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Prospect report: The Bears are getting healthier

Prospect report: The Bears are getting healthier

Hershey update: 33-18-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 2-1-0-0

Nathan Walker returned in Friday’s game from a broken hand he suffered in January. He recorded one assist and an empty-netter goal in his first three games back. The Bears may also get another boost with the pending return of Madison Bowey. Head coach Troy Mann was on the Old Barn Hockey Show last week and talked about how Bowey should be ready to return this week.

Bowey suffered a laceration to his tendon in December and was expected to be out until April. A return in mid-March would be a rather speedy recovery. Don’t expect to see him in Washington anytime soon, however. After the trade deadline, teams are limited to only four non-emergency call-ups from the AHL and the Caps have already used two. As the team prepares for the playoffs, now would be a curious time to bring up a defenseman with no NHL experience. He will likely have to wait until next season to make his NHL debut.

Stanislav Galiev remained red-hot with four points in Hershey’s three games over the week, including two goals in the Bears’ win over Providence. You can watch the highlights of that game here:

Despite his recent hot streak, there’s nothing to suggest Galiev’s outlook with the Caps has changed. If the team needed an offensive player, I doubt he would be their first choice. Ironically enough, his good play of late probably lowers the chances he will be recalled considering he would have to go through waivers. Odds are someone would claim him.

As you probably noticed in those highlights, there were some fisticuffs at the end of the Providence game that nearly included goalies Pheonix Copley and Malcolm Subban. Subban challenged and Copley skated to center ice, but the referees stopped it from escalating.

It would not be the first time Copley fought another netminder. Given that he has become team’s No. 1 goalie since he was acquired at the trade deadline, however, the Bears really don’t need him to risk a broken hand in a fight during the playoff push.

Defenseman Christian Djoos also continued his hot streak with four assists including a three assist night on Saturday in Hershey’s 7-1 win over Binghamton.

In other news, Darren Deitz’s brief stint within the Capitals organization is most likely over. Signed by the Caps in the offseason as a free agent, Dietz was loaned to the Texas Stars of the AHL last week. Hershey received defenseman Mattias Backman on loan in exchange.

RELATED: Trotz makes Caps’ defensive depth chart very clear

Other prospect notes:

Shane Gersich scored his 20th and 21st goal of the season to help lead North Dakota to a two-game sweep over St. Cloud State in the NCHC Quarterfinals.

North Dakota will play Denver on Friday in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff Semifinal.

Chase Priskie will be moving on as well as Quinnipiac defeated St. Lawrence in three games in the ECAC Hockey Tournament Quarterfinals. He tallied one assist. Quinnipiac will play Harvard in the semifinals on Friday.

After a 5-0 loss to Notre Dame on Friday, Brian Pinho put up a valiant effort in Game 2, scoring Providence College’s two goals in a 5-2 loss as the Irish swept the Friars in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Steven Spinner also saw his team eliminated in the NCHC Quarterfinals by Western Michigan in a three-game thriller that came down to overtime.

Connor Hobbs and the Regina Pats won the WHL East Division on Friday with a 5-0 win over Moose Jaw. In Regina’s four games over the week, Hobbs recorded two goals and four assists. He now has 30 goals on the season tying a franchise record for goals by a defenseman and leads all defenseman in the WHL in goals.

Beck Malenstyn had an impressive week for the Calgary hitmen, scoring a goal in each of the team’s four games over the week. He was named the first star of the game on Friday and third star on Saturday.

In the KHL, Ilya Samsonov’s team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, completed a four-game sweep of Barys in the second round of the playoffs. Samsonov is serving as the backup goalie and has appeared in two games in the playoffs, both of which came in the first round.

MORE CAPITALS: Playoff opponent watch: An open Metro race changes Caps' scenarios

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No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

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No, the Capitals should not trade prospect Ilya Samsonov to fix the defense

Let’s face it, the Caps need help on defense. Yes, they held the NHL’s best offense to only two goals on Tuesday and one of them was an empty-netter, but with two rookies in the lineup, a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik logging top-four minutes and Matt Niskanen on LTIR, chances are Tuesday’s game was more the exception and not the norm.

The Capitals roster certainly took a step back from last season, but the team is still very much in win-now mode. That means they need an upgrade to their defense and they need it fast.

RELATED: CAN MOVING BURAKOVSKY DOWN TO THE THIRD LINE GIVE HIM A SPARK?

Should they trade their top prospect in Ilya Samsonov to get it?

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News makes that argument in an article published Wednesday.

Larkin writes:

The Caps do also have an A-plus piece in Ilya Samsonov, the best goaltending prospect in hockey. He’s still playing in the KHL and has no chance to pass Braden Holtby on the depth chart once he does come to North America, so Samsonov is worth far more to MacLellan as a trading chip. Don’t get too spooked by the Filip Forsberg debacle, Caps fans. It was one of the worst trades in NHL history, but it was an anomaly. Samsonov would likely yield the Caps something that really helps them. It wouldn’t be Martin Erat 2.0.

My response? No, no, a thousand times, NO!

Yes, the Capitals would get a good return for trading away the best goalie prospect in the NHL, but Larkin is missing something important. Erat is only half of what makes the Forsberg trade sting. The other half is seeing Forsberg absolutely live up to his potential as a top-line player. It’s seeing him lead the Nashville Predators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. That latter point is what should give the Caps pause when considering trading away Samsonov.

Imagine watching Samsonov become one of the top goalies in the NHL while playing with another team, leading them to the conference finals or even beyond. That will all be totally worth it considering the package the Caps got in exchange helped them make the playoffs once, right?

History will not be kind to a Samsonov trade.

Yes, if the Caps trade Samsonov and the return helps the team win a Stanley Cup, no one will care if he goes on to become the next Dominik Hasek and yes, history has shown that in the NHL all you have to do is make the playoffs and you have a shot. But allow me to ask one very tough question: Are the Capitals really one defenseman away from winning a Stanley Cup? If not, what else do they need and would a Samsonov trade really net them all of that?

The answer to both questions is no. Defense is certainly the team’s biggest weakness, but let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington has 22 goals in their first seven games and 17 of those goals have come from three players. That’s not sustainable. Let’s not gloss over the fact that Washington is third in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 12.03 when the highest shooting percentage in the entire NHL last season was 9.20. That’s not sustainable.

There’s another issue with trading Samsonov that Larkin does not address: Money. The Caps have none. Moving Samsonov would do nothing to help the team’s cap constraints and any trade the team could make would have to include moving a player off the active roster as well.

MORE CAPITALS: WHAT DOES GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN TO THE CAPS?

Samsonov is under contract through the 2017-18 season. When he does eventually come to North America, no, he will not pass Holtby on the depth chart…initially. But how many people thought the same thing about Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay? Vasilevskiy is now the starter and that happened a lot sooner than many expected. Plus, with all due respect to Holtby, isn’t that the ideal scenario to have a starting goalie play out his prime and have another goalie ready to take his place already on your bench?

Would a Samsonov trade be as bad as the Forsberg trade? No. The history of that trade continues to hang over the franchise and I cannot see general manager Brian MacLellan taking anything less than a king’s ransom before he parts with the young netminder. But the bar should not be set at “do better than the Forsberg trade.”

Granted, the Caps can’t do nothing. They need to fix the defense soon or they will have dug themselves a hole in the standings they can’t dig out of. Trading away your best asset and potential franchise goalie, however, seems shortsighted.

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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

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Will Andre Burakovsky's demotion spark the Caps' third line?

Andre Burakovksy was bumped down to the third line on Thursday as Caps Coach Barry Trotz attempts to jumpstart the scuffling winger and ignite his team’s inconsistent goal production.

The move, of course, reunites Burakovsky (0 goals, 2 assists) with Lars Eller (0 goals, 2 assists) and Brett Connolly (1 goal, 1 assist).

Among Trotz's reasons for making the switch:

  • The trio had a very productive stretch together midway through last season…and all three could use a spark right now.
  • A shakeup was probably in order, anyway. The Caps have scored two or fewer goals in three of the past four games. Now two lines have new pieces, with Burakovsky joining the third line and rugged winger Tom Wilson (0g, 0a) on the left side of Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. In fact, Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie have accounted for 77-percent of the team’s goals thus far.
  • The move puts Burakovsky, a left shot, on the right side. Trotz believes he’s more effective attacking from that position.   

Asked about Burakovsky’s struggles, Trotz acknowledged that he’s seeing what everyone is seeing: No. 65 is taking too long to pull the trigger on his shots.

RELATED: WHAT WILL GRAOVAC'S INJURY MEAN FOR THE CAPS?

“He is taking a little bit too long and they’re getting blocked,” Trotz said. “The window is so small in this league because the defenders are good and there’s back pressure [from forwards]. And when the window gets extended from his standpoint offensively, those windows of opportunity get shut down real quick.”

Burakovsky has also missed the net—a lot. According to NHL.com, he’s put nine shots on net (four snap shots, four wrist shots and a redirection). He’s also misfired nine times, sending two over the net and seven wide of it.

“Right now, when I didn’t score yet, I’m trying to just snipe a little bit too much, just trying to pick that one corner instead of catching [the puck] and getting it off really quick and maybe surprise the goalie,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just trying to do a little bit too much right now. That’s what happens when you want something to really happen. I really want to get going, get my game going. And then you try to force stuff. …It’s just confidence. When I get the first one, they are going to start coming automatically.”

He added: “I’m not worried at all.”

More from Burakovsky on speeding up his shot.

As for moving Burakovsky to the right side, Trotz explained: “Playing on the [right] side it allows him to get a shot off a little quicker than playing on the left side. Because when you’re playing the left side you’re either shooting a little bit from the outside or you’re dragging it into the middle and then you’re trying to turn your body and get through.”

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS HAVE WAY TOO MUCH FUN WRESTLING EACH OTHER AT FBI TRAINING

Eller said it only took a few minutes for the trio to begin feeling comfortable again.

“There is chemistry there that we know is there,” he said. “We felt it in practice, created a couple of good looks. It feels really natural playing with Conno and Burky. When you have good chemistry you have anticipation for each other’s next move. You just know what the guy is going to do next and where the puck is going to go next. That’s chemistry and we have some of that.”

Obviously, it’s impossible to know if the move will have the desired effect. But we do know this much: the one thing that’s kept Burakovsky from reaching the 20-goal plateau in past seasons were extended droughts. And this—if he doesn’t get on the board soon—is threatening to become another one of those.

“I said [to him], ‘Don’t think too much,’” Trotz recalled of a recent conversation he had with the 22-year-old. “Just understand you’re going to be a real productive player in this league for a long time, and understand what’s giving you trouble finding the back of the net.’ I think he’ll be fine.”