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Brett Connolly records 3-point night in Capitals' 5-2 win over Flyers

Brett Connolly records 3-point night in Capitals' 5-2 win over Flyers

Brett Connolly scored twice and added an assist in a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday for Washington's eighth win in nine games.

With the win, the Caps maintained its two-point cushion over the New York Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Here are five reasons Washington won.

The third line

Brett Connolly was easily the player of the game with two goals and an assist. It was his fourth career two-goal game and his third three-point game. He opened the scoring early in the first period and made it 3-1 in the second period off a great individual effort. Connolly stole the puck from Phillippe Myers at the defensive blue line and led the rush back up ice. Once he entered the offensive zone, he was looking for the pass, but with no open options, he elected to keep it and fire it himself and it resulted in his second goal of the game.

Lars Eller also scored in the first period as the third line scored each of Washington’s first three goals. The bottom-six was really the story of the game as the fourth line had a dominant night as well.

The first period

Strong starts for the Caps have been key to their success against Philadelphia and Thursday was no exception. Connolly put Washington up less than three minutes into the game with his first goal. The Caps have now scored in less than six minutes in all three matchups against the Flyers this season. Eller would add a second goal to make it 2-0.

The Caps outscored the Flyers 5-1 in the first period this season.

John Carlson’s hand-eye coordination

Connolly’s first goal does not happen if not for some great hand-eye coordination from Carlson. A shot from Carlson was slowed by a Ryan Hartman block and the puck trickled to Shayne Gostisbehere who tried to clear. Carlson swatted the puck out of mid-air and did so without getting his stick too high to avoid a high-sticking call. The puck went to Michal Kempny who quick delivered it to Connolly who had gotten lost behind the defense along the red line. He fired the puck behind the back of Hart and into the yawning net. It’s a play that never happens without Carlson swatting the puck out of the air.

Tom Wilson’s 20th

In all three games against the Flyers, the Caps have gotten off to a good start. In all three games, they allowed Philadelphia back into the game. On Jan. 8, the Caps took a 4-1 lead and allowed the Flyers to pull within one before finishing the game with an empty netter to make it 5-3. On March 6, Washington was routing the Flyers 5-0, but still allowed Philadelphia back into the game and finished with the 5-3 win.

After the Caps took a 2-0 lead after the first, James van Riemsdyk made it 2-1 early in the second. Connolly’s second goal re-established the two-goal lead, but it was Tom Wilson’s goal that really put the game out of reach.

Dmitry Orlov delivered the puck on a slap pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov on the far side near the goal line. Goalie Carter Hart slid aggressively out to try to defend the Kuznetsov shot and his momentum carried him completely out of the net. Kuznetsov patiently saw Hart out of position and fed it back to the slot for Wilson to shoot on the empty net.

The goal was Wilson’s 20th giving him the first 20-goal season of his career.

The penalty kill

Philadelphia had a chance to climb back into the game in the third period as the Caps gave up three straight power plays. The penalty kill, however, was absolutely brilliant when the team needed it the most.

How great has Carl Hagelin been? He has seemingly transformed the penalty kill and his prowess in that area of the game was very much on display on Thursday. On one shift, Hagelin managed to chase the puck after a clear and beat out the Flyers to it behind the goal line, allowing him to kill off more time as Philadelphia desperately tried to get the puck off his stick. While killing a penalty to Nicklas Backstrom, Hagelin and Eller were on for 1:56 as the Caps could not get the puck deep enough for a line change. Just 35 seconds after killing off the Backstrom penalty, Nick Jensen was called for interference and Hagelin and Eller were called upon again despite just having played almost the entire length of the last penalty.

For the game, the Caps killed off all four power plays they faced.

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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