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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

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John Carlson once again an All-Star snub

The Capitals' Stanley Cup run may be even more remarkable than we thought considering there were zero all-stars on Washington's roster apparently.

As part of Wednesday's NHL Awards, the First and Second-Team All-Star rosters were released and not a single Capital made either team.

Here is a look at both teams:

In the interest of full disclosure, the All-Star Teams are voted on by members of the Pro Hockey Writers Association of which I am a member. I did not, however, have a vote for the All-Star rosters.

The first thought most Caps fans will have when looking at these teams is what about Alex Ovechkin?

I'm actually OK with Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux getting the nods at left wing.

Hall won the Hart Trophy for what he was able to accomplish in New Jersey in leading a team that looked like a trash heap before the season to a playoff berth. Compare the Devils' roster to the Caps' and there's no question Hall had a lot less to work with than Ovechkin and tallied 93 points as compared to Ovechkin's 87. Giroux finished second in the NHL with 102 points, one of only three players this season to finish in the triple digits. He very narrowly beat out Ovechkin for Second Team honors.

It was a coin flip and Ovechkin lost. That's not what Caps fans should be crying foul over. The fact that John Carlson was not among the four defensive all-stars is a far more egregious omission for which there is no excuse.

After inexplicably being excluded from the NHL All-Star Game in January, Carlson was snubbed once again as he came in fifth in the voting.

Just what does Carlson have to do to get some recognition?

No defenseman in the entire NHL had more points than Carlson's 68 this season. That's not just because of increased minutes as Carlson finished 13th among defensemen in ice time per game.

But being a good defenseman is not about the offensive stats.

That's right. Now go ahead and show me which of the four who finished ahead of Carlson was partnered with a rookie for most of the season. I'll wait.

The answer is none of them.

It's very easy now to look at the Capitals as a team that had all the pieces in place and managed to put it all together at the right time to go on a Cup run, but that's not what happened this season. Carlson was very heavily relied upon by the Capitals during the regular season when the blue line was an obvious weakness, especially after an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was averaging nearly 30 minutes per game in Niskanen's absence. Carlson also spent the majority of the season with his primary partner being a rookie in Christian Djoos.

Charlie McAvoy was a rookie too. Does that mean Zdeno Chara should have been named an all-star?

A player like McAvoy is very much the exception, not the rule. Djoos has a bright future ahead of him, but his career is not yet at the same level as a player like McAvoy.

With all due respect to the voters, it seems like not enough attention was paid to what the Capitals asked of Carlson this season. His strong play on both ends of the ice made up for a weak defense that was only bolstered by a late trade for Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks just prior to the trade deadline.

If you looked at Carlson's stats and saw just an offensive specialist who was not strong enough in his own end to warrant an all-star spot, then you were not paying close enough attention to the role he played in Washington this season.

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

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Did Sunday's practice lineup show who the Caps' fourth line center will be?

The Capitals had a very familiar look to them when their first group took to the ice for Sunday’s practice. With 41 players on the roster, the team is still split into two groups with each practicing at different times. The first group on the ice Sunday, however, looked an awful lot like what the Caps’ lineup could look like on opening night:

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

With Dowd playing on the fourth line with the rest of the NHL roster, did head coach Todd Reirden tell us Dowd is the front-runner to win the center job?

Jay Beagle’s departure in the offseason left the team in need of a fourth line center and it has been an open competition all throughout camp. Sunday’s lineup seemed to be the best indication yet which way the coaches may be leaning.

But don’t read too much into that, Reirden said. That job is still very much up for grabs.

“I still think it's a competition,” Reirden said after practice. “The lines will be different tomorrow. We just wanted to do a particular practice that involved that group of more veteran roster guys, it's still definitely a full-on competition. You'll see different players in that game on Tuesday and you'll see different lines tomorrow. That was just by design to get some familiarity with some players that have played in the past together and see how that looked at this stage of camp.”

Dowd also said after practice that he certainly did not take Sunday’s lineup to be any indication of where he may stand with the coaches.

“I spent so much time my first couple years of pro just trying read in to where you are, what's the lineup and it just causes a lot of worry,” he said after practice. “You ask a lot of players, it's just a waste of time. I just find my name and move on and that's the case every day.”

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Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

Sergei Shumakov remains a work in progress but that’s to be expected

There is a lot of excitement over Capitals’ new winger Sergei Shumakov.

The transition from the KHL to the NHL, however, may take longer than the preseason will allow.

When Evgeny Kuznetsov heard the rumors about Shumakov possibly moving to the NHL, he was quick to reach out.

“I call his agent and call him and they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple teams,’” Kuznetsov said. “And, then, ‘What do you mean a couple teams? It’s only one team.’ Then, after that, they signed after a couple of days.”

Thus the transition from the KHL to the NHL began.

General manager Brian MacLellan worked to keep the Capitals’ championship roster largely intact and made very few additions to the team.

Nic Dowd was signed on July 1 to compete for the fourth line center role left open by Jay Beagle’s departure. The second addition was Shumakov, a Russian player about to turn 26 with no North American experience.

Shumakov appears to be the latest of the low-risk, high-reward moves MacLellan has routinely made since taking over as general manager. The team took similar chances on Brett Connolly who has become a staple on the Caps’ bottom six and Devante Smith-Pelly who signed in 2017 after the New Jersey Devils bought him out of his contract.

“We see a player that has the ability to score and high-level skill,” MacLellan said of Shumakov. “We're not sure how it translates over here yet. We're just going to let him come in and find his way and put him in some spots and see what he can do."

Shumakov hails from the same town as Kuznetsov, Chelyabinsk, which is why Kuznetsov first reached out to Shumakov to recruit him.

“We’ve been together from 5 to 17 years old and play on the same line, so it’s always nice to have your friend,” Kuznetsov said.

But as excited as he is, Kuznetsov is also not naïve to the challenge that now faces Shumakov.

Fans are understandably excited about what Shumakov can add to the team as a tremendously skilled winger who scored 17 goals and 40 points in 47 games in the KHL last season. But the transition from the KHL to the NHL can be a challenging one.

What makes it so difficult?

“Everything,” Kuznetsov said. “The language, the game, the lifestyle, the mentality. It’s not easy when you’re 26 and you have to change everything in your life.”

The ice is smaller in North America meaning players have less room to maneuver. That makes the game faster paced and a lot more physical.

It is a transition that not everybody is able to make. For every Kuznetsov, there is a Vadim Shipachyov who lasted only three games in Vegas last season before he went back to the KHL.

That makes the preseason critical not just for the team to evaluate Shumakov, but also for him to adjust to the game.

Camp got off to an inauspicious start as visa issues delayed his arrival. Shumakov missed the first two days of camp and did not hit the ice until the fourth day. There is also a language barrier to work through as he does not speak English. When he finally did get on the ice, Reirden grouped him with the team’s other Russian players who could quickly get him up to speed on everything the coaches were saying.

Shumakov made his preseason debut on Friday and showed he is very much still a work in progress. He took a high-sticking penalty on his very first shift and ultimately finished the game with one shot on goal and no points.

With the regular season looming, Shumakov will likely need more time to adjust than the preseason will allow. One option that the team has, however, is to send Shumakov to the AHL. Not only is Shumakov on a two-way contract, but he is also waiver exempt meaning there is no risk in re-assigning him to Hershey.

The best thing to help Shumakov transition will be to play as much as possible. With the regular season only two weeks away, he may need a trip to Hershey before he is ready.

“He’s a skilled player and he can bring a lot of offensive chances to our game,” Kuznetsov said. 

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