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How are the Capitals approaching the 2019 draft? Brian MacLellan will tell you

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How are the Capitals approaching the 2019 draft? Brian MacLellan will tell you

The 2019 NHL Draft is going to have a very different feel to it for the Capitals than in 2018. Just one year ago, Washington was still basking in the glow of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship. The draft felt almost like an afterthought. This year, after a first-round exit and with the roster still influx given the team’s salary cap constraints, the draft weekend feels like a significant point in the offseason for general manager Brian MacLellan.

The draft can be a big weekend not just for setting the team up for the future, but also for the present. A lot of trades and business can happen when all the general managers get together. So just what is MacLellan thinking heading into the big weekend? While he would not reveal all his secrtes, MacLellan did reveal his basic strategy and mindset as he prepares for the draft to begin on Friday.

The Caps currently hold the 25th pick in what is expected to be a rather deep draft. Should they hold onto that pick, the need at forward is obvious. Washington has not selected a forward in the first round since taking Jakub Vrana in 2014. The lack of high-end offensive talent in the system seems to be catching up with them this year. With the team up against the salary cap, it will be hard to address the weakness of depth offense. This is where other teams would plug in their top offensive prospects into the bottom-six as cheap fix to fill out the roster.

Washington, however, does not seem to have any obvious prospect candidates who can step into those roles for the upcoming season.

When it comes to the NHL draft, however, it rarely makes sense to draft for need. The vast majority of players in the draft and even the majority of players in the first round will not play in the NHL in their first year after getting drafted. Many of those players will take several years to develop into being NHL players if at all so it makes no sense for MacLellan to draft for need when the needs of the team could be completely different once that player is ready to make the jump to the NHL.

While position would not be the only consideration, MacLellan certainly made clear that the team’s need at forward would certainly play a factor when considering who to take.

“I think it'll factor into our decisions unless we see a defenseman that's clearly above a forward that we like,” MacLellan said. “If the decision is close, I think we're going to go with the forward.”

The good news for Washington is that this draft is expected to be deep in terms of high-end offensive talent. The bad news is that those players could all be gone once the draft gets to Washington’s 25th pick. While the priority may be forward, MacLellan also said there were plenty of skilled defensemen who the scouts were really high on who could be available given how many forwards are expected to go early.

“There seems to be a section in that draft right after those forwards where there's quite a few good defensemen that the scouts really like,” MacLellan said. “You know, overall I think it's a pretty deep draft. A lot of guys are going to play and there's quite a few defensemen in the middle to late first-round that guys like. There's also a group of forwards that our guys like a lot and we're going to balance that decision between the two.”

Further complicating the team’s draft plan is whether or not MacLellan would be interested in moving the first-round pick in a bid to move up or down the draft.

With so many forwards expected to be taken early, that could signal MacLellan would want to trade up to ensure he can snag one, but there are also reports that Washington is focused strictly on winning now.

Elliotte Friedman reported in his 31 Thoughts column that other teams believe the Caps to be in “go for it” mode. In those situations, you typically see teams dangle draft picks as trade bait.

MacLellan tried to play down those rumors by saying the team is always trying to win.

“I don't know that we're ever not in an all-in situation,” he said. “We view ourselves as a contender for the Cup and we want to put the best team forward and make the best decisions to do that. I think we have some good players and some players that are getting a little bit older but are still high-end quality players and we want to surround them with the best team possible.”


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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.


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Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Ilya Samsonov got the difficult assignment on Saturday of playing on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He proved to be up to the challenge with a brilliant performance in net, leading the Capitals to the 5-2 victory, their second win over the Lightning in 16 days.

Here is how Washington won.

Ilya Samsonov

There's no question who the player of this game was. Samsonov was brilliant in this game. He had an immediate impact as the Lightning came out firing. Samsonov robbed Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev all in the first five minutes of the game.

Samsonov did not fade down the stretch either. Tampa Bay dominated in the second period and Samsonov turned aside 10 of the 11 shots he faced. For the game, he stopped 26 out of 28.

The fourth line and top line team up

The Lightning were all over Washington at the start of the game and Samsonov was the only reason Tampa Bay did not take advantage. A really strong shift by the fourth line for Washington seemed to settle everything down. Soon after, the Caps were celebrating a 1-0 lead.

Defenseman Jan Rutta had the puck behind the net. Ondrej Palat came wheeling around for the handoff and Alex Ovechkin saw him coming. As Palat wheeled one way, Ovechkin came charging the other. That forced Rutta to flub the pass and the puck bounced right in front of the net to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom who fired it into the net.

Incidental contact

Tampa Bay thought they had the tie early in the second when Carter Verhaeghe finally got one past Samsonov, but the goal was immediately waved off for goalie interference.

Mathieu Joseph and John Carlson were battling in the defensive zone when Joseph was skated into Samsonov. He was not necessarily pushed, but he and Carlson battled their way into the Caps' netminder, which did not allow Samsonov the chance to defend against Verhaeghe's shot.

You never know what can happen with a goalie interference call, but in this case the referee got it right. It was no goal for incidental contact and no penalty for goalie interference.

The bottom-six

These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL. But that's not all it takes to win in the NHL and the Caps' showed off their depth in the third period, which really proved to be the difference.

With the game tied at one, Dmitry Orlov made a great play at the offensive blue line to get the puck over to Richard Panik despite the immediate pressure he faced. Panik set up Lars Eller who one-timed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Just 45 seconds later the fourth line came streaking down the ice and Brendan Leipsic teed up Garnet Hathaway, who took it in on net and chipped it through Vasileskiy.

Those two quick goals suddenly turned the game on its head. To that point, the Lightning had been the better team. After that, the Caps were dominant.