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Caps come one step closer to opening lineup, cut roster to 26

Caps come one step closer to opening lineup, cut roster to 26

With the regular season set to start in a week, the Capitals’ opening night roster is slowly but surely coming into focus.

On Thursday, the team reassigned defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Tyler Lewington, forward Travis Boyd and goalie Pheonix Copley to Hershey of the American Hockey League.

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he moves reduced to the training camp roster to 26 players—16 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.

MORE CAPITALS: AFTER ANOTHER ROUGH PRESEASON GAME, IS IT TIME TO BE WORRIED ABOUT THE CAPS?

With two preseason games remaining—Friday at Carolina and Sunday at St. Louis—Washington GM Brian MacLellan has some tough decisions to make.

Up front, Jakub Vrana, Tyler Graovac, Nathan Walker, Alex Chiasson, Anthony Peluso, Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson are battling for jobs. Graovac, Walker, Peluso, Smith-Pelly and Stephenson all must pass through waivers to be sent down, while Chiasson is on a professional tryout agreement. 

Interestingly, the guys battling for jobs have been among the most productive. In fact, Vrana, Graovac, Walker, Chiasson and Smith-Pelly have accounted for five of the Caps’ meager seven goals in the first five exhibition games.

On the backend, rookies Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos as well as minor league veteran Aaron Ness are battling for two jobs. Djoos and Ness would need to clear waivers in order to be demoted.   

The Caps must get down to a maximum of 23 players by Tuesday at 5 p.m., though it’s possible they’ll keep only 22 players because of their tight salary cap situation and Coach Barry Trotz’s preference for keeping just one extra at each position.

“We’ll try to pick the team and let the management and the people who figure out all the salaries, they will let us know what we want to do,” Coach Barry Trotz said Wednesday. “That may dictate our early decisions. If there’s not much between a certain player and another player, the cap may decide that. That’s just part of the business.”

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JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

It’s a busy hockey weekend for the Caps. After a 4-3 win in Detroit on Friday, Washington returns to Capital One Arena for the quick turnaround against the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Let’s get bold and make some predictions!

RELATED: HOW DID OVECHKIN GET SO WIDE OPEN IN OVERTIME?

Fan predictions:

Let’s simplify this one to say Alex Ovechkin will score at least twice. A very bold prediction even for a player already with 10 goals in just eight games.

The Capitals’ defense is a concern, but the past two games give hope that perhaps the team has turned things around. After holding Toronto to only one goal plus an empty-netter, they followed that up with a fairly solid effort allowing three goals to the Red Wings on the road in Detroit. With this game in Washington, the Caps will get the second line change, but they also will be going up against a Florida team scoring 3.33 goals per game, tied for ninth in the NHL.

Yes, Lisa. Yes it is. Love it.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-PANTHERS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will score at least two power play goals

The Panthers are dead last in the league on the penalty kill with a paltry 68-percent. Penalties matter a lot in today’s NHL with referees calling penalties for…pretty much anything. The Caps will get their opportunities and they will make them count.

There will be a fight

Roberto Luongo was injured in Friday’s game, the Panthers are on the road playing the second leg of a back-to-back and have won only two of their first six games. Tempers will flare at some point Saturday. Whether it is because someone gets too close to goalie James Reimer, there’s a hit they don’t like or they are just plain grumpy, someone on Florida is going to want to drop the gloves and will find a willing partner in red.

Philipp Grubauer will log a save percentage of over .900

Grubauer established himself as one of the top backup netminders in the league and a possible budding starter with a dominant 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage last season. In two games this season, Grubauer has posted save percentages of .900 and .784. He will look a lot more like last season’s Grubauer against Florida.

Season results:

Fans
Correct: 0
Wrong: 5
Push: 1

JJ
Correct: 2
Wrong: 4
Push: 0

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Caps got Alex Ovechkin wide open for the overtime winner in Detroit

The Washington Capitals are back in the win column thanks to a 4-3 overtime win in Detroit on Friday. Alex Ovechkin netted the game winner on a wide-open one timer that beat goalie Petr Mrazek.

How does Ovechkin get wide open in overtime? Because the Detroit Red Wings all got caught watching Nicklas Backstrom on a beautiful cycle by the Caps.

When you have to cover Ovechkin in a four-on-three penalty kill, you have your hands full. There is a lot open ice for the power play to work with in those situations. In a regular power play, we often seen teams play Ovechkin closely, sometimes even dedicating a player specifically on him and going four on three with the rest of the power play.

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Look how closely the Red Wings were covering Ovechkin on a power play earlier in the game.

There’s not a lot of room to work with, but you can’t play that tight on a four on three penalty kill.

With only three penalty killers on the ice, they have to play closer into the net. You may leave end up leaving Ovechkin open for the shot, but at the very least you can get a body in front of him to either block the shot or pressure him when he has the puck.

Here is what Detroit’s three-man penalty kill looks like when it is set up.

The Red Wings are yielding the point to John Carlson but are tight in front and in good position to attack the players set up in more dangerous areas.

But this all breaks down if the players get caught watching the puck instead of focusing on their assignment. We saw this in the second period when, on a five-on-four, all four of Detroit's penalty killers move too far over to one side leaving Ovechkin wide open for a one-timer.

Somehow Mrazek stopped it, but I am sure his life flashed before his eyes when he saw the Great 8 stepping up for the clear shot. Even though it did not result in a goal, it was a clear breakdown by the defense as the Caps were able to draw the penalty killers out of position.

On a three-man penalty kill, the penalty killers do not want to move. They want to stay in position and attack you when you come too close. So how do you draw them out of position? You cycle.

Watch how much the Caps move with and without the puck on this power play.

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN DETROIT?

What the Caps are essentially doing here is fishing. They have their line out and are waiting to catch one of the penalty killers. Backstrom eventually does as Luke Glendening chases after him and the puck. The result?

Yeah, can’t leave that guy open twice and live to tell about it.