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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.

RELATED: WHAT IS EVERY NHL TEAM'S GAME OF THRONES CHARACTER?

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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Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday's win shows just how far the Caps have come since the last time they played the Avalanche

The Caps have come a long way in the past month.

On Nov. 16, the Capitals lost 6-2 to the Colorado Avalanche in Colorado. The game was not as close as the score indicated. Not only was it a bad loss, it felt like a significant one.

Over the course of an 82-game season, every team is going to have a lot of losses. Some of those losses are not going to be close. But given the fact that just one night before, the Caps were handed a 6-3 loss at the hands of the Nashville Predators, the loss to the Avalanche did not feel like a blip on the radar. It had all the feelings of a downward trend.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST BREAKING DOWN THE CAPS' WIN OVER COLORADO

In hindsight, that game was in fact significant, but not because it signaled the unstoppable downward spiral of an aging team in need of a rebuild. Instead, it marked the moment the Caps turned their season around.

Since that loss in Colorado, Washington has gone 9-3-0. Since those ugly back-to-back losses, they have not lost consecutive games since.

And then on Monday, they hosted that same Colorado team that looked as if it had ended the Caps’ season in mid-November. The new-look Caps disposed of Colorado with relative ease by a score of 5-2.

After the game, it did not take long for November’s loss to come up.

“I guess we do better at this altitude than over there,” John Carlson said.

Matt Niskanen said the Caps had “our butts kicked” by the Avalanche and Barry Trotz said that they "handed us our lunch last time" and felt that motivated his team to respond in the rematch.

Considering how Washington looked the last time these two teams met, it would be hard for the Caps to respond much better than what they did on Tuesday.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE AVALANCHE

In November’s game, Washington had no answer for Colorado's top line. Nathan MacKinnon had a five-point night and Gabriel Landeskog recorded a hat trick. On Tuesday, neither player earned a point. Instead, both players finished with a minus-three rating on the night.

“I think there's a pride factor,” Trotz said of his team’s ability to bounce back. “I think there's a little bit of a cultural factor, DNA factor with this group because we've won a lot of games. We understand that best thing you can do after losing a game is start another streak and don't let the streak go the wrong way.”

Over the course of the last 12 games since the Caps’ first game against Colorado, Washington has been a team decidedly going the right way and, as of Wednesday morning, sit tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.

Who would have thought that’s where they would be after that disastrous two-game road swing in mid-November?

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

They picked up right where they left off at home as they returned to Washington and defeated the Colorado Avalanche 5-2. Here is how the Caps were able to put last night's loss behind them and earn the win.

A better start

Against the Islanders on Monday, the Caps lacked energy early on and allowed a goal to Brock Nelson just 2:36 into the contest. Tuesday’s start had a much different feel to it. The Caps were moving their feet, moving the puck and creating sustained zone pressure. This time it was Washington who took the early lead as Jakub Vrana netted a goal just 5:25 in.

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Braden Holtby’s breakaway save on Colin Wilson

With the score tied at one in the second period, Colin Wilson was handed a gift from Brooks Orpik. As Orpik skated up the ice to his left, the rest of his teammates all skated right leaving him no one to pass too. Feeling the forecheck, Orpik tried the cross-ice pass, but it was intercepted by Wilson and there were no Caps in site. Wilson had scored Colorado's first goal and looked like he was about the score the second on the breakaway. Instead, he was denied by Holtby. Just 4:29 later, John Carlson tallied the go-ahead goal for Washington. That is essentially a two-goal swing in five minutes.

The penalty kill

The Caps took four penalties on the night and two of them were from one of their top defenseman in John Carlson. Colorado, however, walked away with nothing to show for it. The Caps took one penalty in the first and two in the second when the game was still in doubt. If they had given up a goal on any of those opportunities, it likely is a very different game. Instead, Washington killed off all four penalties they faced making sure the power play was not a factor for the Avalanche.

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