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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Smith-Pelly, Vrana rise to the occasion in critical preseason game

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Thumbs up, thumbs down: Smith-Pelly, Vrana rise to the occasion in critical preseason game

The Caps fell 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, but that was not the big story of the night. With a lineup full of bubble players, this game was much more about the individual performances of players fighting for a roster spot. Here is who stood out.

Thumbs up

Jakub Vrana: Vrana's speed was on full display Friday. He caought a few Carolina defensemen by surprise more than once when he turned on the jets which drew a holding penalty from Justin Faulik in the second period. In an age where speed has become so important, he looks lke a player the Caps will need for the upcoming season. There are plenty of questions about Vrana's mentality, but considering the other bubble players battling for a roster spot, Vrana is far and away the most talented of the bunch.

RELATED: NO REASON TO WORRY, OSHIE IS JUST FINE

Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly played like someone who knew what was on the line in this game. He played with plenty of energy in both ends of the ice, injecting himself into the action every time he was on the ice. He even added an assist on Matt Niskanen's second period goal, showing good skill and vision to find Niskanen on the far side with a sweet backhand pass.

Nathan Walker: Get this guy on the fourth line already. The young Aussie continues to impress with his high energy and strong, relentless work on the forecheck. He totaled a game-high five hits and is someone the opposing team has to account for whenever he is on the ice. If you have the puck, you can bet he is going to come gunning for you. He was in good shape before this game and he did nothing to hurt his staning with his performance Friday.

Thumbs down

Chandler Stepphenson: Did Stephenson make the trip to Carolina? Was he in the building? Apart from a nice feed for Walker in the third period which Walker hit off the post, Stephenson was largely invisible and registered zero shot attempts for the game. That's a really disappointing effort considering what was at stake. With all the bubble players in the lineup, the coaches were looking for players to make an impact. Stephenson had none.

Alex Chiasson: Playing on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky, Chiasson was given a great opportunity to succeed. Yet, this was probably his worst game of the preseason and it came at a real bad time considering the game Smith-Pelly had. With no contract, Chiasson is at a disadvantage. He doesn't just have to prove he is worth putting in the lineup, he needs to prove he is worth signing. He made a strong case earlier in the preseason, but not on Friday.

MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN REFLECTS ON  2016-17 SEASON

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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.”

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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.”