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The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.


The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.

Carl Hagelin spent last season feeling more like an NHL employee than part of an actual team. 

Traded twice in three months, dealing with a knee injury that cost him 20 games in Los Angeles before eventually landing with the Capitals, Hagelin was a vagabond. His car was in California. His wife and daughter were in Sweden. His mind was everywhere at once. It wasn’t until March, after the trade to Washington, that things finally began to feel normal again.

“When I got traded to Washington, I didn't really know what to expect,” Hagelin said. “But those [27] games I was able to play there gave me a better understanding of how good of a team it is and how much fun it is to play for the Caps. After the season, you're left with a bitter taste, obviously, not making it as far as we wanted in the playoffs. But in my exit meetings, I told them I wanted to stay if we could find something.”

That happened on Sunday. The trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday cleared some space under the salary cap and Hagelin, 30, signed a four-year, $11 million contract. That was far from guaranteed when the season ended with a disappointing first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Capitals had another pending unrestricted free agent in Brett Connolly, and forward Jakub Vrana needs a new deal as an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for Andre Burakovsky. Niskanen was the first domino to fall with his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. That saved $3.405 million on the cap and opened some breathing room.

All Hagelin could do was wait to see if that cap space actually materialized.

He spent time recovering his belongings left behind following trades from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in November and to Washington in February. He then returned home to Sweden with his family and left it up to his agent and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan to find common ground. Things came together quickly, and Hagelin and the team each got what they wanted: Term for him (four years) and a lower annual salary-cap number ($2.75 million) for them.

Like many of his teammates, watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on with him left a sour taste in Hagelin’s mouth. This is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, a player who’s gone on deep runs – mostly at Washington’s expense – many times dating to his time with the New York Rangers. The Capitals fell short in 2019. Hagelin sees a team capable of making it back to that level. He wanted to be part of it. 

“I’ve been fortunate to be in the playoffs every year since I got in the league, and I’ve been to five conference finals and three Stanley Cup Finals," Hagelin said. "And that’s what you love -- being in those situations."

“And every time around this time of year you watch all these other teams play in the playoffs and play in the finals, and it pisses you off a little bit. So that’s what I want to get back to, and if I didn’t think the Caps had a chance to play in the finals and win the Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t have signed with them.”


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Kuznetsov looks like vintage Kuzy, the win streak comes to an end and Oshie goes offside

Kuznetsov looks like vintage Kuzy, the win streak comes to an end and Oshie goes offside

The Capitals' win streak came to an end in a wild game against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, but Evgeny Kuznetsov rallied the Caps to earn at least a point.

Observations from the loss

2018 Kuznetsov

In the 2018 Cup run, Kuznetsov played at such an insane level, an argument could be made that he was one of the best players in the world. He set the bar. We know what his ceiling is because we saw him play at that level for 24 games. He continued to play at that level for the first month of the 2018-19 season, but the Caps have been searching for that player ever since. The way he has played of late is the closest we have seen to 2018 playoff Kuznetsov and that continued on Monday.

Even before he scored twice, Kuznetsov established that he was the best player on the ice with a brilliant first period. The only reason the Caps were not ahead 4-0 in the first 20 minutes was because of the heroics of Antti Raanta.

In 16 games this season, Kuznetsov now has eight goals and 10 assists. That puts him on pace for 88 points for the season.

Stretching out the defense

The Coyotes tried the stretch pass again and again and again, looking for breakaway opportunities. Clearly they scouted this and saw something in the defense they liked. This is something the Caps will have to face against fast teams. The defense is playing aggressively and fast teams will try to take advantage with those stretch passes. Samsonov made a few big saves to make up for it when Arizona did manage to get in behind the defense, but the Caps need to be aware of who they are playing and when they are trying to use their speed to get in behind the defensemen.

Bringing it every night

It would be fair to say Monday’s game was not the Caps’ best. They admitted as much. You can’t be at your best for 82 games, but I wonder, how many games we will see the Caps at their best in the near future.

This team is not without its flaws, but the first 19 games have shown that it is a great team and should be considered one of the Cup contenders. Part of the reason for that is how they play. The Caps are winning with a physical, all-in style of effort that includes delivering hits, blocking shots, winning board battles and doing the sorts of things that are really, really hard to sustain over 82 games. Playing that style will bring a team more success in the playoffs, but I would not be surprised to see this point streak end and the Caps go through a bit of a lull, especially in December-January when you really hit the dog days of the season. On a random Tuesday in January, a player really begins to think about whether they really want to dive in front of that slap shot and go for the block.

When they hit those low points, try not to freak out. I know this is easier said than done, but we are seeing how good this team is over this stretch. They are going to be fine this season and they are set up well for a postseason run.

Turning point

T.J. Oshie scored in overtime, the Caps completed the comeback from 3-0, the game was over, there was much rejoicing and we all lived happily ever after...and then the goal was reviewed showing Oshie was offside.

Play of the night

Beating a goalie on the backhand is impressive. Doing it on a one-touch shot from a sharp angle the way Kuznetsov did was pretty incredible.

Stat of the night

The Caps have been a team of hot hands this season. When one player has a good game, they get rewarded on the scoresheet.

Quote of the night

The Caps battled back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game and extend their point streak to 12 games. It felt like the game was over when Michael Grabner made it 3-0, but Kuznetsov never lost hope.

“What’s the point of playing the game if you feel like you’re going to lose? No, you always believe in the next shift, the next shift and the guys next to you, you are going to get momentum and we are going to come back in the game.”

Fan predictions

Besides the score, this was pretty much 100% accurate. Tip of the cap for this one.

This is impressive...but wrong.

He could have. Ovechkin had seven shots on goal and another shot blocked. He just could not buy a goal in this game.

Yeah, this is pretty bold. The fact that Samsonov started makes it even bolder.


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Antti Raanta closes the door on the Caps and their win streak

Antti Raanta closes the door on the Caps and their win streak

WASHINGTON -- Antti Raanta's heroics were the difference as the Capitals saw their six-game win streak snapped on Monday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Raanta made a number of incredible saves in the first period so as not to allow the Caps to take control. Evgeny Kuznetsov helped the team battle back from a 3-0 deficit to force overtime, but they could not complete the comeback and ultimately fell in the shootout.

The loss snaps a six-game win streak for Washington. The point streak lives on, however, and was extended to 12 games. Here is how they lost.

Antti Raanta

This game could have gotten ugly early. The Caps’ offense was flying to start and generated a number of really nice plays, but Raanta was there each time with the great save.

Just over two minutes into the game, Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Jakub Vrana beautifully on the backdoor and it looked like he had nothing but net to shoot on. Raanta stretched out in the splits to get over in time to stop just enough of the puck to keep it out of the net. It squeaked by him, but Jakub Chychrun was there to take it off the goal line. Just a few minutes later, Raanta denied Tom Wilson on a 2-on-1 with the right pad. He denied Vrana again with a great glove save to push the puck wide.

In all, Raanta made 12 saves and Arizona walked away with a 1-0 lead in what was a dominant first period for the Caps. He finished the game with 31 saves on 34 shots and denied both shootout attempts he faced.

A definitive review

Just 10 seconds into the second period, Brad Richardson threw a puck to the front of the net that deflected off the skate of Christian Fischer and into the glove of Ilya Samsonov. It looked like nothing more than a decent save, but the play was reviewed to see if Samsonov's glove was over the goal line. From the initial views, it looked like there was no way to definitively tell if the puck was over the line or not. From an overhead view, however, the camera showed the puck through the webbing of Samsonov's glove and you could see the puck was in fact over the line. So instead of a faceoff off a Samsonov save, Arizona was awarded their second goal of the game.

Grabner's breakaway

Arizona pestered the Caps all night long and made sure that nothing Washington wanted to do came easy. 

In the second period as the Caps tried to break the puck up through the neutral zone, T.J. Oshie's pass was intercepted by Michael Grabner and he was off to the races. Grabner has the type of speed that if he has a breakaway, you are not going to catch him. He skated in on Samsonov and wristed the shot through the 5-hole of Samsonov to make it 3-0. It came just 35 seconds after Fischer's goal.

Eller draws Oshie offside

Oshie scored a phenomenal overtime goal to give the Caps the win, completing the 3-0 comeback and everyone lived happily ever after...but then the referees reviewed the goal.

As Oshie and Lars Eller broke into the offensive zone, Eller stumbled with the puck. That drew Oshie off who continued into the zone. The review showed that Oshie had indeed entered the zone before the puck and the goal was taken off the board.

Kuznetsov hits the post in the shootout

Kuznetsov would not be denied all night long. He was the best player on the ice for either team on Monday and scored twice to help the Caps rebound from a 3-0 deficit and force overtime. In the shootout, he took Washington's second shot. He showed some slick moves and had Raanta beat, but he struck the post. Seeing the Caps' best player come up empty-handed on the shootout was a poetic way for them to lose. Conor Garland came up next and scored on his attempt against Samsonov, thus ending the game.