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Chorney goes from losing the dream to living it

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Chorney goes from losing the dream to living it

Six months ago, Taylor Chorney was beginning to wonder if he would be perpetually stuck in the minor leagues. A 27-year-old defenseman with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, he had played 400 of his 461 pro games in the AHL and had reached what Capitals coach Barry Trotz called a “tipping point.”

“I don’t want to say you lose the dream, but you probably do a little bit,” Trotz said. “And he didn’t.”

On April 4, injuries to Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Olli Maatta, Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff forced the Penguins to recall Chorney from the Baby Pens, in part because his contract came at the NHL minimum, and he never came out of the lineup.

“We were fighting for a playoff spot and a few of those games we only had five defensemen and I was forced to play more minutes than I normally would,” recalled Chorney, who will make his Capitals preseason debut tonight in Montreal against the Canadiens.

RELATED: Is Grubauer ready to take next step for Caps?

Chorney played in the Penguins’ final five games of the regular season and averaged more than 14 minutes a game. He followed with a strong playoff performance against the New York Rangers, averaging more than 17 minutes while finishing the post-season even on the plus-minus ledger.

“Getting a chance to play in the playoffs was awesome and I kind of hoped there were enough people watching where maybe I would get a new opportunity,” Chorney said.

The Caps were one of those teams and on July 1 they raised a few eyebrows by signing Chorney to a one-year contract worth $700,000. It was the first one-way contract of Chorney’s career, meaning he will be paid $700,000 whether he plays for the Capitals or the Bears.

“His tipping point came at a very key moment,” Trotz said. “I think he said, ‘I can play here. I played in the playoffs and didn’t feel out of place. I can play in this league every day.’ You can just tell. A player can be reborn a little bit. Joel Ward got that second shot and has played pretty good hockey for the last couple years. Taylor Chorney could be one of those guys.”

Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 2005 NHL draft, Chorney played his college hockey at his parents’ alma mater, the University of North Dakota, where he established a strong relationship with newly acquired Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie, his Sioux teammate from 2005-08.

But while Oshie’s NHL career skyrocketed after leaving UND, Chorney has spent most of his past five seasons in the AHL.

“Chorns is one of the best teammates you’ll find,” Oshie said. “He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a little more educated about the league than I am. He’s friends with everyone.

“On the ice he battles hard, he’s a great skater and he does a very good job of getting the puck out of our end quick. I know there’s a fight at the back end of our D corps and I think he’s going to make a good run. But there are some good players here. We’ll see. I’m definitely excited to have him here. He’s a guy you want going down the stretch to have on your team.”

Trotz has identified 26-year-old Ryan Stanton, who played 54 games for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and 21-year-old Connor Carrick, who played last season in Hershey, as two of the other blue liners competing for the role of seventh defenseman.    

“I like (Chorney),” Terotz said. “I like the way he moves, I like his personality. I like the way he practices. There’s a lot of good things to like about Taylor. Stanton’s been pretty solid, to, and Carrick is playing with a lot of confidence right now. I’m going to let them fight that out.”

Chorney said he realizes that having a one-way contract guarantees him nothing more than an increase in pay, especially at a time when established NHL veterans like Derek Roy, Brad Boyes and Curtis Glencross are on tryout contracts.

“I’m so thankful it worked out the way it did,” he said. “You see guys that have had unbelievable careers and have proven a lot more at this level than I have. For me to have the opportunity I’ve got, I couldn’t be more thankful for it.  

“I’ve been grinding for a while and I’ve been on two-ways forever now. But to get a chance to get a one-way is pretty cool for me. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything. I’ve still got to come in and make the team. Now I’ve got to make good on the investment.”

MORE CAPS: Trotz: Backstrom eyeing return for season opener

 

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Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.

On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.

That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.

The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.

"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."

Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.

Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.

The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.

For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.

Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.

"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.

"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about  Braden."

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 3

3 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 3

Down 0-2 in the series, the Capitals desperately needed a win Tuesday over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3.

They gave up a 1-0 and a 2-1 lead, but this time it was Washington who came away with the 3-2 victory at Nationwide Arena.

Here's how the Caps won Game 3 and got right back in the series.

Three Reasons Why The Capitals Won Game 3

1. Two slashes on Jakub Vrana

Columbus apparently has something against Vrana because the Blue Jackets spent much of the first period hacking the limbs of the young Capitals defenseman. It finally caught up to Columbus in the second period.

Brandon Dubinsky gave Vrana a two-hander that broke Vrana’s stick that drew a slashing penalty. Just 1:07 later, Vrana drew another slashing penalty, this time from Ryan Murray giving Washington a two-man advantage.

John Carlson scored just 28 seconds later to put the Caps up 2-1.

2. Braden Holtby

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a goal in the second period that Holtby should have had. Other than than, Holtby was stellar in his first playoff start of 2018.

The Caps were sloppy all night long, giving up numerous turnovers that turned into Grade A opportunities for Columbus.

Holtby saved his teammates' bacon time and time and time again with big save after big save. He was easily the Caps’ best player on the ice and his performance should remove any doubt as to who is the team’s playoff starter is for this team going forward.

3. An ugly game-winner

Time after time, Sergei Bobrovsky gave up some big rebounds that trickled harmlessly away with no Capitals player anywhere near it. Simply put, Washington did not get much pressure in front of the net in Game 3.

When they needed a goal, however, it does not get much uglier than Lars Eller’s overtime winner. The Caps rushed in on a 3-on-2. Brett Connolly took a quick shot which Bobrovsky easily stopped, but the rebound was up for grabs. Zach Werenski tried to clear the puck away, but it hit Eller as he crashed the net, hit back off Werenski, hit off the toe of Eller and into the net.

The lesson here is that if Bobrovsky is going to give up those rebounds, the Caps need to be in a position to take advantage.

RELATED: TARIK'S THREE STARS OF GAME 3