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Capitals send five more players to Hershey

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Capitals send five more players to Hershey

The Capitals’ training camp roster reduction continued on Monday when goaltender Vitek Vanecek, forwards Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber and defensemen Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington were sent to AHL Hershey for the start of the Bears’ training camp.

While Vrana, Barber, Djoos and Lewington are expected to compete for jobs with the Bears, Vanecek is tabbed to begin the season with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL.

“I’m very happy with all of them,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I think they’re going to be a big part of our future. They’ve made great strides.

“There’s nothing wrong with playing lots. The American Hockey League is a tremendous league. I don’t think we’re overbaking them. We just don’t have a spot for them right now. But I’d rather have them overbaked than underbaked.”

Trotz said Vanecek’s ability to learn English has helped accelerate his development under goaltending coach Mitch Korn and spending his first season in North America should continue the progression of the Czech-born goalie.

Vrana, 19, was taken with the Caps’ first pick (13th overall) of the 2014 draft and he will also get his first extended taste of North American hockey after three seasons in Sweden. Trotz said Vrana has the skill, speed and attitude to be a top-six forward in the NHL, just not right now.   

“I just don’t have the room for him,” Trotz said.

Djoos, 21, was a seventh-round draft choice of the Caps in 2012 and will spend his first season in the AHL after spending his playing career in Sweden.

“He is a very gifted young man and he plays the game more cerebrally,” Trotz said. “He’s a puck mover, just a little bit undersized (listed at 6-foot, 162 pounds), but we’ll work on giving him more strength.”

MORE CAPITALS: Burakovsky experimenting with new sticks

Lewington, 20, is another late draft pick (204th overall in 2013) who will be starting his first year of pro hockey.

“Lewington is physical and hard to play against, similar to a Brooks Orpik type of guy, with natural leadership skills,” Trotz said.

With Monday’s cuts, the Caps’ training camp roster is down to 22 forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders, including Philipp Grubauer and Justin Peters, who will share the nets tonight against the New York Islanders.

The Caps need to submit their 23-man opening night roster to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Trotz said the battles for 13th forward and seventh defenseman remain open, with Derek Roy, Sean Collins and Chandler Stephenson vying for a spot at the forward position and Ryan Stanton, Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney battling it out for the seventh spot on the blue line.

He also said he’s been especially impressed by Collins, a sturdy, 6-foot-3, 201-pound left wing who will play on a third line with Carter Camper and Stan Galiev tonight.

“He’s got a lot of (Joel) Ward qualities,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to watch him really closely. He’s not going to jump out at you and make you go, ‘Man, that guy’s dynamic with his skill level.’ You have to watch closely.

“He gets pucks out, he’s got a good stick, he’s a reliable guy. Like Wardo, he can do a lot of those hard things that some guys can’t do. If you watch him closely he will make you like him as a coach. I think he could be a guy who can find a role on our team. He’s a guy who could be perfect as a 13th forward. He might be a great fit.”

Collins, 26, signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps on July 1. A Cornell graduate, he played parts of the last four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets (19 games, 3 assists) and their AHL affiliate Springfield Indians (203 games, 45 goals, 113 points).

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”

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Capitals vs. Penguins Preview: Game 1 predictions

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview: Game 1 predictions

It's not just any ol' game day in D.C. It's Game 1 of Caps-Penguins in the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something we're all too familiar with.

For the third consecutive year, the Caps will face their arch rivals in the second-round, and incase you aren't familiar with their history, the Caps have lost nine out of their ten postseason meeting with the Penguins. That trend has to end sometime, RIGHT?

If you're feeling a change in the air in 2018, you're not alone. Ahead of Game 1, we've rounded up experts' opinions and put them all in one place to make you feel better (or maybe worse?) about this infamous matchup.

What are people saying about this series?

From ESPN: “The Capitals fought through an early goalie controversy to shake the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in Round 1. Washington will need to perform much better at home to have a chance of knocking off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Sidney Crosby's crew had a seesaw first-round series of their own against another Metropolitan Division rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Although nearly every game of that series was a blowout, the Penguins outlasted the depleted Flyers in six games -- leaving us wondering if Pittsburgh has enough gas left itself. After all, there's a reason no team has three-peated in more than three decades.”

From Sportsnet: “Holtby’s .907 save percentage this season was by far the worst of his NHL career and in January and February his save rate dropped below .900. This led to more starts for Grubauer, but since wrestling the job back from him against Columbus, Holtby’s playoff save percentage is a very respectable .932 — the second-best mark of all advancing Eastern Conference goalies, behind only Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. If Holtby is back on top of his game as one of the world’s elite, he will be the key for Washington to exorcise their demons."

Brandon Schlager from Sporting News: Keep a close eye on Evgeni Malkin's injury (lower body). He didn't play in the Penguins' clinching Game 6 win over the Flyers, missed practice all week and has been ruled out for Game 1. With Crosby and Guentzel clicking, Malkin's absence may not matter a ton, but it would restrict the Penguins from deploying a third line with Phil Kessel and level the playing field a bit in terms of firepower. Ovechkin, as always, was the engine that drove the Capitals in Round 1, but credit depth scoring and goaltending that brought them back against the Blue Jackets. No. 8's going to get his; he has 26 points in 20 career playoff games against the Penguins.

So Washington's success is incumbent upon guys like T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, et al, continuing to provide support, throwing Matt Murray (who looked shaky at times in the first round) off his game. All told, the Penguins haven't lost a playoff series to the Capitals since 1994. No reason to expect this year will be any different until Washington exorcises its demons.

Penguins in 7 games.

From the Pittsburgh Penguins: “See you soon, Capitals.”

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Game 1 Predictions:

Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
JJ Regan, Capitals Correspondent: Penguins in 7 (prove me wrong, Caps!)
Joe Beninati, Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6
Craig Laughlin, Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6
Al Koken, Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6
Alan May, Capitals analyst: Capitals in 6
Rob Carlin, host of Capitals GameTIme and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 7
Ryan Billie, Capitals producer: Capitals in 7
Grant Paulsen, host of Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime: Capitals in 7
Courtney Laughlin, Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6

E.B. from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in Capitals at 65 percent

J.P. from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 40 percent

Cakes from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 60 percent

Bish from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 45 percent 

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