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There's a spot on the Caps' blue line waiting for Madison Bowey. Will he seize it?

There's a spot on the Caps' blue line waiting for Madison Bowey. Will he seize it?

As the battle for the two open jobs on the Capitals’ blue line intensifies, one guy you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on is Madison Bowey.

His ankle is 100-percent.

He dropped a dozen pounds over the summer in an effort to get quicker.

He’s also as determined as he’s ever been.

“You have that extra motivation because you know [that] this year there’s a chance it’ll be your year,” said Bowey, who is expected to make his preseason debut Wednesday night in Montreal. “This year is my best opportunity.”

Indeed, it is.

RELATED: WHO IMPRESSED IN THE CAPS' PRESEASON OPENER?

Bowey might have made his NHL debut a year ago, but a gruesome ankle injury caused by an opponent’s skate blade sidelined him from late December him until mid-March. A week after the 2013 second round pick returned to the Bears’ lineup, he took a puck off the face, suffering two small fractures near his orbital bone in the process.

“Wearing a fishbowl a week after you just got back [from being out] three months was tough,” he cracked.

It wasn’t a completely lost season, though.

“It was the [second round] playoffs series against Providence when I really felt like myself again,” he said. “It was tough. I came back [in the regular season] and felt good and then I started kinda feeling it again. But in that Providence series, I really felt like that was my best, that I was getting back to my game. It was our last series and I ended off on a good note and I felt really good about my game heading onto the offseason.”

Bowey also entered the offseason knowing that he had some serious work to do in order to get his ankle back to 100-percent.

“Injuries happen,” he said. “Obviously, it’s what you do after that injury and how you bounce back. This summer was huge for me in that regard. I really got three months of hard training on and off the ice and I think that went a long way for me. I feel great.”

In addition to rehabbing the ankle, Bowey skated regularly with fellow Winnipeg residents Cody Eakin, Eric Fehr, Jonathan Toews and Travis Hamonic, among others.

Bowey also focused on dropping some excess body fat. Although he already considered himself nutrition conscious, he managed to lose a dozen pounds by cutting carbs and giving up ice cream.

As a result, he’s now listed at 6-2, 198.

“I felt 210 [pounds] was too much for my legs to handle,” Bowey said. “I feel a lot better on the ice and more explosive. I feel more mobile for sure. My cardio is way better than it was a year ago. I can skate well, and that’s huge in this league. Right now you can see the teams that are successful, their ‘D’ are mobile, they like to join the rush and contribute offense.”

He added: “There are two spots open and there’s a lot of great guys competing for it. I feel really confident in myself right now going into the preseason. It’s up to me to really just focus on the little things that I do right and not try to do too much and make sure I know when to pick my spots when the time is right. Hopefully I can help contribute to this team this year.”

One doesn’t have to look very hard to find a spot for Bowey in the lineup. As a right shot, he could fit very nicely on the third pairing alongside Brooks Orpik, a 15-year veteran who could also serve as a mentor for the 22-year-old.

Bowey has put himself in position but it’s no slam dunk that he'll make the opening night roster. He doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, the competition is stiff and Coach Barry Trotz is still waiting to see if he's able to put it all together.

“Probably like all of the defensemen, he’s had some really good moments and he’s had some moments of uncertainty or not so good moments,” Trotz said. “Tomorrow he’ll get an opportunity to be in a game and show what he can do. That’s really what separates everything. He practices well. He moves well. He’s got the skillset to do the right things. But can he make the strength and the skill and the skating translate into productive play in an NHL game? That’s the next step for Madison.” 

MORE CAPITALS: NESS' SKATING ABILITY GIVES HIM A CHANCE TO EARN A SPOT IN THE LINEUP

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NHL Power Rankings: Caps off to worst start since 2013-14

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: Caps off to worst start since 2013-14

The Caps are a .500 team through their first nine games of the 2017-18 season and that's unfamiliar territory for this team. A 4-4-1 start is Washington's worst start to a season since 2013-14 when the team 4-5-0 in what would be Adam Oates' final year as head coach.

We knew this year was not going to be a Presidents' Trophy year for the Caps after their roster turnover in the offseason led to a few holes on the team. Those holes have been evident in the season's first month of play.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

A shaky defense has been made worse by an injury to Matt Niskanen that will keep him out at least until the beginning of November. That leaves the team with a top-six that includes two rookies, depends on John Carlson playing huge minutes and a 37-year-old Brooks Orpik taking on a more significant role than last season.

Depth scoring has also been an issue. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 19 of the teams' 27 goals. Washington needs more production from its bottom two lines and even the blue line where Christian Djoos is the only defenseman on the team to score.

It's still early in the season so there's no reason to panic.The good news is that they still have time to work on all of these issues. A 4-4-1 record is not an insurmountable hole for the team to climb out of. The bad news is that the clock is ticking.

Statistically speaking, teams that are in playoff position at Thanksgiving tend to stay there. That gives Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan four weeks to determine the strength of the team they have and makes some tough decisions going forward regarding lines, trades and future contracts.

One thing's for sure, they will have to play better than they have thus far. See where the Caps have fallen here in this week's NHL Power Rankings.

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

Rookie players make rookie mistakes. It happens. When it does, you hope it doesn’t cost the team too much, you learn from it and then you move on.

When you have two rookie defensemen in your lineup, however, those rookie mistakes can turn very, very costly. That was evident in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Less than two minutes into the game, Christian Djoos chased after a puck behind his own net while under pressure from two Florida forecheckers. He attempted a backhanded pass that hit off the back of the net and was collected by Jarred McCann who set up Connor Brickley for the easy goal.

“Not the best start, obviously,” Djoos said after the game. “Not a good play.”

RELATED: THE CAPS ARE TAKING TOO MANY PENALTIES AND THEY KNOW IT

It looks like Djoos tried to chip the puck past the forecheckers into the middle, probably to Lars Eller who was trailing the play. That puck needs to be along the boards. When you try to clear up the middle while under pressure, you risk giving up the puck in a very dangerous area of the ice which is exactly what happened.

With two players on his tail, Djoos should have fired that puck along the boards, preferably with his forehand which is much stronger than the backhand. He may not have had enough time to go to the forehand given the pressure, but that puck still needs to go along the boards with as much power behind it as possible. If it’s a turnover, fine, at least it is in the corner or along the perimeter rather than directly behind the net. If it’s icing, fine. Icing is better than a goal.

But Djoos wasn’t the only player guilty of having a rookie moment. Madison Bowey's inexperience was on display late in the first period as he tried to defend Florida forward Vincent Trochek.

Trocheck skated the puck into the Caps’ defensive zone. Bowey forced him to the outside which is the right way to play it, but he couldn’t rub him out along the boards. Instead, Trocheck was able to shake Bowey off and turn the corner on him to get in alone on Philipp Grubauer prompting the desperation hook from Bowey.

When Bowey is able to force him to the boards, he needs to finish off Trocheck and snuff out the rush.

Florida would score on the resulting power play to take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first, a deficit the Capitals were not able to overcome.

The good news is that both Djoos and Bowery are going to continue to get better with every passing game. They are both young players at 23 and 22 respectively and mistakes are expected for players in their first NHL season. They will develop and improve which we already saw through Saturday's game.

Djoos scored the Capitals’ lone goal on the night and Bowey played strong defensively the rest of the way. The coaches seemed to reward their play as well with more minutes. Djoos played 3:02 in the first, 3:16 in the second and 6:06 in the third while Bowey played 4:04, 6:09 and 6:18.

“The young guys have been fine,” Barry Trotz told reporters. “They're going to make mistakes. They make the same mistakes some of the older guys are making.”

MORE CAPITALS: ONE PLAYER STOOD OUT FOR THE CAPS IN SATURDAY'S LOSS

The question is do the Caps have enough time to wait for them to continue to develop this season or do they need to improve the defense now?

There’s no question having two rookies in the team's top six is not an ideal scenario. It is hard for the coaches to shelter them as they normally would like. It is also having a strain on the other veteran defensemen who are taking on a heavier workload as a result. The 37-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik played 16:56 through two periods and John Carlson finished the game with a season-high 29:48 on Saturday.

You can’t win a Stanley Cup in October and November, but you can lose it if you get buried too far in the standings. The Caps are 4-4-1 through nine games and have six games between now and when Matt Niskanen is eligible to return from LTIR, assuming he is ready at that point.

Can the defense as it’s currently constructed keep the Caps afloat until Niskanen’s return? Is it good enough with Niskanen in the lineup? Those are questions Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan are going to have to answer quickly.