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Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Hershey update: 28-17-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 2-1-0-0

You can officially scratch Zach Sanford off the Capitals prospect list.

Sanford was shipped to St. Louis as part of the trade package that landed the Capitals Kevin Shattenkirk. While that may be good news for the Caps, it is also bad news for the Hershey Bears who now stand to lose two key forwards.

Wait, two?

Before the Shattenkirk trade, the Capitals looked set on carrying Sanford and Jakub Vrana as forward depth for the playoffs. With Sanford now gone, that will mean more time over the last stretch of the season for Vrana in the NHL. Even when Andre Burakovsky returns from injury, the Caps may still choose to keep Vrana around to keep him practicing with the team. I would expect to see him with the Caps for most if not all of the remainder of the regular season and for the team to keep cycling through other Hershey forwards in search of who may be the best fit in case of multiple postseason injuries. Forwards like Riley Barber.

Barber had a busy week. With the injury to T.J. Oshie, the forward prospect was recalled from Hershey and played in the first three NHL games of his career. He registered two shots on goal against the Edmonton Oilers. Following Saturday’s game in Nashville, Barber was sent down to the AHL where he earned an assist in Sunday’s loss to Bridgeport. He was then recalled again for the Caps' game in New York on Tuesday and returned to the AHL prior to the NHL’s trade deadline on Wednesday.

Barber spoke with the blog Russian Machine Never Breaks about what is was like to achieve his dream and finally make it to the NHL. You can read it here.

Although Barber’s ultimate goal is to earn a spot on the NHL roster rather than just play in three games as a callup, the fact that he has made it this far as a sixth-round draft pick is a remarkable success.

One player who seemed likely to earn a call-up this season was Nathan Walker. A late-season hand injury, however, has put that on hold.

Walker is currently considered week-to-week. As the season goes on, the goal for these Hershey call-ups becomes less about giving players experience and more about getting ready for the playoffs so the clock may be ticking for Walker to make his debut this season.

Fox Sports wrote a feature on the young Aussie with some glowing words from head coach Barry Trotz who believes Walker will get called up either this year or next.

Another part of the Shattenkirk trade that affects the Bears directly is Pheonix Copley. Washington also acquired the goalie and former Bear as part of the deal. Washington needed to grab a third goalie not just for their sake, but for Hershey’s.

Joe Canata was signed to be Washington’s No. 3 this season and to play in tandem in the AHL with Vitek Vanecek. That plan has not worked and the goaltending has been an issue for the Bears. Vanecek is as much to blame for that as Canata. After a hot start, Vanecek has struggled and has a 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage for the season.

The addition of Copley is not a sign that the team has given up on Vanecek by any means. After all, the team elected to keep him and trade away Canta. But at only 21 years old, Vanecek remains very much a work in progress.

Stanislav Galiev stayed hot with two goals Friday against Hartford. He now has 17 goals and 28 points in 36 games for the Bears this season. Many have wondered why he has not been recalled at some point this season, but with several up and coming prospects within the organization, it certainly appears as if the team is ready to move on. That point was further emphasized prior to the trade deadline as Isabelle Khurshudyan reported the Capitals were shopping him.

General manager Brian MacLellan stated after the trade for Shattenkirk that the St. Louis Blues “insisted” on Sanford being part of the deal. I have to wonder if one of Washington’s first proposals included Galiev instead.

As well as Galiev has played of late, no one had a better week than defenseman Christian Djoos who recorded five points in Hershey’s three games. He is now riding a five-game point streak for the third time this season and is now tied for fourth among AHL defensemen with 38 points.

Travis Boyd reached a milestone with the Bears over the weekend. Boyd’s goal Friday was his 100th career AHL point. He is currently second on the team in points with 45.

In other Bears news, the Capitals signed defenseman Colby Williams to a two-year entry-level contract on Thursday. The team also signed free agent forward Mason Mitchell to a two-year, entry-level contract. He will join the Bears on a tryout agreement.

Washington’s 2016 first round pick, Lucas Johansen, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract as well. He is currently playing with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, but is expected to play for Hershey next season.

You can see more details on the signings here.

RELATED: Trotz wants Caps to make sure they're in playoff mode

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov’s KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, won its first round series against Kunlun Red Star 4-1 with a dominant 8-2 win on Thursday. After starting Game 1, Samsonov appeared in only one other game when he came on in relief in Game 4, stopping all 11 shots in faced in his team’s only loss of the series.

Two Caps prospects squared off over the weekend as Shane Gersich and North Dakota took on Steven Spinner’s Nebraska-Omaha team. The teams split the two games with one win apiece, but Spinner won the head-to-head matchup with two goals in Friday’s game, both scored within two minutes apart.

It was a rare down week for Gersich as he was held off the scoresheet completely in both of North Dakota’s games. That, however, should not take away from the monster season he is having.

“Shane Gersich came into our program two years ago as a first-year freshman and had a pretty good impact in the national championship game scoring a goal on the fourth line,” said head coach Brad Berry. “He came in this year and wanted more. He got stronger, he’s very fast, his skating ability is one of his best assets as far as skating, and he’s on that top line with Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser, and he’s been the guy that consistently does things over and over again. He’s been consistent in his work habits, and he’s been consistently showing up on the score sheet. It’s no coincidence the success he’s had.”

Gersich leads North Dakota in points with 34 (19 goals, 15 assists).

Brian Pinho and Chase Priskie also lead their respective teams in points. Pinho is currently on a point-per-game pace with 34 points in 34 games for Providence. At Quinnipiac, Priskie finished the regular season tied for the team lead in points with 25, despite the fact that he is a defenseman.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk's Twitter handle is one big poop joke

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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

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@Capitals Twitter

Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

How much better would your work environment be if you had a chance to pin a coworker or get them in a chokehold? Probably a lot. That's what the Caps are banking on.

The team visited the FBI Academy on Wednesday in a team building exercise that included raming doors and, of course, hand to hand combat.

Let's break down some of these wrestling matchups.

Braden Holtby appears to be thanking John Carlson for playing 27:33 on Tuesday.

It seems dangerous to pit a goalie against a defenseman. Carlson spends all of his time on the ice trying to protect Holtby. Just how hard was Carlson really trying to take down Holtby?

It's no surprise seeing Tom Wilson enjoying himself with the hand to hand combat. Whoever went up against him (it looks like Jay Beagle) certainly drew the short straw.

And then there's this.

Nicklas Backstrom is having way, way too much fun. Maybe Andre Burakovsky was getting a bit chesty in the locker room after his first NHL fight. Well, it seems Backstrom certainly put him in his place.

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

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USA TODAY Sports

There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.

RELATED: EVGENY KUZNETSOV COULD HAVE CHANGED TUESDAY'S GAME, HERE'S HOW

Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN TUESDAY'S DEFENSIVE BATTLE?

What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.