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Capitals' game plan in Game 2: Bang Letang

Capitals' game plan in Game 2: Bang Letang

During a stoppage in Game 1 against the Capitals, after taking a hit along the boards, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang turned to the Capitals’ bench and pointed to his bicep as if to say, ‘I’m stronger than you think.”

The Capitals would like to spend the next 10 days testing that strength.

“Any time you can impose your will on defensemen … we’ve got guys like Ovi and myself and Willy and Beags and Winnie, some big guys going at you,” Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said, referring to Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik. “You ask our D-men, they don’t like getting hit going back for pucks. It’s harder to break out, for sure.

“As I’ve learned in the playoffs it may not pay dividends in Games 1 or 2, but you go 3 and 4 it starts creeping in their minds and in Games 5 and 6, if it goes that long, you just keep wearing guys out. It’s no secret you’ve got to hit guys like Letang and (Trevor) Daley and make them play hard minutes.”

In the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime victory Thursday night, the Capitals outhit the Penguins 43-29. Alex Ovechkin led the assault with seven hits, followed by Wilson (6), Beagle (6) and Matt Niskanen (5). It’s difficult to say how many of those hits were absorbed by Letang during his game-high 34:02 of ice time, but 10 might be a good round number.

``The best thing is to break out clean,” Letang said. “If you have to take the hit, you take the hit.

``Going back for the puck in our zone, you want to go as fast as you can. It’s going to allow you a little more time. You’re going to have time to shoulder check and see what’s coming at you. I think that’s the best advice I can give. As far as making a play and taking a hit, that’s playoff hockey. You’re going to take some hits and give some.’’

Letang, who stands 6-foot, 201 pounds, said he had trouble sleeping after Game 1, so he pulled out his iPad and watched video of the Caps’ different forecheck schemes.

``I couldn’t sleep. They have different line combinations that forecheck differently,” he said. “So you have to be aware of who’s on the ice against who. They have two lines that have a heavy forecheck and have two lines that rely on their skill and speed.’’

In Round 1, the Penguins used the Rangers’ aggressive forecheck to their own benefit by moving the puck quickly out of their zone to create odd-man rushes the other way. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the key is to know when to make a safe play and when to take a hit to protect the puck.

“We use the phrase, ‘Sometimes you've gotta live to fight another day,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes the simple play is the right play, just moving the puck to an area and playing an efficient game that way. I thought in Game 1 our defensemen did a real nice job as far as making the decisions coming out of our end zone.

“We had some times when we came out clean and we had some chances off the rush, and other times we put pucks to areas and we got into foot races. That's kind of been the mantra of our game here the last couple of months and obviously we rely on our defensemen, they're a key part of that as far as helping us transition out of our own end zone.
“I think that's always a point of emphasis with our team as far as making your next play easier. The quicker you get back, the more opportunity you have for a next play. That's something that we've tried to prioritize with our guys almost to try to create the habit of getting back as quickly as possible. I just think it makes that next play a little bit easier if you have that extra fraction of a second because you can create that separation.”

Chimera said the Caps have to walk that fine line between being physical and “running around like a crazy maniac,” but it’s clear the Capitals want to keep the heat on the Penguins’ blue liners.

“We’ve got big forwards and we can play numerous ways,” Wilson said. “They’re a fast, powerful team and maybe not as gritty and as emotionally involved as Philly was, but they’re a way better team. They’ve got more speed, they’ve got more weapons. They’ve got (Evgeni) Malkin, they’ve got (Sidney) Crosby. I’m gonna be worried more about checking those guys than getting emotional and getting physical after the whistle.”

Asked specifically about Letang and his muscle flex, Wilson smiled.

“I don’t want to sell the rivalry short with the Penguins,” he said. “There’s definitely no love lost. Philly was a different series. You saw a lot more stick work, a lot more cheap kind of work. Pittsburgh, you’ve gotta respect their talent. There’s going to be some extra antics after the whistle, it’s an emotional game.

I’m chirping Fehrsie (Eric Fehr), Fehrsie’s chirping me. That’s the fun part of the game. You have a friendship off the ice but once the puck drops we’re at each other’s throats. Letang’s an emotional guy and we’re going to stay on him and make sure he doesn’t have an easy series.”

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: How does Brooks Orpik really impact the Caps?

No player on the Caps gets more scrutiny than defenseman Brooks Orpik. While the analytics aren't kind when he's on the ice, we got to see what the Caps looked like without him when he was scratched against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday and...well, his loss was noticeable.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir discuss what Orpik's true impact on the Capitals really is both on and off the ice on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast. Plus, they also talk about John Carlson's monster season and Barry Trotz's new strategy for the goalies.

Listen to the latest episode in the player below or here on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps prospect watch: Signing season?


Caps prospect watch: Signing season?

The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.

Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.

The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?

In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.

Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.

Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reported Wednesday that North Dakota was still awaiting Gersich's decision on whether he planned to return to college.

Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.

“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”


Other prospect notes:

  • For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
  • The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
  • All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
  • Dmitriy Zaitsev remains out after taking an illegal hit last week. He did not play in either of Moose Jaw's final regular season games, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
  • Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
  • Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
  • Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:

  • Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
  • Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in this week's updated rankings