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Among the very few holes on Washington’s roster, Nic Dowd saw opportunity

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Among the very few holes on Washington’s roster, Nic Dowd saw opportunity

When training camp begins on Friday, the Washington Capitals will return almost their entire roster from last season’s Stanley Cup run. That does not leave many openings in the lineup for new players, but there is at least one glaring need that Nic Dowd hopes to fill.

One of the few players the team lost in the offseason was fourth-line center Jay Beagle. With his absence, Dowd saw a clear opportunity.

“I think obviously with Beagle leaving, right-handed shot, penalty killer, I've done a lot of that in my career,” Dowd told reporters after an informal skate Tuesday.

“I think it's pretty obvious the role that I'm expected to step into and I think there's a good opportunity there. I think that last year with certain players that can fit that mold, they put a lot of emphasis on those guys and I think that allows for a lot of opportunity for players to continue to play well and move up throughout the year.”

Dowd was signed as a free agent in the offseason, one of the few additions the team made. By signing him to a one-way contract, the message was clear. This is someone general manager Brian MacLellan saw contributing at the NHL level this season.

If there is one team that appreciates the role depth players can have, it’s the Capitals. After years of losing in the playoffs with a top-heavy offensive lineup, Washington finally got the formula right last season with a deep lineup and key contributions from all four lines.

Finding a key contributor on the fourth line requires more than just a “next man up” mentality. A player’s skillset really has to match that role, someone who can play tough, limited minutes but still produce on the offensive end and play responsibly on the defensive side.

With his skillset, Dowd saw an opportunity to thrive in Washington by filling an obvious need.

“Any team you pick, you want to pick something where not only is it going to be a good organization, but where you see yourself as a player,” Dowd said. “Obviously everyone wants to play first, second line. That's power play. Everyone grew up doing that, but you have to set expectations and I think you've got to find teams that rely on players that can do things that are in my skillset and stuff that I can do. I think Washington was one of those teams.”

In addition to his skills on the ice, Dowd can also provide bit of new blood to the locker room.

The danger of returning so many new players is a sense of complacency within the team, something that is especially dangerous considering the Caps are coming off a Cup win and are hoping to avoid the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover.

Sometimes a team needs that new blood to spark them. That may be putting a lot on a fourth line player to energize the team, but Beagle was a player that certainly provided energy to the locker room.

Fourth line center is one of the few holes the Caps have on their roster heading into camp. Dowd believes he can fill that hole both on and off the ice.

“I think with any team when new guys come to an organization, people are kind of are excited to see what they can bring and what they're capable of,” Dowd said. “I think that leaves room for opportunity to play well and kind of show the organization and fit into a nice spot.”

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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.

Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.

At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.

Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.

SEE THIS WEEKS’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:

  • What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
  • The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
  • Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.

How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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Capitals Injury updates: Braden Holtby a possibility to start in Montreal

Capitals Injury updates: Braden Holtby a possibility to start in Montreal

The Capitals were able to pull out a win Friday in Colorado without Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie or Braden Holtby. With a game Monday in Montreal, the team hopes it will not be quite as shorthanded against the Canadiens.

Washington practiced Sunday in Montreal and three goalies took to the ice. Holtby was on the ice along with Pheonix Copley and Ilya Samsonov 

Holtby suffered an upper-body injury Wednesday morning prior to the game in Winnipeg. That injury kept him out of the lineup both Wednesday and Friday. The Caps netminder told Chris Kuc of The Atlantic that he is ready to play, but still needs to be cleared by doctors.

Head coach Todd Reirden said after practice that Holtby was a possibility to start Monday.

With Holtby’s status still up in the air, Samsonov remains with the team in case he is needed to suit up as a backup.

While Holtby was on the ice for practice, both Kuznetsov and Oshie were not. Reirden told the media that both players are day-to-day and are with the team in Montreal. Their status for Monday remains uncertain.

With no Kuznetsov or Oshie, Reirden kept the offensive lines largely the same from Friday except for switching Devante Smith-Pelly to the third line and moving Brett Connolly down to the fourth.

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson 
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly

Reirden switched up the lines frequently on Friday and Stephenson, Boyd, Smith-Pelly combined for a goal in the second period.

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