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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

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As Capitals prepare for fourth preseason game, Devante Smith-Pelly still remains absent from game action

When the Capitals take to the ice in Carolina on Friday, they will again be without playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly who has yet to play in the preseason.

Friday’s game will be Washington’s fourth of the preseason contest.

By now, every skater on the roster has played in at least one game except for Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller and John Carlson. Eller and Carlson both dealt with minor lower-body injuries that held them out of the first few days of training camp, but there has been no such issue for Smith-Pelly who has participated in every practice.

“He's still trying to get to the level where he was at last year and until he does, it doesn't do us any good as a team or for him to be playing in games,” head coach Todd Reirden said when asked about Smith-Pelly remaining out of game action. “He's working really hard to get back to that spot and he's close, but until he's at that spot, he won't be in the lineup because I don't feel that's setting a player up for success at all. We're hoping that that's in the next little bit here.”

When asked what the specific issue was with Smith-Pelly, Reirden declined to elaborate saying only, “He's just not at the level that he was at last year. That to me is really all there is to say about it. Once he gets there, he'll be in and he'll be helping us.”

For his part, Smith-Pelly told reporters he was not dealing with any injuries and that not playing was simply a coach’s decision.

“It was a short summer,” he said. “I'm not going to make any excuse or anything, but it was a short summer, a little different. Everyone's trying to get ready for the start of the year and everyone's path is a little bit different.”

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in 75 games for the Caps in the regular season but was phenomenal in the playoffs with seven more goals in just 24 games leading to a new one-year contract with Washington.

With a roster competition for the fourth line, Smith-Pelly’s absence is not ideal, but he is in a much different position this year than last when he entered camp on a two-way contract. Now his contract is one-way and, based on Reirden’s comments, his playoff performance speaks for itself.

“[Smith-Pelly] had just a phenomenal postseason for us and he's a really important player for us. If you don't get that sort of impact from your bottom six guys then you're not going to win the Stanley Cup and he was a huge part for us. Like I said, we need him in there and I hope to have him in there soon.”

“I want to play every game, but that's coach's decision to get everyone ready for when it matters,” Smith-Pelly said. “Just like everyone else, I'm working to be ready for October 3.”

Eller will make his preseason debut in Carolina, but Carlson remains out of the lineup as well. Reirden said Carlson’s absence was a precaution and the hope is that he will be ready to play in Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blue.s

“[Carlson’s] done some more contact in scrimmages and in practice,” Reirden said. “He's really close, but again, it doesn't set the player up for any kind of success if we put him out there and take the chance of losing valuable players when they're not ready to go and up to speed.”

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Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

With Alex Ovechkin serving a one-game suspension, the Capitals still were able to pull out a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday in the team's return from the all-star break.

The power play contributed a goal despite the loss of Ovechkin and Braden Holby played well late in the game to preserve the win.

Here is how Washington won.

The power play

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had the 30th ranked power play since Dec. 1 striking at only 14.1-percent. With no Ovechkin, it seemed unlikely that the power play would be able to suddenly find success against Montreal. Yet, the power play looked much improved with crisp puck movement that kept the Canadiens guessing. The puck movement was much quicker and more deliberate than the power play had shown of late which has looked far too slow and indecisive.
Washington cashed in with a goal from Tom Wilson as Jakub Vrana fed him from behind the net and he beat the defense to the slot.

Petry’s second goal

Jeff Petry opened the scoring with a goal for Montreal in the first period. Wilson tied the game at 1, but Petry scored again early in the second period...for the Caps.

Brendan Leipsic tipped the puck behind the net and Lars Eller grabbed it and tried to stuff it. He couldn't. Travis Boyd then tipped the puck in front of the net where Petry was trying to cover the back door to help out netminder Cary Price. Instead of helping, however, he ended up kicking the puck into his own net giving him one goal for each team and giving the Caps the 2-1 lead.

Kuznetsov on his butt

All-star defenseman Shea Weber had the puck in Montreal's defensive zone and was pressured by Evgeny Kuznetsov. In terms of a forecheck matchup, you would have to give the edge to Weber in that situation and nine times out of 10, you'd be right. This time, however, Weber lost the puck behind him with Kuznetsov pressuring. Weber turned and knocked over Kuznetsov to try to get to the puck. On his butt, Kuznetsov still managed to get a stick to the puck, passed it to T.J. Oshie who dropped it off to Jakub Vrana. Vrana netted it for his 23rd goal of the season, but the play was all started by the great forecheck by Kuznetsov.

Holtby's third period

When Holtby is feeling it, he is hard to beat. Protecting the Caps' lead, Holtby was strong in the final frame with 14 saves on 15 shots. The save of the night came when Joel Armia tried to tip a puck past Holtby and succeeded. The puck hit the post and Armia raised his arms to celebrate. Holtby, however, plucked the puck out of the air with the glove before it could cross the line which was confirmed by review.

Holtby had plenty of struggles heading into the all-star break, but was strong in the team's return with 31 saves.

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A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

The Capitals made sure the one-game suspension to Alex Ovechkin did not cost them with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Better power play

Even without Alex Ovechkin, the power play looked much improved. The most noticeable improvement was the puck movement.

One of the issues on the power play has been slow and indecisive puck movement. The Caps were much quicker with their passes on Monday and kept the puck constantly moving which kept Montreal guessing.

Washington's power play has focused largely on position over movement which is fine and was productive for several years years. Lately, however, if the passes the players want aren't open, they freeze up with the puck, hold onto it too long, then try to force passes through covered passing lanes. On Monday, each time a player took a pass, the puck was off their stick shortly after. They already knew where the puck was going when they got the puck and quickly moved it not allowing the penalty kill to get set.

The key now will be continuing that puck movement when Ovechkin returns.

A good night for Holtby

If you're going to get all over Braden Holtby for every bad game, you have to give him credit when he has a good one. Holtby allowed only two goals on Monday. The first was a 3-on-2 with Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie playing defense and Orlov misplayed it allowing Jeff Petry wide open in front of the net. The second came as Dale Weiss was also left alone in front of the net. Holtby played it awkwardly coming out to challenge Weiss, but did not extend the pads to try to force Weiss wide and gave him too much room. Still, the defense left him out to dry in both situations.

Otherwise, it was a very strong game.

Holtby made 14 saves in the third period alone and 31 saves overall for a .939 save percentage on the night. It is the first time in eight games he has managed a save percentage over .900.

Turning point

Montreal took a 1-0 lead off a Jeff Petry goal and the Canadiens were all over the Caps to start. Then Washington earned a power play opportunity and, well, it was awful with Ovechkin, surely it would be terrible without him. Instead, Wilson scored to tie the game and the power play looked much improved. Suddenly, the Caps were back in the game.

Play of the game

This is great forecheck work by Evgeny Kuznetsov on one of the best defensemen in the game, Shea Weber. He forced a turnover then made the pass from his butt to set up the goal.

Stat of the game

Lars Eller loves playing against Montreal. He recorded one assist and was one of the Caps' best players on Monday.

Quote of the game

Holtby has had struggles in the past, but he always seems to rebound at some point and return to his dominant self. Todd Reirden called Monday's game a "response" performance for the netminder after his best performance in several weeks.


Fan predictions

Close. The Caps rebounded from a 1-0 deficit and ended up winning 4-2.

Saw a lot of predictions for two goals for Richard Panik who played in Ovechkin's spot on the top line. Panik had two shots on goal, but no points in 12:35 of even-strength ice time.

No goals for John Carlson, but Holtby did have a strong game and the Caps had a two-goal win.

Bold.

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