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Caps' top priority a top-line right wing


Caps' top priority a top-line right wing

If the Capitals hope to keep the core of their roster intact, some of their pending restricted free agents, namely goaltender Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson, may need to take shorter terms and slightly less than market value.

That, and the club’s stated priority of acquiring a top-line right wing, were the two biggest nuggets to come out of general manager Brian MacLellan’s post-season news conference on Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I think it’s important for players to realize that we’ve had a successful team,” MacLellan said, “and if they believe we have a good chance moving forward to win a championship that they recognize that going to max dollars, which you could make the choice to do, it would hinder our ability to compete going forward.”

MacLellan, hired last summer to replace George McPhee, said he thinks that with the right numbers the Caps could re-sign unrestricted free agents Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle, but hinted that Mike Green and Joel Ward would probably need to take below market value to stay in Washington.

Ward said Friday his decision to return to Washington will be based, at least partly, on the role he would play next season and beyond.

MacLellan said he views Tom Wilson as a top-six right wing, if not next season, then certainly the following one, which could impact Ward’s devcsion.

As for Green, MacLellan said there is a way for him to return for an 11th season in Washington, but did not sound overly optimistic.

“I think it’s going to come down to if he’s comfortable with that role and what do you pay for that role gong forward,” MacLellan said. “It’s probably going to be a little complicated. There are a lot of moving parts around that. The best thing we can do is keep in communication, tell him what were thinking, he can tell us what he’s thinking and if it works out, that’ll be great. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Green makes $6 more than million and it’s a safe bet the Caps do not want to play that kind of money to a fifth defenseman.

Whether or not the Capitals are able to re-sign Ward, MacLellan said the Capitals will be on the market for a top-line right wing to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. MacLellan said he will explore free agency to acquire that player, but it could come through a trade.

“It’s on the shopping list,” MacLellan said. “I think it would be a priority for us, if we can find a guy who can play there. I don’t know what the UFA market is going to provide that for us. We’ll se what happens in the trade market coming up here and see if we can find that. Otherwise, we’re going to have to develop a guy. We’re going to have to look at [Andre] Burakovsky.

“But it is a priority. I don’t like to see a revolving player go through that all year. You’d like to have some more stability there, where a guy is there permanently, or almost permanently.”

We’ll have a complete transcript of MacLellan’s thoughts as today unfolds.

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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