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Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

It's the job of a general manager to plan for the future. The team will project their contracts and salary cap years ahead of time. Of course, play on the ice is the most important factor and can change a team's plans, but every good general manager enters the offseason with a plan in place knowing who he wants to re-sign, who will walk, who to draft and who to target in free agency. This year, however, is different. How do you prepare for an offseason when you know...practically nothing? That's the task that lays before every NHL general manager right now, including Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.

Heading into the 2019 draft, the salary cap ceiling had not been set and it was rumored that the actual number would be below the initial projections. MacLellan called it "frustrating" to have uncertainty with the cap heading into a key date in the offseason.

Thanks to the coronavirus, there is much more uncertainty regarding this year's offseason. MacLellan has to prepare for both the playoffs and the offseason not knowing if the players will get back on the ice, an uncertain cap number that seems unlikely to rise next season, no date for the combine, no date for the draft, no date for free agency and no idea whether next season will begin on time or could get pushed back by the current season.

"It is difficult," MacLellan said in a conference call on Monday. "I guess we talk over all the possible scenarios and you try to prepare mentally for anything. What happens to the cap? Does the cap go down because revenues are going to decrease? Do they artificially keep it where it’s at? So, the answer to those questions puts us on pause on your [unrestricted free agent] negotiations. How do we proceed given both those scenarios? Those are just open-ended questions and we discuss them, but we don’t come up with any answers."

And there won't be any answers until the world begins to emerge from this global pandemic and the NHL can get some clarity on when players could potentially return to the ice.

Once the world is ready to return to some semblance of normalcy, however, it is not as if everything can return to business as usual.

One of the major events of the offseason is the draft. Both the scouting combine and draft, set for early and late June respectively, have been postponed. In addition, travel restrictions and health concerns greatly limited what the team's scouts were able to do even before everything was paused.

"The amateur guys, they had some big tournaments at the end that got canceled on them," MacLellan said. "It's a big part of their year. I think they always look forward to the tournaments and finalizing their lists and reports and it kind of got grounded to a halt at the end of this, at the end of the season for us. I talk to [assistant general manager Ross Mahoney] a lot about what we can do to keep guys engaged, the use of video. Can we do a little more phone interviews? We look for ways to stay engaged creatively and to see if we can improve on our process of finding players."

There are also logistical issues with changing the offseason calendar. The league year officially begins on July 1 and NHL player contracts expire on June 30 for any player on the final year of his deal. Should the season extend deep into the summer -- MacLellan noted the NHL had asked for building availability dates for the month of August -- those contracts would have to be extended.

“I think the League brought up that in the last call that it would be extended through August if that was the case," MacLellan said. "If that’s the route we were going down, the contracts I guess would have to be approved by the [NHLPA] still too, but they would go to the end of August, if that was the date they chose.”

That is a positive, but it will still be hard to prepare for free agency without knowing what the salary cap will be or when it will take place. That makes it difficult to know what the team can spend on its on free agents, let alone on players they can bring in. The Caps are a veteran-laden team with several players signed to long-term contracts when it was presumed the cap would continue rising. Even one year without the cap raising could quickly put Washington in a bind.

And while MacLellan is still trying to wrap his head around that, this is all being done not knowing if this season is over or not. Will there be a playoff for the Caps to further evaluate their players? Should MacLellan prepare for next season as if the Cup window is still open? It's hard to tell if the Caps can continue competing for the Cup without a postseason to evaluate.

And so for general managers across the league, people whose job it is to prepare for the future, they are all left with more questions than answers.

"I don't think we have answers to any of those questions," MacLellan said.

He added, "If we did (play) through August, could we have a couple of months off and then start back up in November? What do they do with that cap number? I think there are so many questions that we haven't even considered that'll pop up given whatever the result is at the end of this. Again, the league has been very open to anybody asking questions of giving recommendations. So all we can do is try and prepare for different scenarios that we see coming and do the best we can do."

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Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

A two-goal rally for the Minnesota Wild forced overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov proved to be the hero for the Capitals in a 4-3 win in the latest NHL 20 sim. The win is Washington's sixth straight simulated win.

Result: Caps 4, Wild 3 OT

1st period

0-1 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise

2nd period

1-1 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie

2-1 Caps goal (power play): Evgeny Kuznetsov from Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov

3-1 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nick Jensen and Nicklas Backstrom

3rd period

3-2 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

3-3 Wild goal: Alex Galchenyuk from Kevin Fiala and Mikko Koivu

Overtime

4-3 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson


How the Caps won

1. The second period

Minnesota held a 1-0 lead after the first, but Washington rallied to take control with three goals in the second period. Jakub Vrana got things started with a backhand goal off his own rebound less than three minutes into the second frame. Later in the period, Tom Wilson forced a kick-out save from goalie Devan Dubnyk and the rebound went right to Kuznetsov on the back door for the open net. Alex Ovechkin made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal.

2. Rebounds

This was not Dubnyk's best game. All three of Washington's regulation goals came off of rebounds and Dubnyk showed poor rebound control, giving the puck up in high-danger areas. Even on Ovechkin's breakaway goal, Dubnyk denied the initial opportunity but Ovechkin was able to grab his own rebound and backhand it in.

3. A critical faceoff

Kuznetsov won the opening faceoff to start overtime and that was it. That was the game. Kuznetsov would go on to score on that first shift to win the game as the Caps never gave up possession of the puck. They controlled it from the faceoff to the goal ensuring Minnesota never had an opportunity to win it.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the Florida Panthers on the road Saturday. The game will be simulated with NHL 20 on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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