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Free Agency Bracket: Ben Lovejoy vs. Deryk Engelland

Free Agency Bracket: Ben Lovejoy vs. Deryk Engelland

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Depth defenseman

Ben Lovejoy vs. Derek Engelland

2018-19 stats

Ben Lovejoy (35 years old): 71 games played with the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 15:50 TOI

Playoffs: 13 games played with the Dallas Stars, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 18:03 TOI

Deryk Engelland (37 years old): 74 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points, 19:53 TOI 

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, 23:19 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Ben Lovejoy: 1 year, $1,501,751 cap hit 

Deryk Engelland: 1 year, 1,934,154 cap hit

The case for Ben Lovejoy

There’s a caveat here: Making a run at either of these players almost certainly means the Capitals have traded Matt Niskanen and spread his $5.75 million salary-cap hit around the roster. That would move Nick Jensen up to the second pair.  

If you aren’t quite sure about starting the season with Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos as the third pair then bringing in a cost-effective veteran would make sense. 

Lovejoy plays on the right side. He settled in on Dallas’ third pairing after a trade from the New Jersey Devils at the deadline and helped them reach Game 7 of the second round in the postseason. He played a key role on a Stanley Cup champ with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015-16 and has the experience you’d be losing if Brooks Orpik retires or just isn’t brought back. 

Lovejoy was a primary penalty killer with the Devils and ranked sixth in the NHL in short-handed minutes (241:01). Of the 27 players who topped 200 short-handed minutes last season he was second in shots-for percentage (24.42). He was only on the ice for 19 power-play goals against, again the best in the league in that 200-minute club.

Lovejoy is not an offensive threat with 101 career points and more than a decade in the NHL. But with Djoos, a restricted free agent who made $650,000 last season, and Siegenthaler, who remains on his entry-level deal ($714,166), so cheap the Caps - if Niskanen was moved - could afford a player like Lovejoy even if he ended up as a No. 7. 

The case for Deryk Engelland

Also a right-side defenseman and one the Capitals know well. Engelland primarily played next to Nate Schmidt the past two years in Vegas on the top pair. Washington saw him in the Stanley Cup Final last year.  

Engelland was still an above-water possession player at 50.51 percent against consistently tougher competition than Lovejoy faced over the course of the season. Playing with the smooth-skating Schmidt, the former Capitals defenseman, had to help. Engelland is probably past that role now at 38 after struggling in the first round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks and he is a good bet to transition to a more traditional third-pair role. 

Engelland was ninth in short-handed minutes (237:01) last season and 13th in shots-for percentage on the PK out of the 27 players who logged 200 minutes or more. He has 55 games of playoff experience, including that Cup Final series vs. Washington. One issue: While Vegas faces a tough salary-cap situation, Engelland is a Las Vegas resident and an alternate captain. He has great meaning to that franchise. But if he is not re-signed, he again could play the Orpik role on a team that otherwise will have to rely on its young defensemen in depth roles. That’s not ideal, especially if injuries strike.  

Who’s your pick? Vote here

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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.

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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.

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