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Are the Canes really the division favorite?


Are the Canes really the division favorite?

Will the Caps once again miss out on the Southeast Division title thanks to Carolina's offensive pick ups of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin? The answer may rest on whether Semin will be the 34-40 goal scorer of '08-09'09-10 or if Carolina will be looking at goal totals in the 20's, per his last two seasons as a Capital. Until the season gets underway, it's anyone's (and many an analysts') bet.

Carolina's shiny new top line additions will be a challenge for the Capitals, who handed a 20-30 goal scorer over to a division rival and will once again face the potential growing pains of a new coaching staff and kids competition in net. Tampa has improved their crease and blue line. And what about last year's SE division champion Panthers? Or the Jets, who finished with just one win fewer than the first-place team?

While the Hurricanes seem to be a popular choice in preseason polls, they've done nothing to address their deep defensive woes (Joe Corvo, really?). Last season the Hurricanes sat in the league basement in terms of goals scored against and sported a -30 goal differential. Granted they had division company in the Lightning, but Tampa set to work this post season picking up three blueliners, including Matt Carle and Sami Salo, and replacing 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson with 24-year-old Anders Lindback.

Pair an improved backline with one of the leagues most productive offenses that includes the likes of NHL goal leader Steven Stamkos and Martin St Louis, and it's hard not to like Tampa's chances of coming out on top of a division rife with parity.

The Capitals have a formidable challenge ahead of them this season and many things will need to go their way if they hope to grab a playoff spot, let alone the division title. That's not to say, however, it can't be done. The Capitals finally picked up the second line center they've lacked for years in Mike Ribeiro. Adam Oates should flip the offense switch back on and let Ovechkin do what he does best: score goals. Braden Holtby performs well at the NHL level and both he and Michal Neuvirth thrive under competition. As long as the pair can stay healthy, the Caps could rank among the league's stingiest teams next season.

Yes, teams around them have made improvements but you have to like the Capitals' chances, especially with the penchant this team showed last year for overcoming adversity and their doubters.

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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).

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3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

The Caps rocked the green in warmups, the red for the game and left a bit black and blue after a brutal 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.

Based on how things went in Brooklyn on Thursday, odds were that there would be some bad blood when the two teams met Washington on Friday. One night after giving up seven goals, the Islanders gave up another six in Washington and frustrations over a rough season boiled over all game long.

Ross Johnston was ejected for continuing to fight Tom Wilson even after the referees intervened, both teams combined for 56 PIMs and Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game in the second period after a slash from Thomas Hickey as he went headfirst into the boards.

The sting of the rough night was mitigated somewhat, however, by the 6-3 score as the Caps won their fourth straight.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Chiasson: Playing in his first game since March 8, Chiasson made the most of his opportunity with a three-point night. Jakub Vrana did the legwork as he drove the net with the puck. Jaroslav Halak stuck out his stick catching Vrana which spun the netminder around and out of the crease. Chiasson came up behind for the easy layup.

He would repay the favor with an assist for Vrana's goal later in the third. Chiasson's first assist on the night came in the second period as his initial shot was saved, but he stayed in the face of Halak long enough to prevent him from making the save on Matt Niskanen's goal.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: When things were getting ugly, Backstrom made the Islanders pay with a power play goal on the two-man advantage.

After Johnston lost his marbles and Cal Clutterbuck was called for interference on Oshie, the Capitals needed to take advantage and put the Islanders away or watch New York build momentum. That was the critical juncture of the game. Backstrom also added an assist on the two-point night.

3. Braden Holtby: The recent struggles of Holtby have been well documented. After yielding the crease to Philipp Grubauer the last four games, Holtby got the start on Friday and played very well in the winning effort. The defense in front of him certainly helped allowing only 13 shots in the first two periods, but the Islanders were buzzing in the third period. New York battled back to make it 5-3 and Mathew Barzal had a breakaway opportunity with a chance to cut the deficit to one. Holtby made the save to deny Barzal and shut the door on the comeback attempt.

In all, Holtby turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced.