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3 things to watch in Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

3 things to watch in Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Capitals return to action Saturday looking to erase the memory of Thursday’s blowout loss. The task will not be any easier, however, as the Caps will be hosting the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Here are three things to watch.

Auston Matthews

Among the league’s young stars, Connor McDavid is generally more highly regarded as arguably the best player in the NHL. Matthews, however, is not far behind.

In five games this season, Matthews already has found the back of the net nine times. That is more than eight different teams and tied with another three. He has been scoring seemingly at will this season thus far and will present a major challenge to the Capitals’ defense.

Offensive firepower

Toronto’s offense is just ridiculous.

In addition to Matthews, the Maple Leafs also have budding star Mitch Marner and added John Tavares in the offseason. Tavares is a player that Washington has grown very familiar with over the years when he was with the New York Islanders. Now, instead of just being a big fish in a small pond, Tavares was added to the roster of the up-and-coming Leafs and the offense is humming at an absurd pace.

The Maple Leafs are averaging 5.00 goals per game thus far in the young season while the Caps sit just behind them at 4.50 goals per game.

The good news for Washington is that they have a strong top four on defense and a proven defense that helped lead them to the Cup last season. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are trying really hard to convince themselves that Morgan Rielly is a No. 1 defenseman.

There should be plenty of scoring to go around in this one.

Bounce back game

The Capitals were trounced on Thursday 6-0. Saturday’s game offers a glimpse at just how this team will respond.

How will first year head coach Todd Reirden approach this game? How will the defending Stanley Cup champions respond to getting kicked in the teeth? How will Washington respond to a team looking to establish itself as a true Cup contender?

After the home opener, a game in Pittsburgh and a Stanley Cup rematch against Vegas, it is perhaps understandable why Washington struggled to get up for New Jersey. That should not be the case Saturday in a big-time matchup against Toronto.

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Caps bolster fourth line in trade with Kings for Carl Hagelin

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Caps bolster fourth line in trade with Kings for Carl Hagelin

Placing Devante Smith-Pelly on waivers Wednesday seemed to indicate that a trade was on the horizon for the Capitals and on Thursday, that trade was made official. Washington acquired forward Carl Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade for a third-round draft pick in 2019 and a conditional 2020 draft pick.

The trade was announced by the Caps about 30 minutes after Smith-Pelly cleared waivers, freeing up a roster spot and cap room to fit Hagelin. Terms of the conditional pick were not immediately disclosed but Pierre LeBrun reports on Twitter that regarding the pick, "Caps must win two rounds and Hagelin plays in 50 percent or more of any two rounds combined. So could be rd 1 and 2. Or 2 and 3. Or 1 and 3, etc. If those things don’t happen, there’s no 6th RD pick going to LA."

Hagelin, 30, adds speed and experience to the Caps’ lineup. His speed is easily his best asset and a valuable commodity in today’s NHL. He has won the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. He also should be able to contribute on the penalty kill.

Hagelin was traded from Pittsburgh to the Kings in November and is in the final year of his contract. The Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan also reports that the Kings have retained 50-percent of Hagelin's salary in the deal.

This season has been a bit of a struggle for him with only eight points in 38 games with the Kings and Penguins. His production typically falls around 30 points and his low production is what likely drove down Los Angeles’ asking price. He is on the final year of his contract and carries a total cap hit for $4 million, but Pittsburgh retained $250,000 of that in the original trade.

The fourth line has been a major question mark for the Caps this season. No combination has seemingly managed to gain much traction with head coach Todd Reirden and this move looks like it directly addresses that.

Given the recent success of Washington’s third line, Hagelin will likely find himself primarily playing on the fourth line for the Caps. Reirden will have to make it work with Hagelin, Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd and perhaps Smith-Pelly after he cleared waivers on Thursday.

 

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Paisano's curse? Devante Smith-Pelly becomes second pizza spokesman this month to leave DC

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Paisano's curse? Devante Smith-Pelly becomes second pizza spokesman this month to leave DC

Markieff Morris was about the break into the local pizza commercial market when he was traded earlier this month - robbing the local pizzeria chain Paisano's the chance to use his likeness to advertise their pies.

And when he was waived by the Capitals on Wednesday, Devante Smith-Pelly had been a face of Paisano's in one of their local TV commercials for just over a month. 

The commercials, for anyone who watches TV - including NBC Sports Washington - in the DC-Maryland-Virginia market are a familiar sight. Local active and retired athletes including Ryan Kerrigan, Santana Moss (an NBC Sports Washington contributor), Josh Doctson and more appear in the ads. They usually show off a few moves, ordering pizza and reciting a catchy tagline.  

While there's a long list of local athletes who have appeared in the ads and stayed in DC for years, the company has taken a bit of a hit at trade deadlines for both leagues this month with the loss of two players in three weeks. Morris was the only Wizards player on their roster and Smith-Pelly was one of two Capitals players in the ads.

"Obviously we're going to have to pull the spot [with Smith-Pelly], which kind of stinks," said ESB Advertising owner Eiman Bassam, who does the commercials for Paisano's . "And then we're going to have to come up with a back-up plan. So right now, we're talking about we shot some commercials with [Washington Capitals TV Color Analyst and retired NHL player] Craig Laughlin. It's always a safe bet to go with someone who's not going to get traded."

The players, according to Bassam, are connected with the company often after seeing their teammates in the commercials and wanting their own slice of the pie. While the restaurant has a long list of regulars on their commercials, losing two of their new roster additions in less than two months hurts a bit - though depending on the Caps' moves, Smith-Pelly could be back sometime this season. 

"It's part of the business," said Paisano's owner Fouad Qreitem. "We understand, we all understand that this is professional sports ... This is fairly, I don't want to call it 'common'. This one delivered a bigger sting because we were about to run a package of hockey and basketball spots and obviously we shot them and took time do the commercials.

"We might restructure the way we do our contracts from now on," he added, with a slight chuckle.

With the Caps trade deadline nearing, Bassam is keeping a close eye on Andre Burakovsky, who is Smith-Pelly's co-star in the video. 

"We're keeping our fingers crossed for Andre," he said. 

As for a Paisano's pizza trade curse? Bassam and Qreitem wouldn't go that far.

"It's just part of the business. We all know with sports people get traded in waves," Bassam said. "I don't think it has anything to do with a Paisano's curse."

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