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Breaking down the slash that cost Washington the game in Winnipeg

Breaking down the slash that cost Washington the game in Winnipeg

You didn't know it at the time, but when Dustin Byfuglien slashed Jay Beagle late in the third period on Tuesday, he changed the course of the game.

Late in the third period with the Caps leading 3-2, the Winnipeg Jets pulled goalie Connor Hellebuyck for the extra attacker. Jay Beagle broke the puck out of the defensive zone skating around Byfuglien for a 2-on-1 with T.J. Oshie. Byfuglien slashed Beagle twice in desperation, including a vicious two-hander to the ribs.

You can see the replay in the video above. Beagle tried to pass to Oshie, but the pass was off target and just out of Oshie's reach. Byfuglien was issued a two-minute minor, but had ultimately prevented what would have been the clinching empty-net goal.

Sixty-two seconds later, Winnipeg tied the game at 3.

Every situation can affect the outcome of a hockey game which means every situation needs to be officiated properly. Since the Jets scored and ultimately won the game, that raises a few questions as to how the slash was officiated and if any supplemental discipline is warranted.


Should Washington have been awarded an automatic goal?

The NHL accounts for players committing desperation penalties with the goalie pulled. In some specific situations, an automatic goal can be awarded to the team in which the penalty was committed against. The situation on Tuesday, however, does not apply.

According to rule 25.1 of the NHL rulebook.

A goal will be awarded to the attacking team when the opposing team has taken their goalkeeper off the ice and an attacking player has possession and control of the puck in the neutral or attacking zone, without a defending player between himself and the opposing goal, and he is prevented from scoring as a result of an infraction committed by the defending team.

Here's a look at the play.

When Beagle broke the puck out of the zone, Byfuglien was in between him and the net. Even as Beagle wheeled around the Jets defenseman, Patrik Laine had quickly retreated in pursuit and forced Beagle further towards the boards. There was never any point when there was not a defending player between Beagle and the net.

Not giving Washington the automatic goal was the correct call.

Did the slash deserve more than a two-minute minor?

Following the game, Barry Trotz argued for a double-minor to Byfuglien.

“I thought we should’ve been on the power play the whole time in overtime,” Trotz said. “I thought the penalty was warranted on the first slash for two minutes. The referee’s arm went up, and the second slash on Beagle, that was not a hockey play. That was not a hockey play. There was no intention of getting the puck or trying to get the puck. He was already by him.”

Byfuglien slashed Beagle twice on the play which Trotz argues should have resulted in a penalty for each. In theory, this is true, but in practice we rarely see a player assessed two separate penalties for the same play, especially for the same penalty. It is essentially a matter of discretion and the referee determined only one penalty was warranted.

But was a minor the right penalty?

According to rule 61.3 which focuses specifically on slashes, "A major penalty, at the discretion of the Referee based on the severity of the contact, shall be imposed on a player who slashes an opponent. When injury occurs, a major penalty must be assessed under this rule."

Beagle was visibly injured when he received the second slash, so much so he struggled to get on the team's bench. For those who argue that Beagle remained on the bench rather than departing for the locker room, keep in mind that the referee must determine immediately if an injury occurred.

Watching the replay, Beagle immediately reacts to the second slash and doubles over in pain when he gets the pass away. The immediate reaction rules out the possibility that Beagle was merely looking for the call. He appears to be genuinely injured on the play.

Having a referee determine the severity of a call based on if an injury occurs is a very difficult position. The call has to be made right away. They do not get to watch the tunnel to see if a player leaves the game or get to change the call based on if the player ever returns. They do not get to monitor Twitter to see if a player's status has been downgraded from questionable to out. In this case, however, the injury is immediately apparent from Beagle's reaction which means Byfuglien should have been assessed a major which carries an automatic game misconduct.

Had Byfuglien received a major, that would have given Washington 3:43 of 4-on-3 power play time in overtime if the Jets still managed to tie the game. While that does not necessarily guarantee the Caps would have won, it certainly would have put them in a much more advantageous position.


Should Byfuglien receive any supplemental discipline?

UPDATE: Byfuglien was fined $5,000, the maximum allowable under the CBA, for his slash on Beagle, the Department of Player Safety announced Wednesday.

By rule, there are no automatic fines or suspensions for slashing. Any supplementary discipline is at the sole discretion of the DOPS.

It may have been a pretty brutal slash, but it does not appear to rise to the level of a suspension. Beagle had the puck and the slash was an act of desperation, not done with intent to injure. Some Caps fans may disagree, but there's a difference between Byfuglien's slash and, for example, Radko Gudas' slash to Mathieu Perreault.

Having said that, it is not surprising to see a fine assessed. It is not an understatement to say this slash determined the game. It prevented the empty-net goal and allowed Winnipeg the chance to tie the game. The NHL has to make Byfuglien think twice before doing this again. Otherwise, if presented with a similar situation, why wouldn't he make the exact same play?

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Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?


Who will the Caps' backup goalie be next season?

Very few teams have the luxury of having a backup goalie they can rely on for an extended period of time while the starter goes through a massive slump. The Capitals had that luxury in 2017-2018 thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Not every team in the NHL has a dependable starter, let alone backup, so when a backup goalie goes 15-10-3 in a season with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage, that is likely to catch the attention of general managers around the league.

The 2018-19 season will likely be a season of transition for the Capitals behind Braden Holtby. General manager Brian MacLellan expressed his willingness Wednesday to possibly trade backup goalie Philipp Grubauer this offseason. With the season he just had, he could potentially yield the Caps a solid return.

But, if Grubauer is indeed moved, that leaves the question of who will play backup for the Capitals this season?

The initial plan appears to be to promote Pheonix Copley from the AHL.

“Yeah, I think he's capable of it,” MacLellan said when asked if he saw Copley as an NHL backup. “Obviously, he's unproven. I think he's done what he could do at the American League level. Got through probably a little bit of a tough patch this year recovering from an injury, but I think he has potential to be that guy, yes.”

Copley, 26, played last season with the Caps’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears. He had a tough season with a 2.91 GAA and .896 save percentage in 41 games.

As MacLellan alluded, Copley suffered a serious injury at the end of the previous season and it clearly affected his season. The year prior, Copley managed a 2.15 GAA and .931 with Hershey in 16 games. He was considered Washington’s No. 3 goalie this season and was recalled for the playoffs as an emergency backup behind Grubauer.

Copley’s career includes only two NHL games.

There is another internal candidate who some fans may be hoping to see next season. That of course, is 2015 first-round draft pick Ilya Samsonov.

Samsonov, 21, signed an entry-level contract with Washington in May and will make the jump from the KHL to North America next season.

But don’t expect to see Samsonov backing up Holtby to start the NHL season.

Samsonov will be adjusting to the North American game and the smaller North American rink. Because of that, MacLellan believes he will benefit from time in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

"I think he needs time in Hershey,” MacLellan said. “We'll start him in Hershey I would anticipate and see how he grows, see how he gets accustomed to the small rink and hopefully get some good coaching, get our guys in that work with him. It'll be up to him. I think he'll adapt fairly quickly given his skill set.”


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Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

Devante Smith-Pelly is hopeful he has found a home with the Capitals

“I didn't think I'd be here a year ago,” Devante Smith-Pelly told the media Wednesday. “That's for sure.”

In 2017, Devante Smith-Pelly was a member of the New Jersey Devils and thought that’s where he would play the 2017-18 season. Instead, Smith-Pelly was bought out of the final year of his contract, something that he was not prepared for as he only received word of the team’s decision on the same day they made the move.

New Jersey’s loss turned out to be Washington’s gain as the Caps signed Smith-Pelly for one year and he proceeded to score seven goals during the Capitals’ postseason run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously, at the start of the year, not knowing exactly where I would be to at the parade on Constitution, it's crazy," Smith-Pelly said. "I haven't really sat down and taken it all in, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I had an amazing time this year. Obviously, it's the best year of my life.”

Now as a restricted free agent, Smith-Pelly is hoping he has found a home in Washington.

Despite being only 26-years-old, Smith-Pelly has already had somewhat of a journeyman’s career. The Caps are the fifth team in which he has played for.

The issue for much of Smith-Pelly's career has been consistency.

The 2018 playoffs was not his first breakout performance. He scored five goals in just 12 playoff games for the Anaheim Ducks in 2014, but he failed to live up to that level of production again until this year’s postseason with Washington.

“I don't think I needed to prove anything,” Smith-Pelly said. “I knew what I could do, it's just me getting a chance to do it and that's it. I got a chance here and I guess it worked out.”

Expecting him to score seven goals every 24 games in the regular season is likely unrealistic, but the Caps don’t need him to do that. Smith-Pelly developed a role with the Caps being a bottom-six player, a role that he thrived in throughout the season.

“He's become a big part of the team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He brings good energy, he's a good teammate, he's well-liked. You could tell the teammates really migrate towards him, they like him and then the crowd also likes him. They're chanting 'DSP' all the time so it's been fun to watch how he's got everybody to embrace him and his personality.”

Given when Smith-Pelly was able to do in the postseason, it is no surprise that the Caps would be interested in keeping him around. But at what cost?

Smith-Pelly was a bargain for Washington last season with a cap hit of only $650,000. He will be due a raise, but with John Carlson expected to get a monster contract, how much will general manager Brian MacLellan be willing to spend on a bottom-six winger like Smith-Pelly?

Despite the phenomenal postseason, Smith-Pelly had only seven goals and 16 points in the entire regular season. When it comes to a new contract, MacLellan will likely want to pay for that player while Smith-Pelly will no doubt look to be paid like the player who scored seven times in 24 playoff games.

As of Wednesday when he spoke with reporters, Smith-Pelly said he had not yet had any talks with the team about a new contract, but also noted that, as a restricted free agent, “there’s no real rush.”

The Caps own Smith-Pelly’s rights which helps their bargaining position. Smith-Pelly, however, is arbitration eligible and his postseason stats will undoubtedly bump his value when viewed by a neutral arbitrator.

But there's a good chance it may not get anywhere close to that point.

“On the ice and off the ice I feel like this is the best situation I've been in,” Smith-Pelly said. “Obviously, never know what's going to happen but I found a place and I want to be back.”