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Devante Smith-Pelly provided exactly what the Capitals needed on and off the ice in his return to Washington

Devante Smith-Pelly provided exactly what the Capitals needed on and off the ice in his return to Washington

WASHINGTON – On paper, the addition of Devante Smith-Pelly to the Capitals lineup should not have mattered. A team that was held to one goal in its past two games lost its second leading goal scorer from the regular season in T.J. Oshie to injury. To replace him, the team recalled Smith-Pelly from the AHL who had just four goals and four assists in 54 games this season.

But hockey is not played on paper.

Though he did not record a point in Saturday’s 6-0 Game 5 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, Smith-Pelly’s impact on his line, on his team and on the game was undeniable.

“Good to get Devo back,” Brett Connolly said. “I thought he was very good tonight. It gives our team a little different element when he's forechecking and people are aware when he's on the ice and he did a great job.”

The day started with an ovation from the crowd at MedStar Capitals Iceplex as Smith-Pelly took to the ice for the morning skate. After scoring seven goals in 24 playoff games last season and becoming one of the playoff heroes that helped lead Washington to its first Stanley Cup, Smith-Pelly has become a fan favorite for the Capitals faithful. That excitement carried over into the game.

Smith-Pelly delivered a hit to Carolina forward Nino Niederreiter on his very first shift which brought the crowd at Capital One Arena to its feet in a standing ovation. Chants of “DSP” echoed through the arena in recognition of his return to the team.

“It's a great feeling,” Smith-Pelly said. “I think all I was doing was down the lane, just cutting off the forecheck and they started chanting. It's a nice feeling and I'm glad to be back.”

“I think we drew a lot from Devo being here,” Nic Dowd said. “His first couple shifts, he got the crowd into it. Guys are just excited. It kind of brings a different buzz when you add a new element like that and our crowd was behind us.”

Through the first four games of the series, Washington’s bottom-six on offense had been largely invisible. Lars Eller had the only points among those forwards with a goal—an empty-netter in Game 1—and an assist. But it was not just the offensive production, those lines seemed to have little positive impact on the game at all including physically.

“We've been disappointed with our lack of physical play, even when we had success here in 1 and 2,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “We just felt that we really hadn't imposed our will and played the type of physical brand of hockey that we're capable of."

The addition of Smith-Pelly to the fourth line added a physical presence to that line that had been lacking throughout the series. The entire team came out with more of a physical edge to it and Smith-Pelly had a lot to do with that. He was credited with five hits in the game, the third most among the team’s forwards, despite getting only 10:43 of ice time.

“I felt great,” Smith-Pelly said. “It'd be hard not to have the adrenaline going coming back and playing my first game.”

You could be forgiven for not noticing the fourth line in any of the prior four games in the series, but you certainly noticed it on Saturday.

The physical tone set by the fourth line and the entire Caps team took its toll on Carolina as the Hurricanes seemed to wear down as the game went on. A 1-0 game at the halfway point turned into a 6-0 win by the end. Instead of dumping the puck into offensive zone and forcing his teammates to chase, Warren Foegele made an ill-advised pass to no one in the neutral zone and Alex Ovechkin took in the other direction leading to a Capitals goal. Later in the period, defenseman Dougie Hamilton stopped skating and yielded to Ovechkin as they were in a footrace for the puck along the boards behind the goal line in Carolina’s defensive zone.

“No matter who you are, when you have to keep going back over and over and over and you're getting hit, to break the puck out I mean it takes a toll I think,” Smith-Pelly said. “You saw that second and third period. Those guys are playing big minutes and we're making it hard on them.”

But Smith-Pelly’s impact was not just felt in the game, it was felt long before.

Losing a player like Oshie to injury is about so much more than just losing a talented player. Oshie was called a “heart-and-soul guy” in the wake of suffering a brutal looking upper-body injury in Game 4. Not only is he one of the leaders of the team, but his boundless energy is contagious. There was never a worry if he would be able to get up for a game and he always did his best to get his teammates up for it as well, whether that meant being a personality within the locker room, playing with 100-percent effort, laying a big hit or just pumping up the team with a goofy warm-up tradition.

Losing Oshie from the locker room may be harder to quantify than losing him on the ice, but it may actually be the more damaging loss.

Bringing in a player as well-liked as Smith-Pelly, however, was exactly what the team needed.

“I think when you go through the situation like we went through the last couple days in terms of losing one of our top players and leaders, you use that as an opportunity that someone's got to take advantage of,” Reirden said. “From what Devante's gone through this year, very well-liked player in our locker room. It was a nice, I'd say distraction from us losing a top, top player, top leader on our team. Everyone was excited about getting him back into the mix. We felt like not just having him around as a person, but the style of game that he was going to play was something we've been lacking in the series and that's the physicality and being able to have puck possession in the offensive zone.”

Smith-Pelly said after the game that he tried not to think about a possible return while he was in Hershey and instead tried to focus just on having an impact for the Bears. While he might not have wanted to think about it, however, it was clear he was ready for the call. Once it came, he certainly made the most of it on Saturday.

Said Reirden, “Definitely he gave us a boost both with how his game was on the ice, but also having him back in our locker room.”

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The next great hashtag, give props to Stephenson and Carlson can't stop scoring

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The next great hashtag, give props to Stephenson and Carlson can't stop scoring

Game 1 of the World Series was completely overshadowed by the big matchup in Calgary between the Capitals and Flames...OK, so that’s not entirely true, but while the Nationals were battling in Game 1, the Caps extended their win streak to four games including two wins to start their five-game road trip.

Here is everything you need to know from Tuesday's 5-3 win.

Observations from the win

Another big-game for Carlson

The NHL points leader scored another two goals to give him 20 points in his first 11 games. He now has a career-high eight-game point streak.

Yawn. Seen it. It's all routine at this point.

All kidding aside, if you’re not on the Carlson hype train, get on board. This is quickly turning from a great start to a special one.

Reirden is showing a lot of trust in his fourth line

Brendan Leipsic, Chandler Stephenson and Nic Dowd only played about 6:45 together as a line on Tuesday, but the vast majority of that time came in the third period when the Caps when it really mattered and with the Caps protecting a lead.

Six minor penalties in the first two periods limited their ice-time to less than seven minutes. You may look at that as a sign of distrust, but if you dig deeper and see that the fourth line took six shifts in the third period alone, you start to realize it’s not how much they were used but when that really matters.

Big props to Stephenson

At no point in the offseason did I think Stephenson would be a regular in the Caps’ lineup this year. That’s not just me, the Caps essentially broadcast that they were not satisfied with his play when they signed him to a contract just under the maximum cap hit that can be buried in the AHL. At that point, I thought he should have started packing his bags for Hershey. Instead, he worked his butt off, had a great training camp and has stuck on the roster ever since.

Stephenson’s goal was not just pure luck. No, I don’t mean he meant to bank the puck off Rasmus Andersson. What I mean is he followed the puck on a dump-in, sped in to steal it from Cam Talbot behind the net and then banked it in. He didn’t give up on the play and created a goal out of nothing.

There are times I think Reirden shows Stephenson a little bit too much faith as I think Dowd should not be scratched as much as he is, but it is hard to argue with Stephenson continuing to play a fourth-line role considering how much he continues to work for it.

Give credit to Vrana

Tom Wilson scored the game-winner on a goal that was assisted by Lars Eller and Michal Kempny. But do not discount the role Jakub Vrana played on that goal.

Eller picks up the puck when Travis Hamonic failed to control it and Vrana immediately went hard to the net. Noah Hanifin went with him which left Wilson wide open for the goal.

Vrana may not get a point for it, but he was instrumental in setting up that play.

Turning point

Calgary battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 2 late in the second. That tie lasted...10 whole seconds.


Play of the night

Brendan Leipsic dumped in the puck and Talbot went behind the net to corral it. You see this multiple times per game, every game. Nothing ever comes from it. This time, however, Stephenson never gave up on the play and caught Talbot by surprise.

Stephenson stole it from Talbot and fired a centering pass off Andersson into the empty net.


Stat of the night

First, the obligatory Carlson stat:

Now another bonus stat just to make sure this does not get monopolized by Carlson.

Nicklas Backstrom picked up an assist on Ovechkin’s goal in the second period. That assist was the 649th of his career which moves him one past Daniel Sedin for the fifth-most assists all-time by a Swedish-born player.

Quote of the night

Ovechkin on Carlson’s incredible start to the season:

“#Johnny4Norris. That’s a hashtag right now. Let’s keep it going.”

Fan predictions

I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how many predictions you got right or the window.

Calling a Stephenson goal is pretty damn bold.

Nailed the score.

Caps in 5.

Anything to avoid going to Edmonton.

I’m kidding! I hear Edmonton is lovely this time of year….

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Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

The Capitals are a perfect 2-0 to start their five-game road trip after a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. It was a sleepy game for the Caps who were largely outplayed through the first two periods. A few short bursts of brilliance, however, were enough to ensure Washington never trailed.

Here is how the Caps won.

A gift for Carlson

John Carlson entered the game as the NHL’s leader in points. He is arguably the hottest player in the league. He doesn’t need gifts, but he was gifted a goal by Calgary goalie Cam Talbot early in the second.

After a sleepy first period, the Caps’ came out swinging in the second and Alex Ovechkin nearly connected with Nicklas Backstrom on a pretty passing play on the backdoor. The puck curled around the boards and Carlson stepped up and just fired a hopeful shot on net that seemed to catch Talbot by surprise as it hit the short-side for the goal.

That is a horrific goal that Talbot just should not have given up. If you watch, he actually shifts a little backward after the initial play missed. Perhaps Talbot misjudged where he was in net, but that is an angle he should have been able to easily cut off based on the position of the puck. Instead, he backed up, left the near-side open and Carlson hit it.

The goal extended Carlson’s point streak to a career-high eight games. He would add an empty-net goal to give him 20 points on the season.

Bank shot!

Just over two minutes after Carlson put the Caps on the board, Chandler Stephenson extended the lead to 2-0 with a great play behind the net to pickpocket Talbot.

Talbot went behind the net to corral a dump-in from Brendan Leipsic, but Stephenson never gave up on the play and zipped in behind the net after Talbot. He stole the puck away from Talbot. He was boxed in by the Flames’ netminder and two more Flames skaters so he attempted to center the puck, but it bounced off of defenseman Rasmus Andersson and into the net.

A 10-second response

Overall, this was not a great game for the Caps. They looked sleepy and out of sync, missing numerous easy passes in the offensive zone that ended their offensive opportunities. Two early goals in the second spotted them a 2-0 lead, but Calgary took control and Austin Czarnik tied the game at 2 late in the period. That briefly woke up the Caps and Ovechkin put Washington back on top just 10 seconds after the game was tied.

Calgary won the faceoff after the goal, but Radko Gudas forced a turnover that Backstrom picked up. Two forwards had gone past him in anticipation of entering the offensive zone, a third player was on the ice after getting hit by Gudas, one defenseman stepped to the boards to give T.J. Oshie a shove, but could not recover to stop Backstrom and suddenly Backstrom was in behind four players for a 2-on-1 with Ovechkin. He made the simple backhand pass on the rush and Ovechkin fired the one-timer into the net.

Jakub Vrana’s drive to the net

Michal Kempny fired a stretch pass to launch a breakout. It looked like Travis Hamonic could have grabbed the puck, but he couldn’t control it and left it out for Lars Eller to continue the attack. As Eller took the puck, Jakub Vrana drove hard to the net bringing Noah Hanifin with him and that left Tom Wilson wide open. Eller passed to Wilson who netted the knockout punch.

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