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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No.14 Brett Connolly

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No.14 Brett Connolly

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. 14 Brett Connolly

General manager Brian MacLellan took a chance on Brett Connolly last summer. He had not lived up to his potential after getting drafted sixth overall in the 2010 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins chose not to issue him a qualifying offer in 2017 making him an unrestricted free agent.

MacLellan gambled with a one-year, $850,000 contract and the move paid off. Connolly scored 23 points including a career-high 15 goals in very limited minutes. That earned him a second contract with the Caps and, one would assume, a much bigger role.

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With a cap hit of only $850,000 last season, everything Connolly did was a bonus for Washington. The move was extremely low-risk. This season, Connolly’s cap hit will be $1.5 million. While that certainly won’t break the bank, it does come with increased expectations.

But there is a reason Connolly was a healthy scratch for six games in the playoffs last season. A lack of versatility will continue to limit him.

Connolly is not a penalty killer, and, given the team’s talent offensively, he’s not likely to get much time on the power play either. He may get some with the loss of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, but not a lot. As he is projected to start the season on the third line again, just how much more significant his role can be is a fair question to ask.

The difference now is that Connolly will not come into the season having to earn his spot. That fact limited him to only 66 games and 10:41 of ice time per night and he was still able to score 15 goals. What will he be able to produce with 13-15 minutes for 80 games? The answer to that question is why Connolly comes in at No. 14 on our list.

 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

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Where do the Caps most need to improve in the second half of the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Where do the Caps most need to improve in the second half of the season?

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: Where do the Caps most need to improve in the second half of the season?

El-Bashir: The area where the Caps must improve, without a doubt, is special teams.

Let’s start with the talent-laden power play unit. After a protracted dry spell in mid-December (one goal in nine games), Alex Ovechkin and Co. have shown some signs of life lately. In fact, they produced five goals in the seven games preceding the bye week. Still, the unit ranks just 14th at 19.6-percent. Whether it’s overpassing, predictability or not getting enough production from the second unit, there’s simply too much talent there to rank near the middle the pack. The power play has also surrendered six shorthanded goals; only five teams have allowed more.

RELATED: THE STADIUM SERIES JERSEY HAS BEEN REVEALED AND IT'S BLUE!

The bigger concern, however, is the penalty kill. The unit appeared to have turned a corner in late November and early December when it gave up just one goal in 10 games. But it has struggled in 13 games since, surrendering 10 power play goals against (74.4-percent). 

The penalty kill was particularly porous in the Caps’ last game before the bye, a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Carolina’s power play struck twice, and afterward Coach Barry Trotz called the unit out.

“I think they maybe spent 10 seconds on the power play and got two goals,” Trotz said. “That’s an area where we’re going to need a little more commitment in some areas, a little more detail and get better.”

So far, the Metro-leading Caps have managed to overcome their inconsistent P.K. But in the playoffs, where special teams often play an outsized role in determining outcomes, they may not be so fortunate. Whether the problems are being caused by scheme, personnel or taking penalties in bunches, the team’s capable coaching staff has 37 regular season games left to sort things out.

Regan: There are two ways to approach this question. My biggest concern for the team is defensive depth, but the area in which the team most needs to improve is shooting.

The Caps have not one, but two rookies on the blue line in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Barry Trotz has sheltered them well this season, but that becomes much harder to do in the playoffs when coaches can focus on one specific team.

Plus, we saw the trickle-down effect an injury to a player like Matt Niskanen can have. If they lose any of their top three defensemen, that means more minutes for two rookies, more minutes for a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik and no real replacement you can feel comfortable with plugging in for an extended period of time.

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But depth is an area the team can’t really improve on. You either have it or you don’t in which case you have to acquire it.

Something the team absolutely can and must improve on is getting shots on goal.

The Caps rank dead last in the NHL in shots per game with 29.0. Washington will not maintain its 3.04 goals per game (9th in the NHL), unless they get more shots.

Washington is not chasing games as much as the possession metrics (shot attempts) seem to indicate. They simply are not taking advantage of their opportunities. They overpass the puck often giving up open shots in favor of more difficult set-ups which often results in giving up possession

The Caps must absolutely learn from Lars Eller who is on a hot streak with five goals in seven games. His goals have been simple. He is not being too cute or getting fantastic setups, he’s just shooting. In games in which Eller scores, he averages 3.50 shots. When he doesn’t score, he averages only 1.61.

Say it with me now everyone: Shoot the puck!

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Caps will rock the blue in March as they reveal blue Stadium Series jersey

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Via @Capitals Twitter

Caps will rock the blue in March as they reveal blue Stadium Series jersey

Are you ready to rock the blue?

The Capitals will trade their familiar red look for navy blue in March as they revealed their jerseys for the Stadium Series game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Caps revealed the jerseys via Twitter on Wednesday.

Here's a full view of the front and back.

The team also released a statement explaining the inspiration for the new look.

Inspired by the Capitals’ classic identity and fused with the most advanced uniform technologies available in the new adidas adizero Authentic NHL uniforms, the special edition Washington Capitals’ 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ uniform is a salute to the game’s locale – Annapolis, MD. Marking the first time in Capitals history the team will wear a navy-blue uniform, the overall design aesthetic pays homage to the U.S. Navy and highlights key elements of the Capitals’ identity. Each element of the Capitals’ visual identity has been emphasized to create bolder, more visually pronounced uniforms that are meant to make a statement and be more recognizable in the larger outdoor stadium setting.

The Capitals’ special edition crest design centers around the team’s informal nickname, CAPS™, and is stylistically aligned to the team’s current wordmark. Additionally, the crest incorporates the three stars from the team’s primary moniker, which also honors the Washington, D.C. city flag. The pants feature a new contemporary "W" with three stars of the city flag, which also serves as a subtle nod to the Washington monument.

Additional design details include a bolder one-color version of the Capitals’ numbers for better visibility in the outdoor stadium setting. As a historic tribute to team’s hometown, the numbers are accentuated with a perforated pattern based on Pierre L’Enfant's original grid plan for the city of Washington, D.C. A strong white shoulder yoke serves as a nod to the classic stars & stripes from the clubs’ past uniforms and the thick red stripes and hem stripes evoke thoughts of the city flag of Washington D.C. To complete the look, the jerseys are donned with a special edition 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ patch on the right shoulder of the jersey.

You will get to see these jerseys in action on March 3 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.