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5 players to watch as Capitals camp opens

5 players to watch as Capitals camp opens

For the last few years, there has not been much on the line for the Caps in training camp. That is not the case this year with several holes in the lineup and several players competing for a roster spot.

Earlier on Thursday, Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir went over the five position battles to watch. Now here are the five players to watch as camp begins on Friday.

1. Jakub Vrana

Vrana’s future with the Caps may well be on the line considering how last season ended. The Czech winger made his long-awaited NHL debut scoring three goals and six points in 21 games. When he was sent back to AHL Hershey, however, he really seemed to struggle with his focus. At 21 years old, it normally would not be the end of the world if he did not make the NHL roster out of training camp, but it is absolutely critical Vrana does for two reasons. First, Washington has an obvious need for a right wing on the second or third line which they desperately need Vrana to fill. Second, considering how he looked last year in the AHL, would sending him back to Hershey even be a viable option? If Vrana does not have an impressive camp, it would not be inconceivable to see a trade.


2. Christian Djoos

Djoos is one of the Caps’ top defensive prospects. With two spots open on the blue line, this would be a great time for Djoos to make the jump to the NHL, especially since he is no longer waiver exempt. But first, he has to prove that he can handle playing against NHL players. It is not a question of talent, but rather a question of size. At 6-feet, 164 pounds, Djoos is by far the smallest defenseman at training camp. Now he will be competing against other NHL players for a roster spot. If he looks overpowered at camp, he will struggle against other competition in the NHL.

3. Alex Ovechkin

The Caps’ captain won’t be competing for a roster spot, but it will be interesting to get a glimpse of the slimmer Ovechkin. Does his weight loss also signal a shift in the way he will play? Seeing how Ovechkin looks, what he practices and where he plays will all be fascinating to watch.

4. Devante Smith-Pelly

While Vrana may be fighting to stay in Washington, Smith-Pelly may be fighting just to stay in the NHL. He may have a signed contract as opposed to a PTO, but make no mistake, Smith-Pelly is playing for his NHL career. Since his dominant performance in the 2014 playoffs, Smith-Pelly has not been able to return to that level of play. After getting bought out by New Jersey, Washington signed him in a low-risk move similar to the move they made with Brett Connolly the year before. The difference now, however, is that there is a lot more competition for a roster spot. Last season it was pretty much just Connolly and Zach Sanford. Now Smith-Pelly will have to compete with Nathan Walker, Riley Barber, Alex Chiasson, Anthony Peluso, Tyler Graovac, Chandler Stephenson and Liam O’Brien, among others.

5. Madison Bowey

There has been a lot of talk about Djoos this offseason and if he will be able to make the roster, but he may not even be the team’s best blue line prospect. Bowey is a player the team has long been high on and he will have a real shot of making this roster in camp. The one disadvantage for Bowey is that he is still waiver exempt. While the Caps may be forced into keeping Djoos on the NHL roster for the season to avoid exposing him to waivers, they can afford to play it slow with Bowey and potentially send him back to Hershey. He will have to really impress at camp to stay in Washington.


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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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