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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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Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

ARLINGTON, Va. — A lower-body injury limited Lars Eller in the playoffs and cut his World Championship short after just three games, but it is not going to limit him heading into training camp.

“I’m over that,” Eller told NBC Sports Washington. “Taken good care of that and it’s not an issue right now.”

Eller was at MedStar Captials Iceplex on Thursday taking part in an informal skate with several teammates who have begun to trickle back to Washington as the start of training camp approaches. Eller took part in all drills, the scrimmage and the conditioning skate seemingly without issue.

The lower-body injury was not enough to keep him out of the playoffs last season, but he did take several maintenance days.

“I've been battling something,” Eller said in April at the team’s breakdown day. “Something that's been bugging me. A little bit of rest these next couple of weeks. Just have to take care of it. It doesn't require surgery, it's nothing serious, just with some rest over time, it will be fine, I believe.”

Despite the need for rest, Eller elected to play for Denmark in the IIHF World Championship soon after.

“Giving it some time, I felt I was healthy enough to go and play,” Eller siad. “I still kind of wanted to play and help my country and after some time, I felt good enough to say, OK, I'm going to do this.”

Initially, Eller did not appear limited at all with four points in his first game. By the third game, however, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

Despite a report from Denmark claiming Eller had an agreement in place to play in only three games, he said the decision was made to leave the tournament after he re-aggravated the injury.

“Reaggravated it and we just shut it down after those three games and really took time to properly rehab and build my program around that for the first many weeks and get treatment, try to make sure it doesn't come back to bite me,” Eller said.

Leaving Worlds has given Eller plenty of time to heal which is good because he will face a new challenge this year.

Gone are Brett Connolly who was a mainstay on Eller’s line which means Eller will have to get used to some different linemates in the upcoming season.

“It's going to be different,” Eller said. “Both [Connolly and Andre Burakovsky are] two guys I probably spent the most time here with the last three years. We had some really good success all three of us at times. That's going to be a new challenge. I have a good feeling about the guys I'm likely going to play with. It's just a new challenge, but I feel good about it.”

The first step to adjusting to a new line? Getting healthy. A lengthy summer seems to have helped with that.

Though unfortunate, the early playoff exit gave Washington a long offseason in which players like Eller could focus on rest and rehab. That is time Eller tried to take advantage of before the grind of another season and what he hopes will be another long postseason run.

“A little longer than last year,” he said of the summer. “All the time I needed to get away and also get the body right for the season.”

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Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team.

jmurph: Day 4 of our bracket brings us two goals from the third line. Our 4 seed is Nic Dowd's long-distance backhand flip to spring Carl Hagelin for a breakaway up against our 13-seeded Brett Connolly curl-and-drag past the Senators. Where do we start today?

JJ Regan: This is a tough one. I love a good curl and drag, but the pass is a beauty. A good pass to launch a breakaway is tough, but to do it with an alley-oop backhand? That's pretty sweet.

jmurph: Spoiler alert, this is not the only Dowd backhand sauce flip in our bracket but this one was the more impressive one I think

It may be that I have a soft spot for Brett Connolly, but I love the curl and drag. A confident Connolly was one of my favorite things to watch about the Caps

Ryan Billie: No brainer for me (which is good). I've been in love with that Dowd pass since that game... was a thing of beauty.

Rob Carlin: This is like a 5-12 or 7-10 matchup. I’d say Hags is the favorite. But it’s hard to say who will win. That Conno curl & drag was a beauty

bmcnally: If this was just Dowd casually flipping a puck up ice and letting one of the fastest players in the league skate onto it I'd be a little less impressed. Instead I'm sitting here laughing at the skill level of this whole play. You can see him look up and ID what's happening and basically puts it tape-to-tape on a backhand.

jmurph: A backhand that he lifted over 4 players mind you

Ryan Billie: Nope... nope... nope... that pass from Dowd. This is a 5-12 matchup that turns out to be a dog game because the Dowd pass WAS SICK.

bmcnally: And it's a great finish by Hagelin, too, at full speed.

JJ Regan: It's a Hail Mary that hits the receiver in stride.

Rob Carlin: I agree. The pass was insane. And they got Hags for plays just like this one. But close your eyes and imagine that curl & drag was —— Ovi. We’d be showing that on a loop in our brains.

mvioli: Connolly’s curl and drag was pretty, great patience. But how often do you see a successful alley-oop in hockey? Dowd to Hags has to win.

jmurph: We're gonna see it again in a few days!

JJ Regan: I think that's what does it for me. Curl and drags are awesome, but we see those. These passes? You just don't see them all that often.

Rob Carlin: I agree the Dowd play was sick. Might win the whole thing (if the other Dowd sauce doesn’t win). I’m just saying the Conno goal got a tough draw. It would win most matchups

Ryan Billie: I really like the curl and drag. But the Hags goal also was a game winner... does that carry any extra weight?

jmurph: Context? C'mon Billie

bmcnally: Yeah definitely don't want to undersell Connolly here. That's an amazing use of the curl and drag and a snipe to finish. I just can't get over that Nic Dowd is apparently just GOOD at these kind of passes and not lucky.

mvioli: Exactly. I agree with Rob that Conno got a tough draw here, but that Dowd pass was just too good.

Rob Carlin: As someone who is clearly carrying extra weight myself, I agree the game winning aspect plays into this! Big play in a big moment.

So we all agree.....

Ryan Billie: ^^^

Rob Carlin: Dowd

jmurph: It's summer weight, it doesn't count

Ryan Billie: DOWWWWWD

mvioli: Definitely Dowd

JJ Regan: Dowd.

bmcnally: Dowd

jmurph: Sorry Conno, but it's Dowd

Rob Carlin: But good luck in Florida!

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