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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 9 John Carlson

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 9 John Carlson

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 9 John Carlson

When you're a team with only three top-four defensemen, all three of those players are going to be pretty important to your season. But John Carlson's impact is not just about what he brings defensively. It's also about his offensive production.

There are not many things the Capitals did not do well last season in another dominant run to a Presidents' Trophy. One stat in which they ranked near the bottom, however, was goals from their blue line. Washington got only 29 goals from their defensemen, good for only 26th in the NHL. Brent Burns scored 29 goals by himself  2016-17. Excluding the lockout-shortened season, that's the fewest Washington has gotten from its defense since 2010-11.

Carlson's production was down as well with just 37 points in 72 games, the lowest point total for him since 2013-14. He managed 39 points in the season before despite playing in only 56 games that season.

The Caps lost a lot of offensive production in the summer. The responsibility for making up those goals will fall largely on the offense's shoulders, but it is clear they need more production from their blue line as well. As the defense's best offensive weapon and a key piece of the power play, the pressure is on for Carlson to spark the blue line's offensive production.

But that may be difficult considering we do not know who Carlson's partner will be this season. While the team is set on the top pair with Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen, there's no clear answer as to who will be skating alongside Carlson. The team looks poised for a training camp battle between prospects Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington among others and veterans Aaron Ness and Jyrki Jokipakka. Regardless of who wins the job out of camp, it would not be surprising to see a rotation of sorts on that pair. That will present an added challenge to Carlson who will have to adjust to a new partner night in and night out. How well he is able to do that will be a major factor in determining just how good the Caps' defense is this season.

And, oh yeah, it's also a contract year. There's a lot on the line for Carlson in 2017-18.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller
— No. 11 Jakub Vrana
— No. 10 Brooks Orpik

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JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

It’s a busy hockey weekend for the Caps. After a 4-3 win in Detroit on Friday, Washington returns to Capital One Arena for the quick turnaround against the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Let’s get bold and make some predictions!

RELATED: HOW DID OVECHKIN GET SO WIDE OPEN IN OVERTIME?

Fan predictions:

Let’s simplify this one to say Alex Ovechkin will score at least twice. A very bold prediction even for a player already with 10 goals in just eight games.

The Capitals’ defense is a concern, but the past two games give hope that perhaps the team has turned things around. After holding Toronto to only one goal plus an empty-netter, they followed that up with a fairly solid effort allowing three goals to the Red Wings on the road in Detroit. With this game in Washington, the Caps will get the second line change, but they also will be going up against a Florida team scoring 3.33 goals per game, tied for ninth in the NHL.

Yes, Lisa. Yes it is. Love it.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-PANTHERS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will score at least two power play goals

The Panthers are dead last in the league on the penalty kill with a paltry 68-percent. Penalties matter a lot in today’s NHL with referees calling penalties for…pretty much anything. The Caps will get their opportunities and they will make them count.

There will be a fight

Roberto Luongo was injured in Friday’s game, the Panthers are on the road playing the second leg of a back-to-back and have won only two of their first six games. Tempers will flare at some point Saturday. Whether it is because someone gets too close to goalie James Reimer, there’s a hit they don’t like or they are just plain grumpy, someone on Florida is going to want to drop the gloves and will find a willing partner in red.

Philipp Grubauer will log a save percentage of over .900

Grubauer established himself as one of the top backup netminders in the league and a possible budding starter with a dominant 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage last season. In two games this season, Grubauer has posted save percentages of .900 and .784. He will look a lot more like last season’s Grubauer against Florida.

Season results:

Fans
Correct: 0
Wrong: 5
Push: 1

JJ
Correct: 2
Wrong: 4
Push: 0

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

The Washington Capitals are back in the win column thanks to a 4-3 overtime win in Detroit on Friday. Alex Ovechkin netted the game winner on a wide-open one timer that beat goalie Petr Mrazek.

How does Ovechkin get wide open in overtime? Because the Detroit Red Wings all got caught watching Nicklas Backstrom on a beautiful cycle by the Caps.

When you have to cover Ovechkin in a four-on-three penalty kill, you have your hands full. There is a lot open ice for the power play to work with in those situations. In a regular power play, we often seen teams play Ovechkin closely, sometimes even dedicating a player specifically on him and going four on three with the rest of the power play.

RELATED: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY WAS CHALLENGED BY HIS COACH AND HE RESPONDED

Look how closely the Red Wings were covering Ovechkin on a power play earlier in the game.

There’s not a lot of room to work with, but you can’t play that tight on a four on three penalty kill.

With only three penalty killers on the ice, they have to play closer into the net. You may leave end up leaving Ovechkin open for the shot, but at the very least you can get a body in front of him to either block the shot or pressure him when he has the puck.

Here is what Detroit’s three-man penalty kill looks like when it is set up.

The Red Wings are yielding the point to John Carlson but are tight in front and in good position to attack the players set up in more dangerous areas.

But this all breaks down if the players get caught watching the puck instead of focusing on their assignment. We saw this in the second period when, on a five-on-four, all four of Detroit's penalty killers move too far over to one side leaving Ovechkin wide open for a one-timer.

Somehow Mrazek stopped it, but I am sure his life flashed before his eyes when he saw the Great 8 stepping up for the clear shot. Even though it did not result in a goal, it was a clear breakdown by the defense as the Caps were able to draw the penalty killers out of position.

On a three-man penalty kill, the penalty killers do not want to move. They want to stay in position and attack you when you come too close. So how do you draw them out of position? You cycle.

Watch how much the Caps move with and without the puck on this power play.

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN DETROIT?

What the Caps are essentially doing here is fishing. They have their line out and are waiting to catch one of the penalty killers. Backstrom eventually does as Luke Glendening chases after him and the puck. The result?

Yeah, can’t leave that guy open twice and live to tell about it.