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Caps defenseman Christian Djoos, forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration. What comes next?

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Caps defenseman Christian Djoos, forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration. What comes next?

Capitals defenseman Christian Djoos and forward Chandler Stephenson filed for salary arbitration before the 5 p.m. NHL deadline on Friday. What comes next for the two young depth players? 

Djoos is an interesting case. He had a base salary of $650,000 on a two-year deal that just expired. The Capitals tendered him a qualifying offer of $715,000 last month to keep his rights. He could have simply signed that, but agent Jason Davidson steered him toward arbitration, where a firm deadline could lead toward more money or maybe a multi-year extension.   

Djoos, 24, held a place in the Washington lineup early in the season until a hit to his thigh in a Dec. 11 game against Detroit turned into compartment syndrome, a sometimes dangerous complication where blood becomes trapped in the muscle. 

He missed 24 games, but returned Feb. 9 and finished the season. Djoos appeared in three Stanley Cup playoff games – though he never really looked the same as he tried to come back from that traumatic injury. He played in 16 of the final 27 games and was a healthy scratch 11 times. 

Djoos played in 63 games in 2017-18 and in 22 of 24 postseason games when Washington won the Stanley Cup. He turns 25 on Aug. 6. The thought is Djoos will compete with Jonas Siegenthaler as the primary left defenseman on the third pair given Brooks Orpik’s retirement. Often times the past two seasons he played on the right side. 

Djoos had a goal and nine assists this past season in his 45 games, none in the three playoff games with 7:24 of ice time against Caroline in the first-round series.

Players had until 5 p.m. on Friday to make written request to the NHL that they were filing for arbitration. Djoos qualifies because his entry-level contract expired in 2017. He avoided arbitration that year by signing a two-year, $1.3 million deal with an average annual salary of $650,000. 

The two sides could come to a similar agreement before an arbitration hearing later this month or early August in Toronto in front of a neutral arbitrator. That happened in 40 of 44 cases last summer and all 30 the year before. 

That’s because in part these things can get testy. They aren’t fun for the player or management. Djoos’ is the more likely bet of the two RFAs to get another two-year contract extension given his experience and that he looked like he’d improved his game before the Dec. 11 injury.  

Washington has a settled blueline with John Carlson, Nick Jensen and Radko Gudas, acquired in the Matt Niskanen trade last month, all under contract on the right side. Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler, entering his second season after playing 26 NHL games last year, are likely to compete for the final spot on that third pairing’s left side behind Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov. But both should see ice time throughout the season.  

Stephenson, meanwhile, is in a different bind. He struggled to maintain the coaching staff’s trust last season as a member of an up-and-down fourth line. Center Nic Dowd earned a contract extension. But Stephenson, Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly all struggled to grab and hold a permanent spot on the wings. The Capitals then signed free agents Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic to fill fourth-line roles. 

So it looks like they’ve decided to upgrade that area. They didn’t pay Hathaway $1.5 million to scratch him. He’s a right wing, but the message was sent: The fourth line needs to be better. Leipsic is a left wing who will make $700,000. That's cheaper than Stephenson's qualifying offer of $715,000 and at this point every last dollar matters to the cap-strapped Capitals. 

Stephenson, who turns 25 on Aug. 6, had five goals and six assists last season. His ice time rose modestly from 11:52 to 12:07. He was a key member of the penalty-kill unit, but overall that group was a weakness. Only Tom Wilson and Lars Eller among forwards skated more than Stephenson (113:22) on the PK. Yet when he was on the ice the Capitals gave up just 11 power-play goals and had a short-handed one.

Stephenson somehow didn’t commit a single penalty all season, which is…good? Hard to tell if that’s a super disciplined player or one just not mixing it up enough. He only had eight PIMS the year before, though, so let’s call that a good thing. 

Stephenson played 64 games for Washington, but was a healthy scratch 11 of the final 19 regular-season games to give you an indication of where the coaching staff was with him. But he had 67 games in 2017-18 and made contributions during the Stanley Cup run with two goals and five assists playing in all 24 games. He earned his name on the Cup. His speed is also an asset on an older team that needs all it can get.

But it was frustrating Stephenson didn’t carve a bigger role for himself after showing promise in the playoffs the year before and it’s not a good sign that the Caps both brought in two fourth-line wingers and that the salary-cap likely dictates they can only keep 13 forwards. 

Contract or not, Stephenson will need a solid training camp to make the roster. Washington finding a little more money to keep two extra forwards and reach the maximum of 23 players would help, but doesn’t seem likely for now. 

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Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

Remembering the other series-clinching goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov

When you think about Evgeny Kuznetsov in the playoffs, most probably think of his overtime-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018 that ended the series and handed Washington a long-awaited victory over its archrival. But that wasn’t the first series-clinching goal Kuznetsov scored.

Before the Stanley Cup was brought to Washington, before the bird celebration, there was another epic moment of Kuznetsov’s career that now feels overshadowed by the 2018 run.

In 2015, the Caps returned to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. They entered the postseason as the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division, drawing the third-place New York Islanders in the first round.

A back-and-forth series, it ultimately went the distance with Game 7 being played in Washington. As even as the series had been, the Caps dominated that Game 7, suffocating the Islanders and giving up only 11 shots on goal. Joel Ward put Washington ahead 1-0, but Frans Nielsen tied it early in the third period. Despite the dominant defensive performance, Jaroslav Halak (remember him?) would not allow the Caps to the chance to put the game away.

Just when it began to feel as if Halak was going to steal away another Game 7 from the Caps, a young Russian center in just his first full NHL season took over.

With less than eight minutes remaining in the third period, Kuznetsov took a pass along the half wall, showed Frans Nielsen his back and when Nielsen bit, he spun and cut to the center of the ice. Nielsen was caught a step behind and whacked Kuznetsov in desperation, actually diving to the ice to try to keep him from breaking loose. In one slick move Kuznetsov had cut through the Islanders’ defense and was in alone on net. Halak went down to the butterfly as Kuznetsov cut to center, but Kuznetsov showed incredible patience and did not immediately shoot. Suddenly, Halak was committed and helpless. He dove to his right desperately holding up the glove as Kuznetsov kept gliding across the ice, but Halak had left too much of the net open by going down too soon and Kuznetsov hit the corner.

With 7:18 remaining in the game and the series, Kuznetsov had given the Caps the 2-1 lead.

The series was a breakout performance for Kuznetsov who returned the following season and earned a top-six role, something not all that easy for young players to do under head coach Barry Trotz. It also gave a franchise still bearing the scars of Halak’s 2010 upset a measure of revenge.

And the rest is history.

What heroics does Kuznetsov have in store for the Islanders on Saturday when the two teams meet at 1 p.m.? Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 12 p.m. for coverage.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Caps at Islanders: Ovechkin is in for final game before bye week

Caps at Islanders: Ovechkin is in for final game before bye week

The Capitals (32-11-5) head to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders (28-14-4) in the last game before the bye week. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all the action! Pregame coverage starts at 12 p.m. with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live bringing you up to the 1 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Saturday's game.

Ovechkin is in

By skipping the All-Star Game, Alex Ovechkin is subject to a one-game suspension. He must serve that suspension in either the last game before the bye week or the first game back. Todd Reirden said following Thursday's game that Ovechkin will play on Saturday meaning he will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens. This should come as no surprise considering the Islanders game is a division game and the Montreal game is not.

Here are the lines based on Friday's practice:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Ovechkin is red-hot

It is a good thing Ovechkin is playing Saturday because he is red-hot right now. He has five goals in just the past two games and sits one behind Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in goals.

Holtby starts

Ilya Samsonov started the last two games and played well, but with the bye week upcoming, Reirden felt it important to get Braden Holtby back in. He confirmed Friday that Holtby will be the starter.

Holtby has not registered a save percentage above .900 in six straight starts and he sits at .899 for the season. He has still managed a 18-9-4 record for the season, however. Reirden said the last two games for Samsonov allowed Holtby the chance to "reset." HIs last game was on Jan. 11 against the New Jersey Devils.

When last we met

With Holtby in net, he will have a chance to rebound after this last start against the Islanders, a tough 4-3 loss at home on New Year's Eve. He allowed four goals on 22 shots in that game.

It was a very sloppy affair, not what we are used to seeing from the typically buttoned-up Islanders defense and turnovers were a problem for both sides. Semyon Varlamov closed the door in the period, stopping a whopping 17 shots as Washington poured it on looking to tie it.

Here's a recap of the game.

Washington is 1-1-0 against the Islanders this season with the final matchup coming on Feb. 10.

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