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Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament


Vrana impressing Caps in rookie tournament

With the Capitals rookies set to complete their four-day camp in Estero, Fla., today with a 10 a.m. game against the Nashville Predators, a handful of players already have made a strong first impression on the Caps’ coaching and management staffs.

Among them:

Jakub Vrana, forward

Whether he can withstand the physical punishment of the North American game remains to be seen, but the 19-year-old Czech has game-breaking speed and hands of gold. He showed both in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second of three games for the Caps rookies.

Taken by the Caps with the 13th overall pick of the 2014 NHL draft, Vrana scored his first goal of the tournament when he raced down an alley-oop pass from defenseman Madison Bowey and scored on Tampa goalie Adam Wilcox for the first goal on Sunday night.

Vrana is a left shot who can play either wing. Bears coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that he’d like to see Vrana use his linemates better and limit his attempts at beating opponents one-on-one. Mann said he saw that on Sunday night.

Connor Hobbs, defense

Taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL draft, Hobbs will play this season in Regina under former NHL head coach John Paddock, but through two games he leads all Caps rookies with two goals. His second came on a second-period slap shot from the point on Sunday night.

Madison Bowey, defense

Considered the Caps’ top defensive prospect, Bowey pick up a goal and an assist against the Lightning, setting up Vrana’s mad dash down the right wing and blasting a power play point shot through Wilcox for his first goal of the tourney.

Bowey, 20, is expected to begin his first pro season in Hershey but if he continues with a strong training camp he could warrant consideration from the Caps.

Caleb Herbert, right wing

Following Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers Mann said he wanted to see more out of Herbert, who was taken by the Caps in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL draft. On Sunday he delivered with a pair of assists on goals by Hobbs and Nathan Walker. Herbert, 23, is expected to begin the season in Hershey but is hoping to establish himself as a reliable AHL callup.

RELATED Could Roy give Caps the depth they need up front?

With a 1-0-1 record the Caps can win the tournament with a win over the Predators on Tuesday morning, a fact thart has not escaped Mann.

“I think it’s important that these guys work on some more things, because ultimately they’re going back to Washington to hang out with the big boys starting on Friday,” Mann told reporters.

“I think it’s important that they continue to work on the system play that (Caps coach Barry Trotz) is going to introduce to them and it’s a little bit of a leg up for them going into training camp where they know the neutral zone forecheck.”

Ovechkin arrives

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who turns 30 on Thursday, has arrived in D.C. and is expected on the ice for today's informal workouts with the Capitals. Free-agent center Derek Roy, 32, is also expected to participate. 

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."


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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do


NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.


The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.


All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.