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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.


  • 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.

Other key Caps questions:

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With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

In a typical NHL postseason, all roster limits and salary cap restrictions are lifted. This year, however, is no normal postseason and teams are going to have prepare for having a limited number of players on the road.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the NHL has advised teams to prepare for a 28-man roster plus unlimited goalies for training camp and the playoffs. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed this in a video conference on Friday.

"We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies," MacLellan said. "So we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally."

It should be noted that "unlimited" goalies is a bit of a misnomer because all teams will only be allowed to bring a maximum of 50 people to their hub cities for the playoffs. So sure, bring as many goalies as you want, but for each goalie you bring that's one less staff member who will be able to go.

In a typical postseason, teams will recall several players from the minors to serve as "black aces," who are depth practice players. Several practices in the postseason are optional so having black aces ensures that regardless of the NHL regulars who wish to take part in a practice, there are still enough players to work with whether it be a goalie to shoot on or maybe shooters for a goalie to face against. Black aces also provide depth which is important for the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the players themselves, it provides younger prospects a valuable learning experience for what the postseason is like and how the veteran players approach it.

With a limited roster and limited personnel, however, MacLellan likely will not be able to bring all the players he normally would want to. Here's a projection of what a 28-man roster may look like for Washington.

The regulars

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Travis Boyd

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Michal Kempny
Radko Gudas

When the NHL season was paused, there were 21 skaters on the roster. That number is down to 20 after Brendan Leipsic's contract was terminated. There is no reason to think any of the other 20 will not be with the team for the postseason.


Possible Black Aces

With 20 players, that leaves just eight slots left for black aces. Here are the most likely candidates:

Shane Gersich
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Brett Leason
Beck Malenstyn
Connor McMichael
Liam O'Brien
Garrett Pilon
Brian Pinho
Mike Sgarbossa
Joe Snively
Daniel Sprong
Alex Alexeyev
Martin Fehervary
Lucas Johansen
Tyler Lewington
Bobby Nardella

Of those players, my best guess for the eight the team will take would be Gersich, Malenstyn, McMichael, Sgarbossa, Sprong, Alexeyev, Fehervary and Lewington.

First off, MacLellan named McMichael specifically as a player the team was considering taking. I don't think he does that if he was not fairly certain McMichael was going to be included. Malenstyn said in a video conference after the AHL season was officially canceled that he had been told by the team he was going to be a black ace. As for the rest, considering there is a fairly limited number of roster spots, I think the team would lean very largely on players who are more likely to be plugged into the lineup in case of injury. That means guys like Sgarbossa and Sprong would get nods over some prospects like Jonsson-Fjallby or Snively or, on defense, Lewington would be added over prospects like Johansen and Nardella.


Braden Holtby
Ilya Samsonov
Pheonix Copley
Vitek Vanecek

Teams will always have a third goalie when possible in the playoffs and Copley also confirmed he will be a black ace in the video conference with Malenstyn. The only question is if the team would bring Vanecek as well just to be safe. With all the unknowns of the coronavirus, it would not be surprising to see MacLellan err on the side of caution and bring a fourth netminder. It may just depend on what other personnel the team may want to bring and if there is space in the 50-person limit for a fourth goalie.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.



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How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

Over the past six seasons, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the biggest reasons for the Capitals' success.

Kuzy has been extremely durable for the Capitals, playing in at least 76 games over the past six seasons, excluding the 2019-20 shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The winger has been one of Washington's best attacking players during that span, splitting time between both Washington's first and second lines. 

No. 92 has also found a knack for playing his best hockey on the sport's biggest stages. Kuznetsov netted arguably the most important goal in Capitals history, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference semi-finals in overtime to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins, "exorcising the demons" for a franchise that previously could not get past the second round. We all know how that story ends, with the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup just over a month later.

On Sunday, NBC Sports Washington is airing four of Kuznetsov's best regular-season performances. At 9 a.m., tune in to watch the Caps 6-5 overtime thriller over the Tampa Bay Maple Leafs from January 3, 2017. In that contest, Kuzy totaled four points, netting one goal and notching three assists, including one that set up Alex Ovechkin's game-winning goal.

Following that, we travel back to October of 2018, when Kuznetsov turned in another four-point performance in a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup. Kuzy started the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal and would tally three assists later on in the match as the Caps cruised to a dominating win.

At 2 p.m., the Caps 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings from February 11, 2019, will re-air. In this matchup, Kuznetsov finished with four points once again, this time finding the back of the net twice to go along with a pair of assists. To close out the day, tune in to see Kuznetsov net two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes at 4:30 p.m.

A trip down memory lane that highlights Kuznetsov's greatest games is the perfect way to spend a Sunday.



Sunday, May 31, 2020


Broadcast Schedule:

9:00 a.m.: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals from January 3, 2017

11:30 a.m.: Vegas Golden Knights @ Capitals from October 10, 2018

2:00 p.m.: Los Angeles Kings @ Capitals from February 11, 2019

4:30 p.m.: Arizona Coyotes @ Capitals from November 11, 2019 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.