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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.

RELATED: NATE SCHMIDT HAS ONE LAST MESSAGE FOR CAPS FANS

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.

MORE CAPITALS: IT'S TIME TO STOP OVERLOOKING NICKLAS BACKSTROM

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Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 33: Capitals at Bruins Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Bruins will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Bruins game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals (19-12-1) take on the Bruins (15-9-4) Thursday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Boston.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Bruins game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Capitals GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington following the game for Caps Extra, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Bruins
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BRUINS GAME?

The Capitals-Bruins game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR CAPITALS-BRUINS?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Alex Chiasson
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury), Taylor Chorney

CAPITALS-BRUINS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?