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Caps GM Brian MacLellan says this year’s post trade-deadline team is 'maybe even better' than last year’s Stanley Cup version

Caps GM Brian MacLellan says this year’s post trade-deadline team is 'maybe even better' than last year’s Stanley Cup version

ARLINGTON – The record is the same and so is the opponent, but Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan thinks his team might be better than the one that won a Stanley Cup.  

Almost exactly one year after the Capitals played the Ottawa Senators in their first game after the NHL trade deadline with a 35-21-7 record, they do so again tonight at Capital One Arena. 

Washington is again 35-21-7. It again is in second place in the Metropolitan Division. There are again 19 games to go. And the trade-deadline deals were once more modest improvements at positions of need. 

Last year that was enough to win a Stanley Cup. MacLellan has no idea if that will happen again. But he believes the pieces are in place to make another run after trades for forward Carl Hagelin and defenseman Nick Jensen.  

“It’s pretty much the same roster. Maybe a little better in my mind,” MacLellan said Monday after the 3 p.m. deadline had passed. “I think Hagelin helps. I think Jensen helps. I think if we can get back to that level that we got to probably around this time last year, it should be just as good a team as it was back then – maybe even better.”

The Capitals beat Ottawa 3-2 on Feb. 27 last year. It had added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek in deals that received little attention at the time. They finished 14-5-0 and won the Metro for the third year in a row before embarking on that championship journey.  

Hagelin has twice played a big role on a Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins and been to the Final three times. Jensen has drawn good reviews in a breakthrough season with the Detroit Red Wings. Both players should help on a penalty kill that has struggled. Both are high-end skaters whom the Caps believe let them play at a higher tempo. Jensen should also help reduce the minutes workload on fellow right defensemen John Carlson and Matt Niskanen.

Last year, the Capitals went 2-2 after the deadline, including that Ottawa win, as they found their legs before winning nine of their next 10. Kempny was a good fit with Carlson. But MacLellan noted on Monday that defense isn’t just about the blueliners. 

Washington has allowed 16 more goals (202) than at this point last season and the forwards are a big part of that, too. Jensen will help, especially since he’s replacing second-year players Madison Bowey, who was traded to the Red Wings in the deal, and Christian Djoos. But the overall commitment has to be closer to last spring’s style if the Capitals want to emulate that strong finish.      

“Forwards play a significant role in helping out defensemen through the neutral zone and back into our end,” MacLellan said. “I think sometimes we get out of sync with the D and the forwards. It's going to be important for us, just like it was last year, to find that neutral zone and to find our defensive zone game. It's been inconsistent and we need to get better at it.”


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Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

The Capitals have a superstar Russian, an incredible Swedish center, a Canadian netminder, but the team also boasts several American players as well. On the 4th of July when American celebrate the birth of our nation, lets put down the barbecue, apple pie and fireworks for a few minutes to remember some of the top highlights from each of the team's Americans.

Travis Boyd: 4 goals for Hayden

In Feb. 2018, Boyd turned hardship into an inspirational moment. While with the Hershey Bears, Boyd's daughter, Hayden, developed a serious infection and had to go to the hospital. Boyd went with her on a Sunday and did not leave until Friday morning to prepare for that night's game, a game in which he would score four goals.

John Carlson: The golden goal

Carlson has numerous highlights from his career with the Caps, but on Indepence Day it seems only fitting to look back at his biggest goal for his country. Carlson represented Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships which was hosted by Canada that year. USA made it all the way to the final where the played the host nation. Tied at 5 through regulation, Carlson scored the golden goal off a 2-on-1 as he caught the goalie leaning anticipating the pass.

Nic Dowd: Historic penalty shot

In Game 5 of the Caps' series against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, Nic Dowd was slashed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton while he was in alone on goalie Petr Mrazek. Dowd was awarded the first penalty shot of his career and he delivered, dekeing right to open up Mrazek's pads and tucking the puck through the 5-hole. In addition to being his first penalty shot goal, the goal was also Dowd's first-career playoff point.

The goal also had some historic significance for the team as it was Washington's first ever playoff penalty shot goal.


Garnet Hathaway: Shows his toughness against the Rangers

On Oct. 18, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers and it proved to be an pretty epic night for Hathaway. He was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith (again, with a broken nose), the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

Nick Jensen: Assisting on goal No. 700

Jensen has been with the Capitals for about a year and a half, but he will forever be linked to the team's greatest franchise player thanks to one assist.

Against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, Jensen grabbed a loose puck behind the offensive goal line and sent it back behind the net to keep the offensive cycle going. That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Alex Ovechkin who scored career goal No. 700.

T.J. Oshie: T.J. Sochi

Who could forget about Oshie's incredible performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi?

Playing against Team Russia, USA leaned heavily on Oshie in the shootout. He would score four times on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as USA walked away victorious.

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


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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.


Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?


Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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