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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.

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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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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and look forward to the rest of the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

El-Bashir: While seeing the Caps sit atop the deep and difficult Metro Division is a bit unexpected, my biggest surprise at the bye is Alex Ovechkin’s return to world-class form. For the record, I wasn’t among those—and there were plenty—who were ready to write off No. 8, saying he was poised for a precipitous plunge in production following a disappointing 33 goal performance a year ago. I thought he’d bounce back…a bit, anyway. After all, we had seen him do it a couple of times before. Instead, what we appear to witnessing is a rebirth of sorts. Ovechkin, at 32, leads the NHL with 28 goals and is on pace to hit 50 for the eighth time in his career. (Last season, the top-10 goal getters were all under 30 and Sidney Crosby’s 44 led everyone.) Ovechkin is also on pace for his highest point total—89—since he posted 109 way back in 2009-10. The three-time MVP is also leading the league in shots.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS SIT IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS?

Sure, Ovechkin is playing 1:20 more per game than he did last year. But it’s not all about an extra couple of shifts. Ovechkin put in the work this offseason, and it’s showing. He’s got a gear, a burst we haven’t seen in a couple of years and, as a result, he’s getting to pucks—and creating opportunities—he couldn’t a season ago.

For Ovechkin’s legion of fans, the second half of the regular season figures to be even more fun that the first because of the milestones that are within his reach. At some point, assuming he stays healthy, Ovechkin will hit 500 assists (he’s two away), 600 goals (he’s 14 back) and 1,000 games (he needs 34 more).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again Caps fans: savor every moment because Ovi’s on top of his game again.

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Regan: My biggest surprise is the Caps’ 28-14-3 record. Given the number of players the team lost in the offseason, it was clear they were not the same team that won the Presidents’ Trophy the past two years. But how much of a step back would they take? No one was really sure what to expect. With a six-point lead over the Metropolitan Division 45 games into the season, Washington is surpassing even the most optimistic of expectations.

Not only are the Caps exceeding expectations, they are doing it in the face of obstacles that should be holding them back.

The Caps have not had the same remarkable luck with injuries as they have the past few years. T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky and Matt Niskanen have all missed time due to injuries this season. Those are significant losses, especially Niskanen given the team’s thin depth on the blue line. But Alex Ovechkin’s defiance of Father Time, the emergence of Jakub Vrana and key contributions from role players like Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly have bolstered the team’s offense. Defensively, John Carlson’s career season helped mitigate the loss of Niskanen.

When you consider the players the Caps lost, the injuries the team has dealt with, that they rank dead last in shots per game, that they have two rookies playing on the blue line and their best player is 32 years old, the fact the team not only sits in first place of the tough Metropolitan Division but by a sizable six-point margin is absolutely remarkable.

RELATED: CAPS' IMPROBABLE WIN

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NHL Power Rankings: Riding high into the bye

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NHL Power Rankings: Riding high into the bye

For a Capitals team that has won 14 of its last 19 games, perhaps the bye week did not come at the best time. But, the mandated bye week is here none the less. Now the task for the Caps will be to relax, get healthy and get ready for the second half grind.

All that, plus they need to figure out how to return from the bye.

The benefits of a bye week are obvious. But there are also some less obvious disadvantages.

SEE THIS WEEK’S UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

The bye week does not just mean no games, it means no practices too. The team is not allowed to practice until Wednesday afternoon, the day before they return to action, on the road. When it comes to the finely tuned machine of a professional hockey team, it doesn’t take long for rust to set in.

Last year, the Capitals entered the bye week on a six-game winning streak. They returned with back-to-back games on the road and lost both. They would go on to lose eight of 14 before they finally pulled together. This year, given how the Metropolitan has looked, a stretch like that could end up costing them the division.

The team also needs to be especially cognizant of injuries. Washington comes back from the bye week with three games in four days. To go from no practice or games to three games in four days seems like a dangerous proposition for the players.

But these are things the Caps don’t have to worry about until Thursday. For now, they are riding into the bye week on a high note. Just how high? Find out here in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.