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Caps' youth movement has helped the team get over the hump

Caps' youth movement has helped the team get over the hump

The Capitals could not get past the second round with players like Justin Williams and Kevin Shattenkirk. Now they are preparing to play in the Eastern Conference Finals with Chandler Stesphenson and Jakub Vrarna.

This year’s Capitals team is different in many ways, but perhaps the most striking difference from years past has been the number of rookies who have played a role in getting them this far.

Six rookies have made their NHL playoff debut this season for the Capitals which ties a franchise record set in 1990 for most in a single postseason. Stephenson, Vrana, Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich and Nathan Walker all are in their first run for a Stanley Cup.

"Something about the young guys, they've always got the smile on," Barry Trotz said following Wednesday's practice. "Sometimes they're funny, sometimes they're naive. Sometimes they need a little bit of tightening from their peers or their coach."

"They're just playing," Matt Niskanen said. "They're having fun and they're playing hard and doing good because of it."

Some players, such as Boyd and Gersich, have been given spot duty. They have been called upon for only a few games because the team was looking for a spark or because of injury. Others, however, have taken a much more significant role.

With Andre Burakovsky out injured, Stephenson saw himself promoted to the second line. Vrana has bounced up and down throughout the lineup and was the hero of Game 5 with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal.

Djoos, meanwhile, seems to have cemented himself on the third pair alongside Brooks Orpik.

“Some guys have a different demeanor," Trotz said. "A guy like Djoos on the backend, it doesn't matter. He just sort of plays and he doesn't worry about too much. That's why he's got so much poise."

Head coaches tend not to rely on rookies in the postseason because they are largely unknown commodities. You do not know how a player will play in their first taste of the playoffs or handle that pressure. As a result, coaches tend to look toward veteran players who they know what to expect from.

“I think there's two kinds of things that happen with young guys,” Trotz said. “They're naive and just play, and have a lot of fun and it doesn't bother them. It's just a lot of fun. There's other ones that get the starry-eyed, saucer-eyed and they sort of have to work through that.”

You don’t know if a rookie is going to excel in the moment or fall victim to it. For the Caps, their young core has more than lived up to the task. And it’s a good thing, too, because the team has absolutely needed them to be more than just placeholders in the lineup.

In Monday’s Game 6, Trotz put five rookies into the lineup. Walker assisted on a goal for Alex Chiasson and Vrana had a chance to put the Caps ahead late in regulation. Despite playing in Pittsburgh against the two-time defending champions, those five rookies left that game victorious as the Caps clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now as the Caps prepare for the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is no doubt the rookies will be called upon again to play major roles yet again.


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Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

NBC Sports Washington/USATSI

Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

After lifting the Stanley Cup just over two months ago, something else very exciting has happened in Alex Ovechkin's life.

Saturday morning, Nastya and Alex Ovechkin welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Sergei, after Ovechkin's late brother. 

Ovi spent this week practicing at the Florida Panthers' facilities with other NHL players living in the surrounding area.

After the Cup's visit to Moscow, Nastya and Alex settled down at their apartment in Miami, staying put and preparing for the birth. 

The couple were married two years ago but didn't hold an official ceremony until July of last year. The celebration was as lavish as you'd expect.

She revealed her pregnancy shortly after the Cup victory, and has kept us up to date on life this summer via Instagram. A few weeks ago, the Ovechkins graced HELLO! Russia magazine, showing off Nastya's baby bump among their glamour shots.

💛 @aleksandrovechkinofficial #hello #hellorussia @hello__ru

A post shared by Nastasiya Ovechkina (@nastyashubskaya) on

Congratulations to Ovi and Nastya, and all our best wishes for health and happiness!


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Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan


Capitals draft pick admits he is...a Flyers fan

Say it ain't so.

Mitchell Gibson is the first goalie the Capitals have drafted since Ilya Samsonov in 2015, but they may be thinking twice about their selection after a recent shocking interview.

Gibson spoke with a local Philadelphia CBS station and revealed that both he and his family...are Flyers fans.

Insert dramatic music.

"I think my family will always be Flyers fans in their hearts and I guess I will be a little bit," Gibson admitted, hopefully with guilt in his voice.

Gibson was selected by the Caps in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, but clearly the scouts did not do their homework. It's as if Gibson grew up a hockey fan in a place like Phoenixville, Pa. (about an hour outside of Philadelphia) without anticipating the future that he may one day be drafted by a rival team like Washington.

Shame, shame.

The young netminder tried to make up for his horrifying admission later in the interview.

"The Capitals are definitely treating me well right now so I would like to be their goalie," he said.

A likely story.

Gibson is only 19 and set to begin his first collegiate season at Harvard in 2018 so at least there is still time for Gibson to overcome his shameful past. And hey, it could always be worse. At least he's not a Penguins fan.