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Caps must 'adjust' to the challenging ice surface in Vegas

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps must 'adjust' to the challenging ice surface in Vegas

LAS VEGAS—The sloppy ice at T-Mobile Arena for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was a factor for both teams.

But, according to the Caps, it definitely favored a Golden Knights’ team that was used to dealing with it.

“You can’t get too fancy with this ice because it’s a little bouncy—and they know that,” Braden Holtby said after Washington’s 6-4 loss Monday night. “They feed on it for turnovers.”

Several times during stoppages, the arena’s ice crew came onto the playing surface to fill in deep ruts and make other repairs.

"At this time of year, every rink has struggles because the weather is tough,” Holtby added. “That’s one of things you can’t control [but] you can adjust to. Sometimes you just have to play simpler.”

And with the forecast calling for a high of 99 degrees on Wednesday, the ice might not be any better for Game 2.

The Caps’ approach, however, will need to be.

In addition to being more attentive to bouncing pucks, the Caps will need to be more judicious with their passes, particularly long ones. 

They’ll also want to avoid overhandling the puck and toe-drags. Getting shots off quicker could help, too.

Coach Barry Trotz said his players were, at times, a bit hardheaded when it came to adapting to the challenging conditions.

“You can’t expect the ice to be fantastic this time of year, especially in the markets that we are,” Trotz said. “It’s just part of the way you have to play. You have to adjust your game. You have to realize what you can do and what you can’t do.”

Trotz continued: “There were times early I thought we didn’t buy into that and other times I thought we bought into it, and we had success when we bought in.”

Indeed, the Caps must make some tweaks to their game if they hope to return home with a split. And coping with a difficult ice surface is high on that list.

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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