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Insider's Take: Christian Djoos has a big night in debut, but Caps fall to Pens, 3-2

Insider's Take: Christian Djoos has a big night in debut, but Caps fall to Pens, 3-2

Rookie defenseman Christian Djoos recorded a goal and a primary assist in his NHL debut on Wednesdaynight. But it wasn’t enough for the Capitals as their previously stellar penalty kill surrendered three goals to the Penguins, who skated away with a 3-2 victory at Capital One Arena.

How it happened

Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist scored power play goals as the Penguins seized a 2-0 midway through the second period.

Djoos’ first career shot—a one-timer—in his first career game gave the Caps hope, cutting the Pittsburgh lead in half with 53 seconds remaining in the middle frame.

The Pens’ potent power play, however, was not done.

Conor Sheary struck on the man advantage just 38 seconds into the third period to give the Pens all they would need.

Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading eighth tally—Djoos set it up with a nifty cross crease pass—pulled the Caps to within 3-2 with 7:09 left to play. But that’s as close as Washington would get, despite a late push.

MORE: WHY YOU SHOULDN'T BE MAD ABOUT THAT CROSBY HIT ON HOLTBY

What it means

Given the history between these rivals, nothing really matters until they meet in the postseason. The loss was, however, Washington’s first in regulation this season.

The Djoos is loose

It was, shall we say, an eventful night for 23-year-old Swede. He was in the box for tripping when Hornqvist scored. But the left shot blue liner atoned for the error by firing a one-timer past Matt Murray (20 saves) from the right side.

“We know he’s a good hockey player,” Trotz said. “He’s got to continue to get stronger and continue to play at this level. You can see the instincts are really good. He’s got a real good sense for the game. His IQ is really good. But it’s a process; it’s one game. We’ll be patient, for sure. But his first game was real good.”

Trotz added: “Whenever he was on the ice, we seemed to have the puck a little bit more.”

Djoos became the second Capitals rookie to score in his debut in just four games, joining Nathan Walker, who tallied against Montreal. Djoos was the third leading scorer among blue liners in the AHL last season, racking up 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games.  

“I thought he was awesome,” veteran Matt Niskanen said. “A lot of confidence. Wasn’t afraid. Moved the puck really good out of his own zone. And scored his first goal in his first game—pretty unbelievable.”

Other than the loss, Djoos felt his debut went well.

“First game in the NHL and you get a goal and an assist? That wasn’t my plan when I showed up at the rink,” he said. “I wanted to play a good, structured game, detailed game.”

Penalty problem?

The Caps took six minor penalties, marking the third time in four games that they’ve taken at least five. They lost Monday in Tampa because they gave up a power play goal in OT. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s first two goals came on the man advantage. Interestingly, the Caps were the most penalized team from Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season last year (180). But they also accumulated more points (71) during that same span.

“Every time we started getting any rhythm we took a penalty,” Trotz said. “The first four games I said to the guys, let’s be real: We got to get our penalties down. …Today they got three power play goals.”

Holtby did what? 

In the first period, Holtby made the gutsy decision to bolt out of his crease and challenge the speedy Carl Hagelin, who had turned on the afterburners and in pursuit of a potential breakaway. Holtby and Hagelin got to the puck around the same time and the Caps’ netminder executed a perfectly soccer-style tackle on Hagelin. Holtby, however, was given a minor penalty for “delay of game—illegal play goalie”. In keeping the puck away from Hagelin, he landed on the puck and, after pulling it from underneath his body, then used his catching glove to pass it to a teammate.

The referee told Trotz “if there wasn’t a Penguin around him, I probably wouldn’t have called it,” Trotz told reporters. Asked what he’s thinking when Holtby is racing out of the net, Trotz cracked, “Get to the puck before them. That’s it.”

RELATED: HOLTBY WAS NOT PLEASED WITH CROSBY'S HIT ON HIM

Welcome to the league, rook

Before Djoos aced his first test on the ice, he came onto the ice alone. The Capitals got the rookie with one of the oldest, but best, and funniest, and easiest, tricks in the book:


What’s ahead

The Caps are slated to practice Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. On Friday, Tom Wilson, who sat out the fourth game of a four-game suspension against the Penguins, will be eligible to return to the lineup in New Jersey. The Caps come right back Saturday night in Philly.

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Capitals mailbag: Is it time for T.J. Oshie to worry about his future?

Capitals mailbag: Is it time for T.J. Oshie to worry about his future?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Dec. 12 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Edie R writes: Knowing that T.J. Oshie has a family history of Alzheimer’s and so is already predisposed to getting the disease himself, how can he continue to put himself in a situation where he can be concussed? While I love watching him play, I find myself holding my breath a bit every time he’s on the ice, waiting for him to get hurt again and knowing what it could mean for his future and that of his family.

Oshie was asked Monday if he was concerned over the long-term effects concussions can have after suffering his fifth.

This is what he said, “Not really. I don't know. I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned about what's going to happen to me, I'm not going to play at the top of my game. Doesn't really concern me. I just kind of roll with the punches every day and if it does, it does. Hopefully, it doesn't.”

I can’t speak for Oshie or how concerned he may or may not be or if his father having Alzheimer’s makes him more worried about the long-term effects of repeated brain trauma. What I can say is that every professional athlete in every sport is conscious of the fact that they are putting themselves at risk. For most, they accept that risk. We live in a transitional time in that we are learning more about concussions and their effects so perhaps they are not something players like Oshie considered when they first started playing, but he knows better than most what it’s like to suffer a concussion and I am sure he is well aware of what the long-term effects can be. He, for now, has decided to accept those risks to continue playing hockey. That’s his choice to make and it is one I am sure he has not taken lightly.

Nathan S writes: Do players get evaluated by independent neurologists after concussions? Getting fully recovered from concussions is estimated by some experts to take three months yet it seems players like Oshie and Wilson are rushing to get back and help the team (laudable but maybe dangerous) following their concussions.

There is no requirement by the NHL that players get evaluated by neurologists after suffering a concussion. I looked at the Caps’ medical staff directory and they list two athletic trainers, a massage therapist a head team physician, an orthopedic surgeon, two internists, two emergency physicians, an ophthalmologist and a dentist.

No neurologist.

That does not mean the players don’t see one or consult one. That does not mean the team doctors don’t consult one. That does not mean the players rush back without proper medical care when it comes to brain injuries. It simply means they are not required to see a neurologist. To be honest, I don’t know what sort of treatment the players get when it comes to brain injuries and good luck getting anyone in the sport of hockey which groups everything as either “upper body injury” or “lower body injury” to give you any specifics when it comes medical treatment.

I wouldn’t get too married to a specific timeline when it comes to concussions. We are still learning a lot about concussions and many doctors will tell you there is no set timeline for how long it takes to recover and it varies by person and by how many concussions someone has suffered in the past. I don’t think we will ever get to a point where we will say, “Player X suffered a concussion so he will be out three months” the same way we can put specific timelines on broken bones or torn muscles. It’s just not that black and white.

I am all in on Vrana. I love his skill, I love his work ethic. He is always among the last players to leave the ice every practice. He is constantly working to improve his game and it shows in his play. He needs to cut down on the turnovers a bit. In the past, his mistakes have affected his ice time, but now it seems that he has built up some trust with the coaches and his ice time has shot up over two minutes per game as compared to last season.

What will help his point totals is how many assists he also tends to produce. When I looked up his stats to answer this question, I was surprised at just how even the goals and assists totals were. In his first season he had three goals and three assists, 13 and 14 in his second and now sits at nine and nine. Considering how much of a sniper he is, you don’t really think of him as a player who piles up the assists, but clearly he is as good setting up his teammates as he is scoring.

I see Vrana as a Viktor Arvidsson type of player, someone who is a great compliment to a top-six, but not a dominating star a team can build around. I see him as a 25-30 goal scorer who should regularly hover around the 60-point mark.

As for your second question, let’s start with the defense. For those who read the weekly prospect report, you’ll know I follow the prospects pretty closely. Because of that, I am not surprised at all about Bowey. He was tremendous in juniors and great in Hershey. His NHL debut last season left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, but it is unfair to judge him by that. Bowey was recalled due to an injury to Matt Niskanen, was put into the lineup immediately in his first day in the NHL as the Caps were on the second game of a back-to-back and were on the road in Philadelphia for the Flyers’ home-opener. There was a lot working against Bowey in that game.
Bowey is a solid two-way defenseman who has really turned the corner this season defensively and who has hit a Dmitrij Jaskin level of bad luck when it comes to offense. The goals are coming.

Siegenthaler has been as advertised. He is an Orpik type of physical, defensive player, but much more mobile and someone the Caps thought enough of to trade up in the draft to get. He has been exactly The surprise to me has been how well both players have played together. I thought the third defensive pair would be a clear weakness for the Caps all season with Bowey, Siegenthaler, Orpik, and Djoos all rotating in. That has not been the case thus far.

I have been a bit surprised by Travis Boyd. On a team with as much offensive talent as the Caps boast, the fact that he has been able to stand out is impressive, especially with the limited time the fourth line gets and especially given all the bad luck he has had this year and last with poorly timed injuries and illnesses. The fact that he has been able to step in rather seamlessly and be productive is a good sign for him. Washington seems to have something going on the fourth line with Boyd, Nic Dowd, and Jaskin.

It’s getting pretty tough to evaluate how anyone in Hershey is playing given how much the Bears as a team are struggling. Plus, you also have to factor in that half the time he is playing in front of a goalie who is making the jump from Europe to North America and there are growing pains that come with that.

It is not a surprise to see Siegenthaler get some time this season given how good he looked in training camp and the preseason. Johansen did not leave the same kind of impression. He wasn’t bad, but when competing against a bunch of juniors and AHL players, he did not look like a player ready for the next level just yet.

What also hurts Johansen is the Caps’ depth. Washington has seven defensemen on the roster now, plus Orpik who is making his way back from injury. That’s eight guys ahead of him right now. He needs to just focus on his game in Hershey and try to make an impression next year in camp. Heading into this season, it never occurred to me that Siegenthaler would be a guy who stuck around. Obviously, injuries have helped with that, but the reason he is on the roster now is how he played in camp.

Thanks for all your questions!

If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

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Yeah, Tom Wilson knows all about the Ryan Reaves autographs

Yeah, Tom Wilson knows all about the Ryan Reaves autographs

ARLINGTON, Va. – It’s been a frustrating season for Tom Wilson.

Wilson returned to the Capitals lineup on Nov. 13 after missing the first 14 games of the season due to a suspension. He caught fire offensively, but after just 11 games, he was injured when Vegas Goldn Knights forward Ray Reaves delivered a late, blind-side hit to Wilson that knocked him out of the game and out of the lineup.

Wilson has not played since, but he skated in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday and was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. After practice, head coach Todd Reirden called his return for Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes a “possibility.”

When he does return, Wilson will try to continue the hot streak he was on with 14 points in just 11 games.

“It sucks,” Wilson said. “Timing is never good for those things, but especially when the team’s playing well and you’re feeling good out there. It sucks, but it’s hockey. Injuries happen.”

Following the game in Vegas, Reaves said, “I thought he was just looking at his pass and… ran into a lion in the jungle.”

With his chance to spark a war of words with the Vegas forward, Wilson elected instead to take the high road.

“There’s really no point in me talking about it at this point,” he said. “It was a week ago now. It is what it is. It’s hockey, a physical sport. Stuff happens.”

Following his postgame comments, Reaves doubled down and signed a number of pictures of an injured Wilson and wrote down “He ran into a lion in the jungle” from his postgame quote. The pictures were up for sale by a sports memorabilia company, but pulled by the company, reportedly per Reaves’ request.

News of the pictures practically broke the internet for a day so it would have been hard for Wilson to avoid, but he did confirm Wednesday that yes, he had heard about the signed pictures.

“Yeah, obviously heard about it,” Wilson said. “[Reaves] can do whatever he wants. It’s up to him. He controls that stuff. Everyone carries themselves differently. It’s up to him. There’s no point in me paying attention to any of that kind of stuff. I saw it, but it is what it is.”

Washington and Vegas will not play again this season so fans will have to wait until 2019-20 for these two to settle their differences on the ice, unless of course both teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final for a second year.

While Wilson downplayed all the talk about Reaves, the one thing he did sound fired up about was how well the team had played in his absence.

“It’s how you find out about your team and your teammates," he said. "[Injuries] happened to us a few times last year and made us a lot stronger. They’ve done a great job. There’s nothing better than when you’re out watching games and your team’s out there playing great and playing together and guys stepping up. It’s great to see.”

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