Grubauer knows all about that from some of his recent games. When the Caps took a 2-1 lead on Friday, defense became the priority and Grubauer played with a level of confidence we have not seen since his strong performance in a 2-1 loss to Calgary.

Philipp Grubauer

While the Caps could afford to give Grubauer more defensive help as they protected the 2-1 lead, Grubauer himself made some top-notch stops to earn his first win of the season. After a shaky start in which he failed to freeze the puck on two opportunities allowing Tampa to keep the puck in play and score the power play goal, Grubauer was dominant in the crease. He made two especially key saves as he stoned Ondrej Palat in the second period on a one-timer from the slot and denied Vladislav Namestnikov in close midway through the third when a blue line shot from Anton Stralman was deflected behind the defense right to Namestnikov's stick.

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