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Prospect report: Nathan Walker out four-to-six weeks with broken hand

Prospect report: Nathan Walker out four-to-six weeks with broken hand

Hershey update: 21-13-7-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-0-0-1

After a rough month, the Hershey Bears tried to end January on a high note with three points in two games. But there was some bad news as well as Nathan Walker suffered a broken hand that will keep him out for the next four-to-six weeks.

Walker broke his hand blocking a shot in the Bears’ win on Saturday over Springfield. The injury comes at an inopportune time not just for the team, but for him as well. When talking about bringing prospects in from Hershey on Monday, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz brought Walker’s name up specifically.

“Nathan Walker was a name that we were thinking about bringing up and he got hurt this weekend so he’ll be eliminated there for a little bit.”

While the NHL was enjoying its All-Star weekend, the AHL held its All-Star festivities as well. Travis Boyd scored two goals and one assist in the 3-on-3 tournament as the Atlantic Division fell in the championship game.

Following the NHL All-Star break, the Caps recalled defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson. The callup was the first NHL callup for Djoos who, as Trotz said, was being rewarded for good play.

With the Bears off for the AHL break, the time allowed the Caps to get a closer look at Djoos. He may not have gotten into a game, but he did get some valuable practice time at the NHL level.

Stephenson, meanwhile, played in his third NHL game this season on Wednesday in place of an injured Justin Williams. He was reassigned to Hershey on Thursday, but with the Caps playing in Montreal on Saturday, it is likely the team will make another call up for an extra body on Friday.

Scott Murray, the associate goaltending coach for Hershey, spoke to the Lebanon Daily News about the Bears’ goalie tandem this season including prospect Vitek Vanecek:

There’s always room for improvement, regardless of how young or old a goalie is, but if you look at last year Vitek exceeded expectations with South Carolina. We didn’t want to rush him so if he needed to go back there again that’s what would have happened but he earned himself a spot here. So far this year he has exceeded expectations again, is pushing the envelope, and that’s a good trend for him.

As a high pick it isn’t always easy to do that. The ultimate goal for anybody in that position is to prove himself as fast as possible, without rushing it, so he can be an option to give us great minutes but also be available to do the same thing for Washington quicker than was in the original plans.

Coach Troy Mann does an unbelievable job of setting up how we protect our goalies but when we needed them to come up with the big saves, Vitek has really done that to keep things going in our favor or holding the fort. He’s done a really good job of finding those saves to help us turn things around.

Vanecek made 37 saves on 39 shots on Friday in the team’s shootout loss to Providence.

RELATED: Trotz calls Backstrom one of the best passers ever

Other prospect notes:

Buzz is starting to grow as the NHL trade deadline nears. While everyone focuses on the big NHL names that could be on the move, there are always some prospects added to trade deals as teams shop around young players as trade bait. Ross Sellers provided an interesting trade scenario on the Mile High Sticking blog between the Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche are clear sellers at the deadline which means a player like Jarome Iginla will be on the market. Sellers posits Washington as a possible trade partner because the team could use a leader like Iginla given its recent history of playoff struggles. The most interesting part is what he thinks Colorado could get in return.

Unfortunately, the Capitals are also right up against the salary cap, and would probably need the Avs to take a player like Daniel Winnik or Lars Eller home with them.

If the Avs do end up taking on a contract like that, then they can ask for more in return from the Capitals.

The Avs could possibly ask for a 2nd round draft pick, and a middle level prospect like Jonas Siegenthaler, especially if they throw in a fourth round draft pick themselves.

First off, you can take Lars Eller off the table given Washington acquired him in the offseason specifically for depth scoring in a playoff run. No way the Caps break up the third line and trade away a player they targeted to help them in the postseason.

As for Siegenthaler, keep in mind that this is a player the team traded up to get in the 2015 draft. When I say the team, I don’t mean George McPhee, I mean Brian MacLellan, the current general manager. He saw something in Siegenthaler that made him trade into the second round to get him.

Could the team have soured on Siegenthaler since? Sure. He struggled in his first stint in Hershey last season and dealt with personal issues in training camp that made it hard to really evaluate where he was in his development. But Siegenthaler’s stock should be high again after a tremendous performance in the World Juniors tournament. To think MacLellan would be interested in shopping around a second-round pikc like Siegenthaler now at the deadline seems unlikely.

Tim McGauley’s second professional goal was a big one as he scored the overtime winner on Saturday to lift South Carolina over Florida.

Other big performers this week were Beck Malenstyn who scored three goals for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) and Chase Priskie who scored twice in Quinnipiac's win over Arizona State on Friday. Connor Hobbs had one goal and two assists including a game-winning one-timer with just 24 seconds remaining to lead Regina over Moose Jaw on Wednesday.

Finally, forward Brian Pinho sat down for a video segment on “This Week in Friars Hockey” in which he talks about being a team leader as a junior and he gives his Super Bowl prediction.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps struggle to diagnose the problem with the PK

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”

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Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Preview: Three keys to how this year could be different for the Caps

The Washington Capitals enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Second Round in a similar position. A Metro division championship in hand and a seven-game series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But while this year appears the same, the Caps are hoping for a different outcome. Will they finally be able to beat their arch rival and reach the conference final?

Here are three keys that will determine if this year will be different for the Caps.

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview:

Key to Victory No. 1: Discipline:

In the Capitals' two victories over the Penguins this season, Washington did not give up a power play goal. No team had a better power play unit during the regular season than the Penguins and we already saw how much foolish penalties hurt the Caps in the first round. Washington took 24 penalties in six games against the Blue Jackets and that is far too many.

They cannot win that way against the Penguins.

The problem is that in the second round with a heated rival, tempers can flare a bit. Just look at the last time these two teams played when Malkin was shooting Oshie's stick off the ice and tried to fight Kuznetsov for speaking Russian to him. Still, the Caps are going to have to keep their emotions in check.

Key to Victory No. 2:  Getting the goaltending advantage: 

The scoring depth of Pittsburgh is unmatched. The fact that a team can have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel all on the same team in the salary cap era is mind-boggling. Oh, and by the way, Jake Guentzel scores every time he touches the puck in the playoffs. Washington cannot win this series if they do not get better goaltending than Pittsburgh.

The good news is that Murray was not lights out in the first round. Yes, he had two shutouts, but there were also three games in which he let in at least four goals. A .911 save percentage is not where the Penguins really need him to be. The bad news is that while Holtby is statistically one of the best playoff netminders in NHL history, he struggles against Pittsburgh. In last year's series, Holtby managed only a .887 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

One thing to keep in mind, on April 1 Grubauer started a critical game in Pittsburgh and was phenomenal. Could Trotz possibly think of going back to Grubauer if Holtby struggles against the Penguins?

Keys to Victory No. 3: The Mind Games

 Let's face it, there is a mental aspect to the Capitals' postseason struggles. When it comes to beating Pittsburgh or getting past the second round, this has become a mental hurdle. They have to come into this series with confidence they can win and maintain that confidence throughout, regardless of whether they get down in a game or in the series, regardless of whether there is a bad penalty call, regardless of whether Murray stands on his head again, regardless of any of the struggles they may face, they have to stay mentally confident.

When the Caps went down 0-2 against Columbus, Ovechkin said that the series would return to Washington tied at 2. The way he said it, it wasn't a guarantee or some massive proclamation, it was a statement of fact. Both he and the rest of the team believed they were going to come back and win the series. They need that level of confidence against Pittsburgh as well.

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