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How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

How Tom Wilson's first game back from suspension against Minnesota sparked the Caps

WASHINGTON -– Capitals forward Tom Wilson did not miss a beat. That’s what happens when a player sits the first 14 games of a season because of an NHL-mandated suspension for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game. 
 
With his suspension reduced from 20 games to 16, Wilson was suddenly eligible to play Nov. 13 when Washington played a game against the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson scored a goal in the first period – and ironically was penalized on the same play for running into the goalie.

He later had a fight with Wild forward Marcus Foligno. He also helped the penalty kill strop five of six chances. That pretty much summed it up. 


 
Wilson sees Minnesota again tonight when the Capitals host the Wild at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That first game in St. Paul sparked a turnaround for the Capitals, who were lethargic early in the season as they tried to stay emotionally engaged after last spring’s dramatic championship run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
 
Wilson’s return against the Wild had a visceral effect. The players had a jump not seen often in a 7-6-3 start to the season that included back-to-back home losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes. 
 
The Capitals won 5-2 that night against the Wild and went on an 8-2-0 run in Wilson’s first 10 games. He had eight goals and seven assists in those games before sustaining a concussion during a fight in a Dec. 4 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights. 
 
Wilson missed three more games and has only played 55 total. But he’s had a major impact on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and either center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. Wilson has 21 goals and 16 assists. Those are both career highs. His 37 points are also a career best. And that’s all in 23 fewer games than the 78 he played last season. There are eight games left for Wilson to top 40 points for the first time. 

Djoos returns

The lower-body injury to Michal Kempny sustained Wednesday means Christian Djoos is back in the lineup. He will be on the top pair with John Carlson. Djoos is playing just his second game since Feb. 23. The Capitals will be experimenting here down the stretch thinking Kempny will be out for a while. It’s a good opportunity for Djoos, who has played with Carlson before.

Washington will not recall a defensemen from AHL Hershey for now. They will stick with six unless another player is needed during the remaining three games of this four-game homestand.

50

Alex Ovechkin couldn’t find the back of the net in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, but he is still just two goals shy of 50 for his career. That would be his eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin finished last year with 49. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy have had more (nine each).

Ovechkin always torches Minnesota with 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in just 15 career games.

That’s his highest goals-per-game average against any franchise.

Holtby goes

No surprise here as the Capitals don’t have any more back-to-back games and will ride Holtby down the stretch until they possibly clinch the Metropolitan Division. They lead by three points over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins and have eight games to go.

Holtby is 8-2-0 in his career against Minnesota with one shutout and a .922 save percentage. 

Going streaking

The Capitals have won eight games in a row against Minnesota, led by former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau.

Expect a good push from the Wild, however, who are still in the playoff chase in the Western Conference. At 34-31-9, they have 77 points and are one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second and final wild card spot. 

Expected lineup

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd
Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen
Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley
Scratches: Chandler Stephenson, Dmitrij Jaskin
Injured: Michal Kempny

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Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

Despite re-aggravating injury at Worlds, Lars Eller healthy heading to training camp

ARLINGTON, Va. — A lower-body injury limited Lars Eller in the playoffs and cut his World Championship short after just three games, but it is not going to limit him heading into training camp.

“I’m over that,” Eller told NBC Sports Washington. “Taken good care of that and it’s not an issue right now.”

Eller was at MedStar Captials Iceplex on Thursday taking part in an informal skate with several teammates who have begun to trickle back to Washington as the start of training camp approaches. Eller took part in all drills, the scrimmage and the conditioning skate seemingly without issue.

The lower-body injury was not enough to keep him out of the playoffs last season, but he did take several maintenance days.

“I've been battling something,” Eller said in April at the team’s breakdown day. “Something that's been bugging me. A little bit of rest these next couple of weeks. Just have to take care of it. It doesn't require surgery, it's nothing serious, just with some rest over time, it will be fine, I believe.”

Despite the need for rest, Eller elected to play for Denmark in the IIHF World Championship soon after.

“Giving it some time, I felt I was healthy enough to go and play,” Eller siad. “I still kind of wanted to play and help my country and after some time, I felt good enough to say, OK, I'm going to do this.”

Initially, Eller did not appear limited at all with four points in his first game. By the third game, however, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

Despite a report from Denmark claiming Eller had an agreement in place to play in only three games, he said the decision was made to leave the tournament after he re-aggravated the injury.

“Reaggravated it and we just shut it down after those three games and really took time to properly rehab and build my program around that for the first many weeks and get treatment, try to make sure it doesn't come back to bite me,” Eller said.

Leaving Worlds has given Eller plenty of time to heal which is good because he will face a new challenge this year.

Gone are Brett Connolly who was a mainstay on Eller’s line which means Eller will have to get used to some different linemates in the upcoming season.

“It's going to be different,” Eller said. “Both [Connolly and Andre Burakovsky are] two guys I probably spent the most time here with the last three years. We had some really good success all three of us at times. That's going to be a new challenge. I have a good feeling about the guys I'm likely going to play with. It's just a new challenge, but I feel good about it.”

The first step to adjusting to a new line? Getting healthy. A lengthy summer seems to have helped with that.

Though unfortunate, the early playoff exit gave Washington a long offseason in which players like Eller could focus on rest and rehab. That is time Eller tried to take advantage of before the grind of another season and what he hopes will be another long postseason run.

“A little longer than last year,” he said of the summer. “All the time I needed to get away and also get the body right for the season.”

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Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

Caps Goal of the Year Bracket: Dowd's Alley-Oop to Hagelin vs Connolly Curl-and-Drag

With less than a month before training camp opens in mid-September, we are taking one last look back at the 2018-19 season as we dive into the best goals of last year. We compiled our bracket based on the cumulative rankings of our Capitals team, from reporters to producers and everyone in between, and now is your turn to help us determine the best Capitals goal of 2018-19. Below is a Slack conversation between the members of our Capitals content team.

jmurph: Day 4 of our bracket brings us two goals from the third line. Our 4 seed is Nic Dowd's long-distance backhand flip to spring Carl Hagelin for a breakaway up against our 13-seeded Brett Connolly curl-and-drag past the Senators. Where do we start today?

JJ Regan: This is a tough one. I love a good curl and drag, but the pass is a beauty. A good pass to launch a breakaway is tough, but to do it with an alley-oop backhand? That's pretty sweet.

jmurph: Spoiler alert, this is not the only Dowd backhand sauce flip in our bracket but this one was the more impressive one I think

It may be that I have a soft spot for Brett Connolly, but I love the curl and drag. A confident Connolly was one of my favorite things to watch about the Caps

Ryan Billie: No brainer for me (which is good). I've been in love with that Dowd pass since that game... was a thing of beauty.

Rob Carlin: This is like a 5-12 or 7-10 matchup. I’d say Hags is the favorite. But it’s hard to say who will win. That Conno curl & drag was a beauty

bmcnally: If this was just Dowd casually flipping a puck up ice and letting one of the fastest players in the league skate onto it I'd be a little less impressed. Instead I'm sitting here laughing at the skill level of this whole play. You can see him look up and ID what's happening and basically puts it tape-to-tape on a backhand.

jmurph: A backhand that he lifted over 4 players mind you

Ryan Billie: Nope... nope... nope... that pass from Dowd. This is a 5-12 matchup that turns out to be a dog game because the Dowd pass WAS SICK.

bmcnally: And it's a great finish by Hagelin, too, at full speed.

JJ Regan: It's a Hail Mary that hits the receiver in stride.

Rob Carlin: I agree. The pass was insane. And they got Hags for plays just like this one. But close your eyes and imagine that curl & drag was —— Ovi. We’d be showing that on a loop in our brains.

mvioli: Connolly’s curl and drag was pretty, great patience. But how often do you see a successful alley-oop in hockey? Dowd to Hags has to win.

jmurph: We're gonna see it again in a few days!

JJ Regan: I think that's what does it for me. Curl and drags are awesome, but we see those. These passes? You just don't see them all that often.

Rob Carlin: I agree the Dowd play was sick. Might win the whole thing (if the other Dowd sauce doesn’t win). I’m just saying the Conno goal got a tough draw. It would win most matchups

Ryan Billie: I really like the curl and drag. But the Hags goal also was a game winner... does that carry any extra weight?

jmurph: Context? C'mon Billie

bmcnally: Yeah definitely don't want to undersell Connolly here. That's an amazing use of the curl and drag and a snipe to finish. I just can't get over that Nic Dowd is apparently just GOOD at these kind of passes and not lucky.

mvioli: Exactly. I agree with Rob that Conno got a tough draw here, but that Dowd pass was just too good.

Rob Carlin: As someone who is clearly carrying extra weight myself, I agree the game winning aspect plays into this! Big play in a big moment.

So we all agree.....

Ryan Billie: ^^^

Rob Carlin: Dowd

jmurph: It's summer weight, it doesn't count

Ryan Billie: DOWWWWWD

mvioli: Definitely Dowd

JJ Regan: Dowd.

bmcnally: Dowd

jmurph: Sorry Conno, but it's Dowd

Rob Carlin: But good luck in Florida!

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