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Caps and Jets have something to prove Sunday in a possible preview of the Stanley Cup Final

Caps and Jets have something to prove Sunday in a possible preview of the Stanley Cup Final

With 14 games remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty left to be decided before the playoffs. But Sunday’s game between the Capitals and Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) presents both teams with an opportunity to send a message with an eye towards the postseason.

The Jets came within one round of playing the Caps in the Stanley Cup Final last season before Winnipeg was defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the conference final. Both teams again look poised for another possible lengthy postseason run.

Washington obviously is the defending Stanley Cup champions and seem to be getting hot at the right time again with six straight wins. The additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen at the trade deadline have provided an instant boost to the team and the Caps seem to be rounding into playoff form yet again.

The Jets come to Washington on Sunday as leaders of the Central Division. Blake Wheeler is putting together another monster season with 83 points, good for ninth in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin may lead the league in goals with 46, but Winnipeg still has plenty of offensive weapons with Mark Scheifele who has 32 goals and Patrik Laine who, even in a down year has still managed to hit the back of the net 29 times. Those two have helped the Jets score 3.43 goals per game this season, good for fifth in the NHL and higher than Washington’s 3.38.

If you had any doubts about how good Winnipeg is, check out Friday’s game in which the Jets obliterated the Carolina Hurricanes, one of the hottest teams in the NHL, 8-1.

A win on Sunday would be a strong statement that they remain one of the teams to beat in the West. They also have an easier road through the first two rounds of the playoffs in the Central over the Pacific. It at least seems possible that Sunday’s game could prove to be a preview of this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Game notes

Rinse, repeat

There are no changes in the lineup for Sunday’s game, but that is no surprise after winning six straight. Should Washington win, it will tie a season-long seven-game streak.

There is just one change to the lineup and it comes between the pipes….

Pheonix Rising

Copley is expected to start Sunday giving him his first start since Feb. 24. This will be the second time Copley has played against the Jets this season as he also started in Winnipeg on Nov. 14. Braden Holtby was expected to get that start but was injured forcing Washington to dress an emergency backup. Copley allowed two goals on 23 shots in the losing effort.

“We had to, at some point, make a decision of when to play Pheonix, and we think that tonight's the right night with the week we have ahead of use as well,” Todd Reirden said. “We're at home, and I hope that our team can play a little bit of a better team game than we did against New Jersey to give him some support. I think it's the right time."

An offensive explosion

The Jets obliterated one of the hottest teams in the NHL on Friday with an 8-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. “That was a pretty impressive performance against a team that’s had a really strong run here and is really distinguishing themselves as being one of the top teams in the East with Carolina,” Todd Reirden said. “That was a statement. If you were wondering how good they were, that was a strong statement.”

Even with Winnipeg’s offensive explosion, however, the Caps are not approaching this game any differently defensively.

“I wouldn’t have even known they scored eight goals,” T.J. Oshie said. “It wasn’t talked about today.”

No time for retribution

Oshie was injured the last time the Caps played the Jets as he was slammed down to the ice by defenseman Josh Morrissey. Morrissey was fined but avoided a suspension for the play. The Jets defenseman is injured and not expected to play on Sunday, but if he had it does not sound like it would have mattered much to Oshie.

“This is the time where your focus has to be on winning and winning a certain way,” Oshie said, “So that will be our main focus. I’ll be around six more years at least so there’s plenty of time if there ever is going to be one to take a shot or try to get even or whatever you want to call it. Right now is the wrong time. Right now we’re trying to get ourselves to a certain point in the standings and we’re trying to get our game to a certain level so that’ll be our main focus.”

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: A new top line?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: A new top line?

It’s time for a new Capitals Mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

One other quick note, I have gotten more questions about when and if the season may start. The answer is that there is no answer. The NHL wants to award the Stanley Cup this season and they are going to look into every option to do so, but no one knows when all of this is going to end so I don't have any answer to give you. I really don't want to speculate about it because there's no point.

On to the questions.

Cory Goodwin writes: I was wondering why Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson don't play together on the second line and then T.J. Oshie moves up to the top line because it seems at this point that Wilson and Vrana will be the on the same line if they stay with the Caps because of their age. So because Oshie is older, woudn't it make sense to have Alex Ovechkin-(Nicklas Backstrom/Evgeny Kuznetsov)-Oshie and Vrana-(Backstrom/Kuznetsov)-Wilson?

First off, I don't like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie together. I realize that Oshie was practically brought to Washington for this purpose, but that was several years ago. None of those three players have ever been all that fast and they are not getting any faster into their 30s. If you want to use this trio in limited situations, fine, but this line is just too slow to be an established top line in this day and age. But what about Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Vrana, Backstrom, Wilson?

The stats are very limited, but not encouraging. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Oshie have played together at 5-on-5 only 37:01 for the entire season and their Corsi-for percentage is 31.37, high-danger chances for percentage is 20.00 and expected goals-for percentage is 20.56. All of those numbers are abysmal. Extend those numbers to include the 2018-19 season as well and you get 65:45 of total 5-on-5 ice time, a Corsi-for percentage of 44.12, high-danger chances for a percentage of 30.43 and expected goals-for percentage of 33.40.

The bottom line is that they don't play well together.

The silver lining is that Vrana, Kuznetsov and Wilson have been OK together since 2018 so if that one day ends up being the top line for Washington, well, you could do worse. But no, I would absolutely not put Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie together and the numbers say don't put Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie together.

Tim K. writes: To respond to your suggestion that Brenden Dillon won't be re-signed because of 20-21 and beyond's cap hits: if he were to re-sign, he would be doing so knowing he wouldn't be protected in the expansion draft anyway. Therefore, signing him for next season and then trading him or losing him to Seattle is totally plausible, and in my humble opinion, a smart move. Even around the expansion draft, a mobile, physical, top 4 Dman who is well-liked in the room shouldn't be hard to move.

Tim is referring to my answer on Dillon in Part 1 of this week's mailbag which you can read here.

Boy, you drive a hard bargain. Why wouldn’t Dillon want to do that? Hey Dillon, thanks for coming in. Take a seat. Listen, we want you back, we will offer you less money than you could probably get on the open market, provide zero protection from the expansion draft or trade protection of any kind and look to move you after the first year. Sound good?

I don't necessarily disagree with your main points, but you are looking at this strictly from the team perspective. Free agency is a two-way street and your scenario gives Dillon little incentive at all to re-sign.

Dillon is a 29-year-old top-four defenseman. He will be looking for his last big contract and is good enough that he should be able to do better than the scenario you just laid out. Maybe the market will dictate he take this sort of gamble of having no-trade protection or protection from the expansion draft, but I think someone out there will probably be able to offer him more money and more stability, at least in terms of protection, than the Caps.

And let's not forget about his agent. If the Caps pay him more than they can afford in the future, his agent will know this and make him aware that the offer is being made with the intention of moving him in a year. That's his job.

Maybe the market isn't there for Dillon and he has to take a deal with no protection or maybe he is valued at the amount the Caps could afford to pay him, but if that's what the Caps offer him he should at the very least take it to free agency and look for a better offer than a deal made with the intention of moving him in a year. Why would he sign that?

Tim K. writes: Regarding 3rd line wingers, I'm sure Connor McMichael would get first crack at it or 2RW with T.J. Oshie sliding down to the third line before committing the kind of money that Richard Panik or Carl Hagelin get for someone totally new to the Caps' system. Todd Reirden seems to like giving prospects a chance to prove themselves, and having a guy on an ELC saves a lot of cap room.

McMichael had an excellent season in the OHL with 102 points in 52 games. That ranked third in the league and he played fewer games than both of the players who finished ahead of him. But that does not necessarily mean he will be ready to make the jump to the NHL next year.

Of the OHL's three leading scorers last season, only one of them played in the NHL in 2019-20 and he played a grand total of three games. Now, I'm not trying to say it's impossible. I went back and looked at the top three scorers in the OHL in each of the past five seasons. Of those 15 players, seven of them went on to play in the NHL the following season and one of those seven only got three games. So it is possible that McMichael could be ready, but a dominant OHL season is far from a guarantee.

Here is one of the problems with relying on prospects to step into NHL roles at the start of the season and it is something that I don't think is talked about enough. Once you realize the player isn't ready to fill that role, it is too late to fill it through free agency. All the top-nine players that perhaps the team had interest in bringing in would have signed somewhere else and hey, look, the season is starting. What you are saying is that the Caps should have so much faith in McMichael being able to step from juniors to the NHL next season that the Caps should not bring in another top-nine forward in free agency. Maybe he can. Maybe the scouts feel that strongly about him. Then again, maybe Brian MacLellan is not going to assume a 19-year-old will be able to step into a top-nine role in the NHL straight out of juniors.

The way the OHL season ended also won't help McMichael's cause. With no playoffs, that is less of a resume for MacLellan and the scouts to draw upon when evaluating if McMichael could be ready to make the jump.

Another issue is that McMichael is a center, not a wing and the Caps have plenty of centers at the moment. If Washington sees him more as an NHL wing than a center, great. If not, better for him to work on developing into an NHL center in the OHL than forcing him to be an NHL wing and then hoping he can shake those habits later on.

Morris Gavant writes: Why aren’t playoff stats counted in a player’s career stats? After all, those goals and assists are earned against the best in the league instead of the bottom-dwelling teams of the regular season. Why accommodate to the lowest common denominator and feel sorry for the players who don’t have playoff games? A goal is still a goal, as a rose by any other name is still a rose.

First, every professional sport does it this way. Drew Brees, for example, is the NFL's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 547 which does not include the additional 34 he has in the playoffs. If you did include those, Tom Brady would actually hold the record as he has 541 regular-season touchdowns and 73 postseason touchdowns.

I confess I am not in the ear of every pro sports commissioner, but my take is that stats are not just a measure of a player's accomplishments, they are also a way to compare players. There is no way to make every comparison equal given missed games for injuries, personal issues, suspension, etc., but it becomes impossible to compare the accomplishments of two different players if you are judging one based on 82-regular season games and one on 82-regular season games plus 16 playoff games. What good would those stats be? What if two players score an equal number of points per game, but one made the playoffs and the other didn't? The one who made the playoffs could finish the season with a lower points average because of the more difficult nature of the postseason and then be viewed to have had a worse season despite the fact the other player just sitting at home which doesn't make much sense.

I think there is also an acknowledgment that the playoffs are different from the regular season so to lump all the stats together would not be an accurate representation of a player's performance in either the regular season or the postseason.

Pete DeiTos: Who is your most hated Caps nemesis (player) of all time not named Sidney Crosby?

Growing up a Caps fan, I hated the Mario Lemieux Penguins. I would tell people that Lemieux wore 66 because they couldn't fit the third "6" on his jersey. I also really hated Darius Kasparaitis. Any Pittsburgh fans out there, if you hate Tom Wilson because you think he's dirty but own a Kasparaitis jersey, your opinion is invalid. Pretty much all the Penguins from that era from Tom Barrasso to Martin Straka I just couldn't stand.

The more random team and players I hated was the black and red era Buffalo Sabres. This probably stems from the 1998 Conference Final between Washington and Buffalo, but there is no non-Penguins player I hated more than Matthew Barnaby. I thought he was the biggest whiner and the dirtiest player in the NHL. One of the most satisfying things I have ever witnessed was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. I was a kid and went with my dad. Barnaby scored the game-tying goal with less than a minute to go in regulation and taunted the crowd. Washington would win it early in overtime and I went nuts..

Take that, Barnaby.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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How to watch Capitals at Panthers NHL 20 simulation and Capitals at Lightning Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Game 7

How to watch Capitals at Panthers NHL 20 simulation and Capitals at Lightning Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Game 7

The Capitals’ simulated season continues on Saturday night when they visit the Florida Panthers in NHL 20, aired on NBC Sports Washington. Real-life Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin will be on the call.

In a partnership with Monumental Sports Network, NBCSW is airing all Wizards and Capitals games in simulated NBA 2K20 and NHL 20 games, taking place on the dates and times according to each team's regular-season schedule with commentary from NBCSW's experts surrounding the coverage.

After the game wraps up, NBCSW will reair the Caps’ spectacular 2018 Stanley Cup Game 7 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and André Burakovsky helped secure the win.

Here’s how you can catch both games Saturday night.

Broadcast Schedule

7:00 PM – NHL 20: Capitals @ Panthers (P)

8:00 PM – NHL Classics: Washington Capitals @ Tampa Bay Lightning from 5/23/18 (R)

10:30 PM – NHL 20: Capitals @ Panthers (R)

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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