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It’s not a Stanley Cup, but a fourth straight Metropolitan crown still has meaning to Capitals

It’s not a Stanley Cup, but a fourth straight Metropolitan crown still has meaning to Capitals

WASHINGTON — There were no championship hats or puddles of beer, no dips in fountains or questionable tattoos.

Get a hold of yourself, it was just a Metropolitan Division title after all. The Capitals have done bigger, more important things. After the heady, Stanley Cup days of last spring and summer, it will take more than this to get the celebration rolling again. 

But don’t render the Metro title meaningless, either, after Washington beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 at Capital One Arena to clinch it. It is the fourth time in a row it has won the Metro, a quality division that has produced the past three Stanley Cup champions.

Take it for granted at your peril. The Capitals won four division titles in a row just one other time in franchise history dating to 1974-75. And that came in the old, maligned Southeast Division from 2008-2011 when the division was just five teams and the competition limited. 

Unlike 2016 and 2017, when the Metro was clinched early, this was more like 2018 when goalie struggles, a bad start and a February swoon made it touch-and-go well into March. It took until the second-to-last game to get there this time. 

“It definitely ranks maybe even sweeter than some of the other years because I think we really had to work for it this year,” center Lars Eller said. “We had to overcome suspensions, injuries, a lot of adversity. Maybe more than certain other years where things were coming a little bit easier. Even though nothing comes easy.”

The Capitals will learn that the hard way again during the Stanley Cup playoffs. They still don’t know their opponent – it could be any one of Pittsburgh, Carolina or Columbus. But it will definitely be a Metro rival. And given their history with the Penguins, last year’s epic first-round clash with Columbus and a rejuvenated Hurricanes team in the postseason for the first time since 2009, advancing isn’t a given for the defending champs. 

“We have another level for sure,” coach Todd Reirden said. “We wanted to win and secure home ice and all those things, but we have another level to take our game to and we will. That's just where things are at and we're going to meet [Friday] and discuss how we can continue to grow and get better. That's what's exciting about this team is they're still eager to learn and try to figure out ways to win.”

Washington will host its first-round Stanley Cup playoff series next week and would host again if it advances, but this is also a team that clinched all four series last spring on the road. They appreciate the home crowd, but it doesn’t really matter in the NHL. The Capitals have lost too many Game Sevens at home to think that way.

“It shows consistency but it’s not a huge thing for us,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I think it’s more important that we played a good playoff-style game tonight against a team that was really desperate. So, it’s fun to get back to hockey like that.”

And that is where this really matters. The Capitals laid an egg against the Florida Panthers on Monday in a game they trailed 4-0 to a team that was already eliminated. But all in all they have been a better, more stable team since ending a seven-game 0-5-2 winless streak heading into the NHL All-Star break. 

Washington is 21-8-2 since returning from a needed mental break. There were still bumps in that road, but they did not lose consecutive games in regulation and with the division lead thinning they came up with big wins against Carolina twice and took three points from Tampa Bay, the Cup favorite and Presidents’ Trophy winner, in three games this month. 

Montreal was a desperate team, tied for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth in points, but out on the tiebreaker with just two games to go. The Canadiens threw all they had at Washington, which handled the pressure like champions do. The 2-1 lead held through most of the second and third periods.

“We were forced to play smart with the puck throughout the third period and not take chances,” said Eller, who scored yet another goal against his former team. “Like you’re going to be doing in the playoffs probably. It wasn’t an easy win. It’s good to go through that rather than winning games with three or four [goals]. There’s good lessons to be had from that.”

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Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

The Capitals have a superstar Russian, an incredible Swedish center, a Canadian netminder, but the team also boasts several American players as well. On the 4th of July when American celebrate the birth of our nation, lets put down the barbecue, apple pie and fireworks for a few minutes to remember some of the top highlights from each of the team's Americans.

Travis Boyd: 4 goals for Hayden

In Feb. 2018, Boyd turned hardship into an inspirational moment. While with the Hershey Bears, Boyd's daughter, Hayden, developed a serious infection and had to go to the hospital. Boyd went with her on a Sunday and did not leave until Friday morning to prepare for that night's game, a game in which he would score four goals.

John Carlson: The golden goal

Carlson has numerous highlights from his career with the Caps, but on Indepence Day it seems only fitting to look back at his biggest goal for his country. Carlson represented Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships which was hosted by Canada that year. USA made it all the way to the final where the played the host nation. Tied at 5 through regulation, Carlson scored the golden goal off a 2-on-1 as he caught the goalie leaning anticipating the pass.

Nic Dowd: Historic penalty shot

In Game 5 of the Caps' series against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, Nic Dowd was slashed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton while he was in alone on goalie Petr Mrazek. Dowd was awarded the first penalty shot of his career and he delivered, dekeing right to open up Mrazek's pads and tucking the puck through the 5-hole. In addition to being his first penalty shot goal, the goal was also Dowd's first-career playoff point.

The goal also had some historic significance for the team as it was Washington's first ever playoff penalty shot goal.

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Garnet Hathaway: Shows his toughness against the Rangers

On Oct. 18, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers and it proved to be an pretty epic night for Hathaway. He was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith (again, with a broken nose), the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

Nick Jensen: Assisting on goal No. 700

Jensen has been with the Capitals for about a year and a half, but he will forever be linked to the team's greatest franchise player thanks to one assist.

Against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, Jensen grabbed a loose puck behind the offensive goal line and sent it back behind the net to keep the offensive cycle going. That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Alex Ovechkin who scored career goal No. 700.


T.J. Oshie: T.J. Sochi

Who could forget about Oshie's incredible performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi?

Playing against Team Russia, USA leaned heavily on Oshie in the shootout. He would score four times on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as USA walked away victorious.

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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