Capitals

Quick Links

Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Hershey update: 16-6-4-2, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-1

Hershey Bears goalie Vitek Vanecek was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on Dec. 18.

Vanecek was given two starts over the week. He turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced in a shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday and stopped all 22 shots he faced Sunday against Springfield for his third shutout of the season.

You can see highlights of the shutout here:

In his first season in the AHL, Vanecek has earned a .930 save percentage, 1.85 goals against average and an 8-3-3 record in 14 appearances. His three shutouts is tied for second in the league.

This is Vanecek’s first AHL honor.

Vanecek is playing exceptionally well in the AHL, far exceeding my expectations. With his play I believe the Caps will at least consider promoting him next season to serve as backup to Braden Holtby if Philipp Grubauer is plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft.

Grubauer is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he almost certainly will re-sign with the Capitals. But Grubauer is rapidly becoming one of the most likely targets for Vegas in the expansion draft given his play this season.

Vanecek’s play in the AHL would certainly soften the blow of losing a dependable backup.

Granted, it’s not automatic that Vanecek would get the promotion to the NHL. He is a 20-year-old prospect with zero NHL experience. Expecting him to be able to start 15 to 20 games next season in the best league in the world would be a big jump. But I think he has at least earned consideration, especially if he keeps up this level of play throughout the 2016-17 season.

Forward Tim McGauley is finally healthy and poised to make his AHL debut in the upcoming week as he was recalled by Hershey from the ECHL on Sunday.

McGauley’s professional debut was delayed due to an injury, but he finally suited up for three games in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays. He earned an assist while there, his first professional point.

In his junior career, McGauley scored 259 points in 276 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

In other Hershey news, Stanislav Galiev tallied a goal and an assist in his return from injury this week. Defenseman Darren Dietz scored his first goal with the Bears on Sunday in the win over Springfield.

Travis Boyd continues his phenomenal season with two goals and three assists in three games. He currently leads the Bears in points with 28. Liam O’Brien and Christian Djoos also put together an impressive week as they each tallied four assists.

In one other note, Bears captain Garrett Mitchell has more holiday spirit than you do.

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Day 10

Other prospect notes:

In their first tuneup game in preparation for the World Juniors Tournament, Caps prospect Damien Riat scored a goal for Team Switzerland in a 4-3 loss to USA on Wednesday. Switzerland boasts two Caps prospects on the roster with Riat on offense and Jonas Siegenthaler on the blue line.

Check out a preview of the team for the tournament here from the SB Nation page “Eyes on the Prize.”

One player who should be at the tournament, but was not included on Team Canada’s roster is defenseman Connor Hobbs. He continued his sharp play in the WHL this week with a goal and an assist on Saturday, earning third star of the game honors.

You can watch the highlights here;

Hobbs boasts a fantastic slap shot, but what I love about this game is that he didn’t use it on either of his two points. On the goal, he recognized he had an opening and elected for the more accurate wrist shot which he hit perfectly in the top shelf. He showed that he doesn’t have to just unleash the slap shot every time he gets the puck. He has more than one tool in his arsenal and he’s smart enough to know when to use each.

Hobbs is definitely a player to watch as he continues to develop.

Just in case anyone forgot who the Stingrays’ NHL affiliate was, they made sure to remind everyone with these Caps-inspired alternate jerseys.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Burakovsky not enough for Caps in Philly

Quick Links

Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

usatsi_9707317.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.

Here’s how everyone lined up:

Forwards

Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana

Connolly – Graovac – Wilson

Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

Walker

Defense

Orpik – Bowey

Djoos – Carlson

Orlov – Chorney

Ness

Goalies

Holtby

Grubauer

RELATED: Caps destroyed by Flyers in lopsided road loss

Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:

  • Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”

 

  • The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”

 

  • If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”  

 

  • Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”  

 

  • As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”

 

  • As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.

 

MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars

Quick Links

Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

usatsi_10325420.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.

No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.

Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.   

“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”

RELATED: Andre Burakovsky's first NHL fight

Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.

First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.

On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.

MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly