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Brett Connolly's goal? Score at least 20 of them for the Caps this season

Brett Connolly's goal? Score at least 20 of them for the Caps this season

When Brett Connolly joined the Capitals last year, he arrived on a one-year deal and without a guaranteed spot in the lineup.

When this year’s training camp gets underway, however, he’ll find himself in a much more settled situation: he’s now got the security of a two-year extension and a legitimate shot at earning a bigger role as the Caps look to replace a couple of top-six forwards.  

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to come to training camp and be comfortable,” said Connolly, whose previous three contracts were all one-year deals. “Now I can just go out and play.”

He added: “There’s going to be some openings in the lineup. It’s an exciting time for a lot of guys on this team.”

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Connolly spoke to CSN on Friday morning following another well-attended informal practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In fact, 11 of the 12 forwards and six of the seven defensemen expected to make the opening night roster took part in the hour-long session. Both goalies were here, as well.

Connolly said he’s eager to build on a 2016-17 campaign that was interesting to say the least. The 25-year-old winger started out as a healthy scratch, then ended up a spectator as the Caps bowed out to the Penguins in the second round. In between, however, he netted a career-high 15 goals in 66 games while seeing an average of just 10:41—the least amount of ice time among the Caps’ full-time forwards.  

“I had a good year last year,” he said. “I feel really good about my game. I just need to take that into this year, take advantage of this great opportunity that I’m going to be given and run with it. It’s another opportunity for me to gain some traction in this league and help this team win.”

Connolly’s personal goal for the upcoming season? Score at least 20 times.

“For me, being an offensive guy, 20 goals is kind of the benchmark,” he said. “I know last year my ice time was limited [but] we had a really good team and a lot of [depth] in the lineup. I had to be a little patient there and just do my part, do my role. Last year was all about winning [the Cup] and obviously everybody knows we didn’t get that done. But this year will be a little different. Twenty goals is definitely doable for me.”

Training camp starts next Friday with the grueling conditioning test that tripped up Connolly a year ago. This summer he tweaked his training to avoid a repeat of that—and to help him evolve with a game that seemingly gets faster every year.

“I did a little more conditioning, a little more speed,” Connolly said of his summer routine. “The game is changing so much. …I’m in good shape right now and I’m ready to go.”

And he’ll need to be. Indeed, with Justin Williams in Carolina and Marcus Johansson in New Jersey, there will be no shortage of forwards jockeying for jobs and/or promotions.

“Everybody knows that this training camp is going to be different than years past,” Connolly said. “In years past, the team was [already] picked. There were so many good players and good veteran guys who had their spots secured, it was hard for some guys in this organization who were just waiting for their chance. I’ve been there. The last couple of years were not easy for those guys. But this year there’s a handful of guys that are coming in and they’re chomping at the bit and ready to go.”

“Guys are going to be battling and competing for spots,” he continued. “Guys are going to be pushing the guys that were here last year.”

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3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

3 reasons the Caps lost to the Canadiens

The Caps battled through the rust on Thursday to earn a point in New Jersey. On Friday, rust cost them yet again as they fell 3-2 to the Montreal Canadiens.

Here's why they lost.

4 shots on goal in the first period

Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi has had his struggles this season. Yes, he has played better since getting claimed off waivers by Montreal, but getting to play against Niemi instead of Carey Price wass a golden opportunity for the Caps to generate some offense. Washington, however, had very little offense to speak at the end of the night. How did they respond with Niemi in net? By getting only four shots in the first period. Four. They finished with 26 shots on goal for the game, but had they come out swinging in the first and put pressure up early on Niemi, they could have gotten a much different result.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-HABS

Bad passing

After the game, Lars Eller said "It was one of the sloppiest games we've played if not the sloppiest. I don't think we've given up so any odd-man rushes or chances in one game." In no aspect were the Caps more sloppy than with their passing. Here are just a few examples.

A cross-ice backhand pass in the defensive zone? Really? You are not going to be successful trying to make those type of plays and it cost the Caps. They could not maintain possession of the puck or breakout of their zone and it led to several odd-man rushes for Montreal.

Rust

It's not an excuse. The Caps should have played better on Friday regardless, but there's no arguing the fact that rust was a factor. It was abundantly clear that the Caps were out of sync. That will happen when you are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back with no practice time.

Saturday's practice will be absolutely critical since Washington faces a matinee game on Sunday, their third contest in four days.

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3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

3 stars of the game: Grubauer's heroics not enough against the Habs

The first time the Caps hosted the Montreal Canadiens this season, Alex Ovechkin tallied four goals as the Caps dominated in a 6-1 thrashing.

Friday's game featured considerably less offense as Montreal just managed to squeak by Washington 3-2.

Philipp Grubuaer got the start and did everything he could to keep Washington in it, but the Caps struggled to find much offense.

Alex Ovechkin did manage to register assist No. 499 as he set up John Carlson on the power play and Lars Eller scored late, but it would not be enough for the Caps to come back.

Here are the three stars of the game.

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1. Max Pacioretty: The Canadiens struggled to get anything past Grubauer in this one, but Pacioretty finally did in the second period on the power play. It was simple enough, he found the puck at his feet, turned and shot.

When goalies start to frustrate teams, we see a lot of players respond by looking for the perfect play and give up good opportunities for more difficult passes. Pacioretty was smart, he just shot. He also added an assist on Paul Byron's goal as the puck bounced off the board and off Pacioretty's skate right to Byron.

He ultimately put the exclamation point on the win with an empty-net goal as well to complete a three-point night.

2. Philipp Grubauer: Grubauer certainly didn't look like a backup goalie in this one. He was strong in net all night long, but his best save came in the first period. Pacioretty hit the side of the net to Grubauer's left on a pretty passing play, but the puck bounced out to the slot and Charles Hudon passed it over to Paul Byron on Grubauer's right. Grubauer dove with his arm outstretched and managed to corral the puck into his body to keep it out of the net.

He would finish the game with several more fantastic saves, 23 in all despite the loss.

3. Andre Burakovsky: It would be hard to draw up a better return to the lineup for Burakovsky.

He started on the fourth line, but he wasn't there for long. He had four shot attempts in a first period in which the Caps struggled to get anything going offensively at all. He also had a breakaway opportunity in the third period as he came out of the penalty box. He had Antti Niemi beat, but hit the post.

It was the second time Burakovsky struck iron in the game. Hedid just about everything right, but just couldn't light the lamp.