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Six bold predictions for the Caps' season

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Six bold predictions for the Caps' season

The quest for the Stanley Cup begins anew for Washington on Thursday as the Caps open their season on the road against the Ottawa Senators. There are 82 games ahead for Washington that will determine the fate of their season. After a tumultuous summer, just what will the new season hold? We have a few thoughts on that.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan will cover the Capitals through the course of the season for NBC Sports Washington. Here’s a few predictions for what they think may happen.

El-Bashir

Alex Ovechkin tops the 33 goals he scored last season: As I’ve said many times, I suspect No. 8’s 50 goal campaigns are behind him. But at 32 he’s still one of the game’s most dangerous players, particularly on the power play. He introduced more speed and endurance training to his offseason routine this summer. He’s going to open the season on a line with a couple of young, speedy players in Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. If Ovi can increase his goal production at even strength, I could see the Caps’ captain hit the 40-goal plateau that the team so desperately needs him to reach.

Washington’s power play will top last year’s 23.1-percent: Last season, the power play was the third most effective unit in the NHL at 23.1-percent. It’s going to be a bit better than that this year with the addition of Evgeny Kuznetsov to the top group, which figures to see the lion's share of the two minutes. Just look at that collection of talent…Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson, who is in a contract year. Just be glad you’re not a penalty killer on one of the other 30 teams.

Nathan Walker will have a breakout season and earn a full-time role: Due to an influx of young players—and players looking to capitalize on a second chance—there are more than a few candidates for Breakout Player of the Year. Tyler Graovav, Devante Smith-Pelly, Alex Chiasson all come to mind. But I think it’s going to be feisty rookie from Australia—Nathan Walker—who’s going to carve out a niche for himself in DC. I don’t know how much he’s going to play early on. But I’m willing to bet he’s a full-timer (and a fan favorite) by the end of the year.

RELATED: WILSON ACKNOWLEDGES HE MUST ADAPT AFTER SECOND SUSPENSION

Regan

Philipp Grubauer will not finish the season as a Cap: With a .926 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 24 appearances last season, Grubauer looks ready to take on a leading role. Having a backup as dependable as Grubauer is a luxury that Washington would love to hold on to, but with Pheonix Copley’s strong play in the preseason and a roster not nearly as deep as in years past especially on the blue line, someone is going to make the Caps an offer they cannot refuse. All it takes is one injury to a starting goalie or one goalie not performing at the level the team expected and then Brian MacLellan’s phone will start to ring.

Jakub Vrana will score 20 goals: After a disappointing end to the 2016-17 season, this was a big camp for Vrana and he delivered. He looked just as skilled and as fast as advertised and looked every bit the NHL player. Any questions about whether he is ready to be a full-time NHLer are gone. He is going to start the season playing on a line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Playing alongside a skilled setup man like Kuznetsov will definitely boost Vrana’s production as will the usage. I am going to go out on a limb and say that an Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line is not going to get too many defensive zone starts. A heavy dose of offensive playing time will get Vrana to the 20-goal mark for the season.

Braden Holtby will not be a Vezina Finalist this season: Don’t get me wrong, Braden Holtby is one of the top goalies in the NHL and should be referred to with the same reverence people have for Montreal’s Carey Price. These two are the best goalies in the world, period. Having said that, Holtby has also benefited from a strong defense in recent years. He does not have that anymore as Washington’s biggest question mark this season is on the blue line. Last year, Brooks Orpik was on the third pair and Taylor Chorney was the team’s No. 7. This year, at least to start the season, the 37-year-old Orpik is in the top-four playing alongside John Carlson and Chorney is on the third pair. Those promotions came out of necessity, not because they had a dazzling camp. The Caps will lean more on Holtby to bail them out when the defense breaks down and he will be up to the task, but his numbers will take a dip because of it and he will not be among the NHL’s finalists for the Vezina for the first time in three years.

RELATED: ARE CAPS STILL CONTENDERS IN EASTERN CONFERENCE?

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

It would have been understandable if Travis Boyd struggled this past week. Something more important was on his mind.

Boyd spent the week in the hospital with his daughter, Hayden, who had been experiencing pain in her throat. He spent the enitre week in the hospital, not leaving until Hershey's game against Laval.

Boyd turned this trial into something incredible as he scored four goals Friday in Hershey's 6-3 win.

Boyd spoke about the ordeal with Zach Fisch of the Bears Radio Network (transcription via RMNB).

“It actually started after the game last Sunday against Rochester," he said. "I went straight from the rink to Urgent Care and then from Urgent Care to the ER. Never left the hospital until Friday morning. We had a successful surgery on Thursday night. Basically just a bad infection in her throat that had to be surgically removed. They had to surgically go in and kind of remove the bacteria and drain out the fluids. Everything went well. She’s doing well.”

Following the game, Boyd dedicated his performance to Hayden.

A four-goal game at the AHL level would have been an incredible accomplishment on its own. The fact that it came during such a trying time for him makes this a truly inspirational story.

You can watch highlights of the game including all four of Boyd's goals here:

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • In the Bears' game Friday against Laval, Riley Barber dropped the gloves with Markus Eisenchmid.  Barber was given an extra minor and game misconduct for instigating the fight in the final five minutes of the game. That penalty carries with it an automatic one-game suspension which Barber served Saturday. Here's a look at the fight.

  • Liam O'Brien had a pair of two-goal games over the week, scoring twice against Laval Friday and then two more against Toronto on Monday. Of his four goals, three of them were empty netters.
  • As the Capitals prepare for their Stadium Series game in Annapolis on March 3, Annapolis mayor Gavin Buckley—a native of Perth, Australia—made a plea to see Nathan Walker recalled for the game.  “I’ll have to put a quick shout out to the one Australian that’s playing for the Caps now, Nathan Walker. If you could just bring him up for this game, that’d be great. Because an Australian being in a hockey game is like a Jamaican bobsled team. It doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Brian Pinho was honored Friday in Providence College's Senior Night. He has served as captain of the team this season and as an assistant captain in his junior year. He spoke with The Cowl on what being a leader on the team means to him. "I think being a leader of this team is a great honor, but also a huge responsibility. I try to keep everything fun at the rink, while also bringing some intensity and competing hard every day.” You can read the full story here.
  • Goalie Adam Carlson, who was on loan to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, was reassigned to the Kansas City Mavericks also of the ECHL. He started two games for his new team and turned aside 42 of the 48 total shots he faced.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Panthers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals (34-19-7) take on the Panthers (26-25-6) Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Florida.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Panthers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Panthers
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Panthers game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Brooks Orpik

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-PANTHERS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.