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Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

Quite the Schmidtuation: Nate Schmidt's play may force a shakeup in the Caps' defensive pairs

When the Caps traded for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, that meant someone else would be coming out of the lineup to make room. That player became Nate Schmidt. Now thrust back into duty for Washington, Schmidt is making it very hard for head coach Barry Trotz to scratch him again.

“Nate's come in and played very, very well," Trotz said. "His ability to get up ice, his ability to skate, he's done a really good job. So yeah, we do have a little bit of an interesting scenario here.”

Schmidt came back into the Caps’ lineup after Shattenkirk was suspended two games for a high hit delivered to Kevin Gravel of the Los Angeles Kings. Schmidt has been outstanding in those two games and scored Washington’s first goal of the game against Minnesota, just his second goal of the season.

RELATED: Caps go wild on Minnesota to end losing skid

With Shattenkirk set to return to the lineup now that his two-game suspension is up, it was originally assumed Schmidt would find himself as a healthy scratch again.

According to Trotz, however, that may not be the case.

“He stepped in and is making our decisions tougher,” Trotz said. “I think that's an outstanding thing.”

It says a lot about a player when he can step back into the lineup after getting replaced and play as well as Schmidt has. That will no doubt raise his esteem in the eyes of the coaches.

But who will he play for? The answer is not Shattenkirk.

“I think we're going to have to get Shattenkirk in,” Trotz said. “There's no question. I'm not going to keep him out. We've got to get him playing the way we need him to play and he's had a couple days off here.”

It’s important to get Shattenkirk as much playing time as possible as he continues to adjust to the team. Plus, the Capitals showed just how much having a left-right balance on each defensive pair means to the team with what they were willing to give up to get him. Should Schmidt, a lefty, remain in the lineup for Thursday’s game, that then means it will most likely be in place of another left-shot defensemen: Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik, or Karl Alzner.

It certainly is an interesting Schmidtuation.

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin ends 10-game goal drought

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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

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JJ vs. the fans bold predictions: A big night for Tom Wilson?

In the very first edition of JJ vs. the fans bold predictions, no one got a single prediction right. Well, there’s nowhere to go but up!

The Caps hit the road on Friday to take on the Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus). Let’s check out our predictions.

RELATED: MADISON BOWEY IS ALREADY LOOKING MUCH IMPROVED

Fan predictions:

For those who don't know, a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight all in one game. Tom Wilson gets the promotion to the top line tonight and Wade is expecting big things. I am not so bullish on it. I think adjusting to a new line and a new side, Wilson has moved from right wing to left, will take Wilson some time.

The Caps face former defenseman Mike Green and Garrett thinks he is going to get one past Braden Holtby. This is pretty bold considering Green has yet to record a single point in five games against his former squad.

The Capitals’ defense has had its problems of late and it has certainly dragged down the penalty kill. Remember how hot the penalty kill was to start the season? Now the Caps rank 19th in the league at 78.6-percent. Still, two power play goals is a lot considering Detroit ranks 24th in the NHL with a success rate of only 14.8-percent.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-RED WINGS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will allow more than two goals

Washington’s defense is not as bad as they looked against Philadelphia, but it isn't as good as they looked against Toronto either. One thing that helped against the Maple Leafs was that the game was at home. Barry Trotz could get the favorable matchups for his rookie defensemen as his team had the second change. That won’t be true on Friday in Detroit. The defense will struggle as a result.

John Carlson will play more than he did against Toronto

See above. Carlson logged a hefty 27:33 on Tuesday and that was with the Caps getting the second change. The Caps will rely even more on him on the road.

Washington will get at least two goals form players not named Ovechkin, Oshie and Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have 17 of the Caps’ 22 goals this season. Perhaps the big three will have another big night, but eventually the team will need someone else to step up and score. Whether because the team emphasizes it or through just dumb luck, the Caps are going to record a few points from a few of their other players on Friday.

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

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In just one week, Madison Bowey already looks like a much improved player

Madison Bowey’s second game went a lot better than his first and it’s not just because the Caps allowed only two goals as opposed to eight.

Despite being thrust into a significant role in his first taste of NHL experience, Bowey seemed to settle in a bit in his second contest even as it came against the NHL’s best offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Just everything in the first game felt like it happened so quick, I think,” Bowey said Thursday after the team’s practice. “It was obviously nice to come back in Washington and play in the home in front of the home crowd, get a practice in on Monday before the game Tuesday with the team. Just all the little factors that went into it definitely helped and I think it definitely felt a lot smoother out there on the ice.”

RELATED: BURAKOVSKY DEMOTED TO THIRD LINE

Playing at home definitely has its benefits for the coaching staff as they try to protect the rookie defensemen. Home teams get the chance to change after the visiting team allowing the coaches to pick the matchups they want for Bowey.

More favorable matchups certainly helped him, but Bowey also seemed to play with more confidence and a level of calm that was not there against Philadelphia. For Bowey, the difference was having time to settle in and practice with the team.

“Obviously this team is one of the veteran teams in the league so to be able to practice against top players in the league, it goes a long way,” Bowey said.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS SHOULD NOT TRADE PROSPECT IIYA SAMSONOV

Bowey was called up for a Saturday game in Philadelphia after Matt Niskanen suffered a hand injury Friday in New Jersey. That means he quickly had to join the team and jump into the lineup for his first ever NHL game without any practice with the Caps at all.

Bowey now has two practices and two games under his belt and even a team-building day at FBI training. The effect that has had on his game was noticeable on Tuesday. It should be even more clear on Friday as the team travels to face the Detroit Red Wings.

“I feel myself improving every day,” Bowey said. “It forces you to really work hard and be on your top every day you come to the rink so for me, just having those two practices already have been huge. I feel the development's getting a lot better early.”