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Key Caps questions: Will Devante Smith-Pelly's playoff performance carry over to next season?

Key Caps questions: Will Devante Smith-Pelly's playoff performance carry over to next season?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will Devante Smith-Pelly's postseason performance translate into more production this season?

Tarik:  Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal-scoring surge in the playoffs, to me, was one of the remarkable storylines of the Caps’ Stanley Cup run.

Consider:

  • He scored seven goals in 24 playoff games after scoring SEVEN goals in 75 regular season contests.
  • His goal total in the regular season was tied for 13th on the Caps. His goal total in the playoffs was tied for fourth best.
  • He accomplished it all while skating just 12:02 per game, the 16th highest total on the team.

The goals weren’t stat-padders at the end of lopsided results, either. They weren’t gimmes.

Many of DSP’s goals were as clutch as they were skillful. Like his third period snipe in Game 6 vs. Columbus. And his third period tally in Game 6 vs. Tampa Bay. And his game-winner in Game 4 vs. the Golden Knights. And, of course, the diving, kick-the-puck-to-his-stick marker that knotted Game 5 in the third period and set the stage for the Cup-clinching comeback.

Smith-Pelly’s postseason surge figures to be huge for his confidence entering next season.

The 26-year-old is also going to be plenty motivated to build on that momentum after he passed up more security to sign a one-year, $1 million extension to remain in Washington.

What is DSP’s offensive ceiling? It’s difficult to say without knowing exactly how he fits into Todd Reirden’s plans. But assuming he returns to the same bottom-six role, I don’t see why he couldn’t put up 12 and 12—numbers that would solidify his NHL future and compare to Daniel Winnik’s production in 2016-17.

Let’s not forget that Smith-Pelly produced a 14-goal, 11-assist season (in just 64 games) split between Montreal and New Jersey a few years back. So the upside is there. But, again, it’ll come down to usage. Only six players last season topped a dozen goals while skating less than 13 minutes per game.

JJ: Smith-Pelly's NHL career has been nothing if not inconsistent. One thing appears to be clear is that he is at his best when he has something to prove.

In his first season in the NHL, Smith-Pelly recorded 13 points in 49 games with Anaheim followed by five goals in 12 games in the playoffs. HIs offense was pretty limited during the rest of his time in Anaheim and in Montreal after getting traded, but he took off again when the Canadiens traded him to New Jersey. After scoring only 12 points in 46 games with the Canadiens in 2015-16, Smith-Pelly exploded for 13 points in 18 games with the Devils. A lackluster season the following year led to a buyout and he made his way to Washington.

For that reason, a one-year deal looks like a smart gamble for the Caps. It makes sense that the team would want to see him do it again before committing long-term. From his perspective, it may be the motivation he needs to stay hungry and perform next season.

Or maybe not.

There are those players out there who seem to have an extra gear when it comes to the playoffs. After two dominant postseason performances, Smith-Pelly may be one of those players. Does his prowess in the postseason make it worth getting only 15-20 points worth of production over the course of the regular season? At $1 million for one year, sure, but it makes it very difficult to gauge his worth from year to year.

So what can we expect from Smith-Pelly this season? You can expect an extremely confident and motivated player to take the ice. His usage as a bottom-six player will limit his overall production, but I have a hard time believing he will fall off quite as dramatically as we have seen in the past. My guess is he finishes somewhere between 20-30 points for the season. As long as he performs in the playoffs, however, I'm sure the Caps won't mind.

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A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

It took six months of toil and effort for Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny to make it back to an NHL game. 

He last played March 20 when a torn hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ended his season just a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. That was brutal. 

A spring to heal after surgery, a summer to rehab the injury and weeks getting back in hockey shape were the steep price paid. And then it took him all of 15 minutes to score his first goal on Friday in a game against the New York Rangers. Welcome back, Michal. 

“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”

It was an organizational project. Kempny meant so much to Washington during its Stanley Cup run of 2018. The Capitals felt his absence on the top pair with John Carlson during the first-round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden credited team trainers Jason Servis and Mike Booi and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish with putting Kempny in position to return early in the season.  

“Six months of investment of their time to get him back,” Reirden said. “I thought Michal looked really good.”

The goal came at 15:16 of the first period and gave Washington a 2-1 lead. Kempny jumped onto a loose pucked batted around by teammate Alex Ovechkin, quickly corralled it and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the goal. It was a pretty play and another indication that Capitals' defensemen are taking chances when they see them on the offensive end. 

In his first game back, Kempny had 14:24 of ice time. That’s about the goal the Capitals had in mind for him. He started on the third pair with fellow Czech Radko Gudas, but also played 3:42 with Carlson, who mobbed Kempny after his goal and gave him a celebratory facewash with his glove. They’re happy to have him back. 

“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said. “I was just excited.”

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Garnet Hathaway becomes latest Capital to win the Nats batting helmet

Garnet Hathaway becomes latest Capital to win the Nats batting helmet

With the Washinigton Nationals in attendance, Garnet Hathaway battled his way against the New York Rangers to win the Capitals "hard hat" award.

Hathaway sealed the Capitals' 5-2 win over the Rangers with an empty net goal late in the third period. Earlier in the game, Hathaway broke his nose, an injury that proved incapable of stopping him from donning the Nationals batting helmet.

The Capitals honor their game-MVP with the hard hat award, an object that gets passed down after every victory. This year the Caps are supporting their baseball peers by awarding a game-used Nationals batting helmet.

Hathaway was also involved in a fight to stand up for teammate Dmitry Orlov after a late hit. Hathaway's toughness certainly earned him the award, but the Capitals were not without several options for the honor.

T.J. Oshie scored two power play goals for the second time in his career, and Michal Kempny scored a goal in his season debut. Kempny had missed the beginning of the season after suffering a torn left hamstring in April.

The Capitals capped off a three-game homestand with back-to-back wins. The Captials are now 10-0-1 against the Rangers in  their last 11 games after the Caps' 5-2 win.

The Capitals' next game will be in Chicago against the Blackhawks, the first stop of a five-game road trip.

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