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Free agent stock watch: Blues, Sharks have plenty of depth scorers who will hit the market this summer. Any fits for Caps?

Free agent stock watch: Blues, Sharks have plenty of depth scorers who will hit the market this summer. Any fits for Caps?

The offseason continues for Capitals players, but the job never stops for management. While the Caps don’t have much money to work with under the salary cap this summer, general manager Brian MacLellan and staff are still watching the conference finals closely for players who might fit next year’s roster. 

With that in mind, here’s a look at where the free agent “stock” of each pending unrestricted free agent in the Western Conference Final stands now through three games between the Sharks and the Blues. Game 4 is tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network. 

NOTE: This list includes only UFAs.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Joe Pavelski, F

Sharks captain isn’t going anywhere. You can’t imagine him playing for another team. He missed six playoff games due to a head injury and received a rousing standing ovation when shown on the scoreboard at the SAP Center. He has four goals and nine assists in 11 playoff games. At age 34 Pavelski is good where he is. Not the player he once was, but a true leader and the heart-and-soul of a San Jose team looking for its first Stanley Cup.  

Stock: Neutral

Joe Thornton, F

The long wait for a Stanley Cup has been brutal for Thornton, now a third-line center at age 39. He’s come so close so many times with the Sharks and this could be his final chance. He's still a force on the ice, though not the dominant offensive player he once was. Thornton has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the playoffs. He will finish his career with San Jose. 

Stock: Neutral

Gustav Nyquist, F

Nyquist has been a playmaker on the top line at right wing with 10 assists and a goal in 17 games. He produces without a ton of power-play time and had a great regular season after being acquired from the Red Wings at the trade deadline on Feb. 25. Nyquist had a $4.75 million cap hit this season. In line for a raise at age 29, but probably too expensive for the depth scoring Washington needs.   

Stock: Up

Erik Karlsson, D

He will be one of the most sought-after defensemen on the open market after playing the final season of his contract with the Sharks. The long-time Ottawa Senators blueliner still has great offensive gifts at age 28. He showed that again by scoring the controversial overtime winner in Game 3 against the Blues. Karlsson has 15 points in 17 Stanley Cup playoff games. The Caps already have their Carlson (John) on the right side so this one is not an option for them. 

Stock: Up

Joonas Donskoi, F

A roller-coaster playoffs for Donskoi, who has scored 14 goals each of the past two seasons and been a fixture in the San Jose lineup for four. He was a healthy scratch the first three games of the first-round series against Vegas but returned to play three games before getting hurt in Game 6. 

Donskoi missed the next five games, but he’s made an impact since returning in Game 5 of the second-round series against Colorado. His one goal this postseason was a huge one. It proved to be the game-winner in Game 7 against the Avalanche. Donskoi has played on the fourth line in every game of the Western Conference Final against St. Louis. Think of him as Washington’s version of Andre Burakovsky. His age (27), experience and versatility should entice teams looking for depth scoring this summer. Maybe the Caps?  

Stock: Up

Tim Heed, D

A depth defenseman who played in 37 NHL games this year and just two in the playoffs. Held his own in minimal ice time at even strength (20:01) and was on the ice for one San Jose goal. Not an impact free agent. At 28 just hoping to find a team in need of depth on the right side. 

Stock: Down

Micheal Haley, F

A rugged fourth-liner whose toughness got him in the lineup early in the Vegas series in the first round. Haley has appeared in nine playoff games. He doesn’t have a point. On his second and probably last go-around with the Sharks. 

Stock: Down

 

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Patrick Maroon, F

A true hometown hero in St. Louis, where he was born, Maroon has three goals and three assists in the playoffs. A big man at 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, Maroon is tough to move from the front of the net. But he’s also 31 and on his fourth NHL team and he’s only topped 20 goals and 40 points once. He does have 63 games worth of playoff experience, though, so he could be a good fit on a third line somewhere. The Capitals probably want more speed than Maroon would provide. They already have enough big bodies (Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin) with more pure skill. Maroon scored the overtime game-winner in Game 7 of the second round series vs. Dallas, but it’s unclear he can get more than the one-year, $1.75 million deal he signed with the Blues last summer.

Carl Gunnarsson, D

Injuries limited Gunnarsson to just 25 games during the regular season. He has appeared in nine playoff games, but his time in St. Louis appears to be dwindling after five seasons. Gunnarsson played the final two games of the first-round series against Winnipeg and all seven games against Dallas in the second round before getting hurt in Game 7. He returns tonight against San Jose in Game 4 in place of the injured Vince Dunn. At best the Swede is a cheap depth defenseman this offseason at age 32.   

Stock: Down

Chris Thorburn, F

Tough year for a 13-year NHL veteran who played one game for the Blues and then was dispatched to the AHL for the rest of the season. He was recalled for the playoffs but has yet to appear in a game. Soon to be 36, his career is likely over. 

Stock: Down

Michael Del Zotto, D

Split 42 games between Vancouver, Anaheim and the Blues this season, but has not appeared in a playoff game. St. Louis picked up Del Zotto at the trade deadline on Feb. 25 for depth they haven’t needed. He turns 29 next month so he should still garner some interest in a similar role, but after signing consecutive two-year deals with Philadelphia and then Vancouver he likely won’t get much more than a one-year minimum deal. The Caps could probably find a better option if they need a veteran No. 7 defenseman who won’t play much. 

Stock: Down

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The Caps are back...ish, Ovechkin celebrates 700 with 701 and the bottom-six shines

The Caps are back...ish, Ovechkin celebrates 700 with 701 and the bottom-six shines

WASHINGTON -- The Winnipeg Jets certainly made things interesting. The Capitals jumped out to a dominant 3-0 lead, but the Jets managed to battle back and force a shootout. Washington got the win, but now we are all left wondering which half of the game tells us more about the state of the Caps.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

They're back...ish

The first half of this game was brilliant. The Caps were dominant in every facet. They were physical, the defense was playing well, the breakouts were crisp, the top-six was dangerous and the bottom-six was setting up offensive opportunities with prolonged shifts in the offensive zone. Braden Holtby was strong in net back-stopping the team to a 3-0 lead...and then suddenly it was 3-3 and the game was headed to overtime.

What the heck?

I was all ready for the story after this game to be that the Caps were officially back, but now it seems too early to declare that.

Look, overall the win over the Pittsburgh Penguins plus this game were the best two games this team has played in a long time. If they keep playing the way they have recently they will win more often than not and will be rounding into form by the playoffs. But they need to work on their full 60-minute efforts.

Let's get physical

This is a physical team and it clearly has been getting back to its identity the past week. It's no surprise the success is starting to come again as a result.

I asked Reirden after the game how much the physical play had to do with the team's turnaround and he had a very interesting answer.

“What we weren’t doing was we weren’t putting pucks in areas where we could go be physical. So, when you’re going to turn pucks over in the neutral zone and you’re not going to put them behind their defense, now you’re not giving your players a chance to go in and forecheck and pressure pucks and force turnovers, which I thought we were really good at early on in the game today in terms of all those pucks that were below the goal line, how we were able to pressure and force turnovers and get possession out of it for the majority of the first two periods. So, that’s our identity, that’s how we have to play and, to me, it’s all set up by the proper puck management.”

The bottom-six

So far so good for Ilya Kovalchuk. The third line looked very offensively dangerous in Kovalchuk's first game with lots of prolonged shifts in the offensive zone. Garnet Hathaway credited one such shift as directly leading to his goal.

"I thought that line played really well tonight," Hathaway said. "I thought they were all contributing and making plays, too, so it was nice building off of their energy. I think you look at that, we get an offensive zone faceoff and then it turns into a goal."

In addition, the fourth line looked a bit rejuvenated with Richard Panik. He collected an assist on Hathaway's goal. If that's the type of performance the Caps can expect from the bottom-six going forward, they are in good shape.

Turning point

The Caps may have won the game, but the turning point was Nikolaj Ehlers' goal.

With Washington up 3-0 in the second period, Michal Kempny wheeled around the net in the face of the forecheck from Patrik Laine. He tried to pass the puck to Radko Gudas, but was off-target. The puck redirected off the skate of Gudas and right to Cody Eakin who was all alone in front of the net. Eakin fired a quick shot which Holtby stopped and he closed up his pads thinking he had the puck. Unbeknownst to him, however, the puck had squirted out. Ehlers spotted it and scored on the open net to breath life back into the Jets. From there Winnipeg would tie the game and force overtime.

Play of the game

The great set up by Evgeny Kuznetsov and the great finish by Alex Ovechkin. What better way to finish the celebration of 700 than by scoring No. 701?

Stat of the game

Yet another goalie goes down to the Great 8.

Quote of the game

Ovechkin scored the shootout winner with one of the best shootout goals of his career.

“Sometime even I don’t know what I’m going to do out there, so I’ll take it.”

Fan predictions

Check, check...oh no! You were doing so well!

Bold.

Just the one and you didn't have to wait too long to get it either.

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Capitals survive 3-goal surge from Jets for shootout win

Capitals survive 3-goal surge from Jets for shootout win

WASHINGTON -- The Capitals saw a 3-0 lead evaporate, but still managed to earn the 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday, their second victory in as many games. On a night in which Alex Ovechkin was honored, he scored the first goal of the game and the shootout winner.

Here is how the Caps won.

701

Right after he was honored in a pregame ceremony for scoring his 700th goal, Ovechkin scored No. 701 less than two minutes into the game.

Evgeny Kuznetsov flashed some of his behind-the-net magic as he skated the puck behind the goal line, then abruptly spun and fed Ovechkin the puck. Ovechkin's first shot was blocked by Nathan Beaulieu, but he whacked the puck out of the air and behind goalie Laurent Brossoit for his 701st career goal.

This marked the second time in as many games Washington scored first, something that has been an issue of late.

Vrana's speed

Jakub Vrana scored a great goal on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to his speed and a great individual effort. He did it again on Tuesday launching himself on his own breakaway.

The Jets broke the puck into the offensive zone, but the rush was halted by the defense of Dmitry Orlov and the backcheck from T.J. Oshie. Jakub Vrana picked up the loose puck and zipped straight down the middle of the ice.

When Vrana grabbed the puck, there were two Jets between him and the net. By the team he reached the opposite blue line, there was only one Jet left who could catch him. Vrana managed one last burst of speed to turn the corner and get behind the defense, then score the breakaway goal to give Washington the 2-0 lead.

The bottom-six

The acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk was meant to improve the offense of both lines in the bottom-six. Obviously he adds offense to the third line, but moving Richard Panik to the fourth should also provide that line with more of an offensive upside. For one game at least, the return on Kovalchuk was very good.

The third line looked tremendous with Kovalchuk skating on the right. The line had a number of dominant offensive zone shifts and was able to work the cycle really well to hem the Jets in their own zone.

Kovalchuk fired three shots on goal.

The fourth line, meanwhile, scored just its second goal in the year in 2020. The line picked up a turnover in the offensive zone off a great forechecking shift and Garnet Hathaway scored on a rebound off a shot by Nic Dowd.

Hathaway's goal was his first since Dec. 23 and he was assisted by Dowd and new linemate Panik.

Braden Holtby

Holtby had another strong performance in net ensuring the Caps could build on their early lead. The Jets fired 17 shots on goal in the second period alone and he stopped 16 of them. He finished the game with 30 saves and made an additional three stops in the shootout.

Physical play

The Caps pushed Winnipeg around in this one. Badly.

While the official hit total was pretty close (25-17), what the Caps lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. They laid a number of vicious hits on the Jets and they just did not have the muscle to match.

Dmitry Orlov in particular was in an ornery mood as he delivered two huge hits. One he delivered to Patrik Laine drew the ire of Andrew Copp. Copp went to defend his teammate and Tom Wilson decided to defend his. Copp qiuckly backed down and did not respond to a few jabs from Wilson or even a big hit from Wilson later in the shift.

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