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Friday Six-Pack: Will Backstrom get the recognition he deserves?


Friday Six-Pack: Will Backstrom get the recognition he deserves?

At the start of training camp I remember asking Caps GM Brian MacLellan if he thought, with the departures of Troy Brouwer (third on the team last season with 206 hits) and Joel Ward (53 hits but a load in front of the net) the Caps would not be as “heavy” this season. He noted that T.J. Oshie (99 hits last season in St. Louis) and Justin Williams (29 hits with Los Angeles) were feisty in their own ways. MacLellan was right. Oshie is a human pinball out there and a lot of fun to watch every shift and Williams has been a perfect fit for the Caps on that second line, darting into scoring holes and being responsible in all three zones. But to answer my own question, the Caps are not as heavy as they were last season, mostly because of their personnel. After finishing ninth in the NHL with 2,335 hits last season, the Caps currently rank 15th at 1,904. A big reason is the absence of defenseman Brooks Orpik, who led the Caps in hits last season (306) but has missed the past 13 games with a lower body injury. But as Barry Trotz will tell you, there is more to playing “heavy” than recording hits. With Ward and Brouwer, the Capitals had a stronger net presence last season than they do this season. In fact, Ward’s departure opened the door for more of an offensive role for Jason Chimera, who at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds, can be difficult to move out of the crease once he’s planted there. Although he’s a big hitter, I think Tom Wilson (6-4, 215) could play a heavier offensive game by driving the net more often and forcing teams to either move him out or pull him down. I think Alex Ovechkin, another big hitter, makes himself even more dangerous when he drives the net. So yes, I think the Caps can play a heavier game than they have this season. But you also have to remember the style of their opponents. In my opinion, the Rangers played a faster game than the Caps last spring and I think the Capitals addressed that shortcoming with the additions of Oshie and Williams and the increased roles of defensemen Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov.     

Did you see the attention Jaromir Jagr generated last week when, in a tweet, he asked fans not to vote him onto the NHL All-Star team because the 3-on-3 format would “kill me, and i don’t want to die yet?” Well, what kind of attention would Nicklas Backstrom get if Alex Ovechkin tweeted, “If you vote for me to be an NHL All-Star, vote for Nicky, too! He deserves a big hug from the fans!” Kidding aside, I think the only thing keeping Backstrom off the big stage is the fact he’s never been on the big stage. Backstrom has never been to a conference final, where increased media means increased awareness of his playmaking brilliance. A 3-on-3 All-Star Game would probably showcase Backstrom’s incredible vision and expose others to the greatness we see in Washington on a daily basis. Here’s the weird thing. Evgeny Kuznetsov could steal All-Star votes away from Backstrom for the remainder of their careers together in Washington and, truth be told, that would be just fine with the 28-year-old Swede, who embraces attention as if it’s a porcupine.

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This seems to be a popular question lately. I agree that Andre Burakovsky has not looked like the player who dominated Game 4 of the conference semifinals against the Rangers last May. And I’m sure the Caps have considered sending him to Hershey to boost his offensive numbers and his confidence. Oddly enough, unless the Caps have an injury to one of their top six forwards, it’s hard to justify Burakovsky playing ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson, and the Caps’ third line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson is probably exactly what Barry Trotz wants in a shut-down line. As a result, Burakovsky has been used in a fourth-line role, which does not utilize his scoring potential. In 24 games this season Burakovsky has two goals and five assists, well below the numbers everyone projected for him. I’m, not sure there’s an easy answer here because Trotz has given Burakovsky opportunities on the second line and he hasn’t produced. It would send the wrong message to the team if Trotz continued rewarding Burakovsky with ice time. 

Barring injury, probably not any time soon. When Karl Alzner was questionable for Tuesday night’s game against Detroit, Trotz said the decision for a replacement came down to Aaron Ness and Connor Carrick, and Ness got the call. The Caps are in no hurry to rush Madison Bowey into the NHL. At 20 years old, he’s going through his first pro season and the Caps likely won’t consider him for a spot with the big club until next September at the earliest. In the meantime, Bowey has one goal and three assists and is a minus-2 in his first 19 games with the Bears. If the Caps stay healthy on the blue line, I could see them having the same defensive six next season, which would allow Bowey another full season in the AHL, which I think would be a good thing for his physical and on-ice development.  

Not really. At least not yet. The goal is for Carlson to get as comfortable as Mike Green was at making that pass. But as I’ve said before (and we discuss on Capitals Central this Sunday night at 10:30) it took years for Green to develop that on-ice relationship with Ovechkin. To your point, I’m sure the Caps have considered trying Matt Niskanen on the top unit, a role he filled in Pittsburgh when Kris Letang was out of the lineup. While I agree that many of Carlson’s passes to Ovechkin are in his skates or slightly behind him, I can tell you Carlson and Ovechkin have practiced Ovi’s one-timers after dozens of practices this season. It’s also clear that many NHL teams are shadowing Ovechkin, essentially reducing the Caps’ power plays into a 4-on-3 exercise. I think quicker movement on the man-advantage, along with an occasional bulrush from Ovechkin, could help keep opposing penalty kills honest.

Interesting observation. Because he scored a power play goal in garbage time Thursday night (a 4-1 loss in Sunrise, Fla.), Ovechkin’s shooting percentage improved to 10.2. But that’s his lowest accuracy since the 2010-11 season when he netted just 32 goals on 367 shots in Bruce Boudreau’s last full season behind the Caps’ bench. For a guy who is consistently leading the NHL in shots, Ovechkin’s shooting percentages have been all over the map. For example, in 2009-10 Ovechkin took 368 shots and scored on 50 of them (13.6 percent). One year later he recorded 367 shots and found the net just 32 times (8.7 percent). Have defensemen figured out some of Ovechkin’s tendencies? Yes. Have goaltenders cheated to his side of the ice in anticipation of his booming shot? Yes. Are goalies better now than they were when Ovechkin entered the league? Yes. But I don’t see a lot of rhyme or reason for how often Ovechkin should score. He just does, more often than anyone of his generation. But to illustrate your point, here are his shots, goals and shooting percentages during his 11 seasons in the NHL:

2005-06: 425 shots, 52 goals (12.2 percent)

2006-07: 392 shots, 46 goals (11.7 percent)

2007-08: 446 shots, 65 goals (14.6 percent)

2008-09: 528 shots, 56 goals (10.6 percent)

2009-10: 368 shots, 50 goals (13.6 percent)

2010-11: 367 shots, 32 goals (8.7 percent)

2011-12: 303 shots, 38 goals (12.5 percent)

2012-13*: 220 shots, 32 goals (14.6 percent)

2013-14: 386 shots, 51 goals (13.2 percent)

2014-15: 395 shots, 53 goals (13.4 percent)

2015-16**: 427 shots, 44 goals (10.2 percent)

*-48 games (NHL lockout)


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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


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.

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Touted Prospect Shane Gersich signs with Caps, joins team immediately


Touted Prospect Shane Gersich signs with Caps, joins team immediately

The Caps signed University of North Dakota forward Shane Gersich, a fifth round selection in 2014 and one of the organization’s top prospects, on Friday morning, the team announced.

Gersich, a left shot who is listed at 5-11, 175-pounds, has already joined the team in Montreal, where the Caps play the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night.

His contract, which begins this season, carries an average annual value of $925,000.

It’s unclear when Gersich will make his NHL debut, but it could happen at some point in the Caps’ final eight games before the playoffs.


NBC Sports Washington has been told that the primary objective for Gersich in the coming weeks is to get his first taste of the NHL by observing—and practicing alongside—his new teammates in Washington. If the opportunity to get him into the lineup presents itself, then it’s possible he’ll suit up.

The 21-year-old just completed his third season at UND. Here are Gersich’s numbers from junior and college, courtesy of


At UND, the smooth-skating and skilled Gersich also produced this memorable goal vs. Denver:

Gersich has been assigned jersey No. 63 in Washington, according to the Caps’ website.

The addition of Gersich and subsequent subtraction of Travis Boyd, who was reassigned to Hershey on Friday morning, leaves the Caps with 14 forwards on the roster.

“I think he did a great job at rookie camp,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said of Gersich in July. “He was one of our best players, if not the best player, at camp. Really happy about the way he’s progressed and where we picked him. I think Ross Mahoney did a great job with that pick.”