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Carlson, Niskanen approve of Caps' new additions


Carlson, Niskanen approve of Caps' new additions

Capitals defensemen Matt Niskanen and John Carlson have been around hockey long enough to know that when July 1 rolled around, a handful of teammates would move on to other teams and be replaced.

“I know the business side of things,” Carlson said after working out at Kettler on Monday. “You’ve got to learn to roll with it. We lost some great friends of mine, some great players on the ice.  But I think we added some great, great quality players, too. So I think in this league it’s tough to stand pat and just say, ‘We’ll be better next year.’”

As many expected, the Caps lost defenseman Mike Green and forwards Joel Ward and Eric Fehr to free agency, while signing three-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Williams. They then sent forward Troy Brouwer to the St. Louis Blues in a deal that yielded right wing T.J. Oshie.

“It’s tough to say goodbye to the kind of guys that left,” said Niskanen, who resumed skating at Kettler last week. “They were really good people, good teammates and they played well for us.

“But if you’ve been around the game long enough, unfortunately you start to get used to that, where you have to say goodbye to friends of yours. They played well, but everybody understands why changes are made.  If you dig deep enough you find out why.”

In a word: money. With Braden Holtby ($6.1 million cap hit), Marcus Johansson ($3.75 million) and Evgeny Kuznetsov ($3 million) eating up most of their available cap space, it was clear Caps general manager Brian MacLellan could not afford to keep Green, who signed with the Red Wings for a $6 million cap hit, Ward (Sharks, $3.275 million) and Fehr (Penguins, $2 million).

But in Williams and Oshie, the Caps added some veteran grit and scoring punch that they hope will get them into the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998.

“The new guys, that’s exciting, real exiting,” Niskanen said. “They’re good players who have been on good teams. Williams’ track record at the right time of the year (7 goals, 7 assists in seven career Game 7s) speaks for itself. He plays better in the biggest games and that’s a good trait.

“Oshie’s a real competitive guy with skill. And hopefully we’ll see even more skill than we saw in St. Louis if he gets with guys like Ovi and Backy. He’ll get some open ice and he’ll open up some ice for them, too, because he’s a physical player and strong.”

Niskanen played against Oshie when both were in high school and college and played with him as a teammate in the World Junior Championships and World Championships. He said the knock on Oshie in high school was his unorthodox skating.

“He had nasty hands but looked a little awkward skating for a while,” Niskanen said. “But when he went to college (North Dakota) that went away and everyone was talking about how good a skater he was.

“He’s an ultra-competitive kid. He’s gotten nothing but better since he was 16 years old. He’s a competitive guy, he’s stronger than heck and he’s got really good skill.”

Carlson seemed unfazed when told that many believe the improvements up front could push the Capitals to the top of the Eastern Conference standings and fuel talk of an elusive Stanley Cup.  

“It means we have a base that’s quality and good enough to withstand,” he said. “We know who we are. We’re evolving and we’re getting used to it. As far as we’re concerned we have a game plan and we need to stick to it. We did a lot of good things last year and if we bump it up and keep getting to know each other and the coaches and the system we can add onto those winning streaks and decrease the losing streaks and keep growing character like we showed last year.”

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Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."


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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.


The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.


Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30


Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.


Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.