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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.

Other key Caps questions:

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How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

The Capitals look to rebound from an ugly loss with a road game against the Nashville Predators (8 p.m. NBC Sports Washington). Washington has lost two games in a row and five of eight. The Predators beat the Capitals 6-3 on Dec. 31 at Capital One Arena and has won five in a row over against them.

Here is what to watch for in tonight’s game:  

1. Back to Holtby

After sustaining an eye injury in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Braden Holtby is expected to play against the Predators. The Capitals did not hold a morning skate on Tuesday after traveling following a 4-1 loss at home Monday to the St. Louis Blues. Holtby started last season’s game in Nashville, a 6-3 loss on Nov. 14, 2017 where he allowed four goals in the second period and was pulled from the game. But Holtby still leads the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.939) since Nov. 4 among goalies who have started at least 13 games and it could be time to get him more consistent work – even with backup Pheonix Copley playing well behind him. Holtby has had his rest. If he’s healthy, it might be time to let him carry the weight for a while. 

2. Another Chance for Burakovsky?

There’s constant talk now about the future of Andre Burakovsky, who returned to the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. Caps coach Todd Reirdan was clear about what Burakovsky had to do to stay in the lineup. We’ll see tonight if that happens. Playing on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, Burakovsky played just 10:46 against the Blues and was on the ice for a goal against. But he did have three shots on goal and seemed engaged. Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch in six of the past 16 games. 

3. No. 700 for Oshie

One night after defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 1000th career game, forward T.J. Oshie will reach a milestone of his own with game No. 700. Oshie has been kept off the score sheet the past two games, but had two goals in a Jan. 8 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. 

4. Powering Up

Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal in the loss to St. Louis on Monday might mean the Capitals are coming around in that area. A struggle for weeks, they at least now have two goals on the man advantage in the past four games. But they have slipped all the way to 14thin the NHL (21.2 percent) so there is work left to be done.

Monday’s game featured much better puck movement by the top unit.   

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: 

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How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

The Capitals look to rebound from an ugly loss with a road game against the Nashville Predators (8 p.m. NBC Sports Washington). Washington has lost two games in a row and five of eight. The Predators beat the Capitals 6-3 on Dec. 31 at Capital One Arena and has won five in a row over against them. Here is what to watch for in tonight’s game:   

1. Back to Holtby

After sustaining an eye injury in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Braden Holtby is expected to play against the Predators. The Capitals did not hold a morning skate on Tuesday after traveling following a 4-1 loss at home Monday to the St. Louis Blues. Holtby started last season’s game in Nashville, a 6-3 loss on Nov. 14, 2017 where he allowed four goals in the second period and was pulled from the game. But Holtby still leads the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.939) since Nov. 4 among goalies who have started at least 13 games and it could be time to get him more consistent work – even with backup Pheonix Copley playing well behind him. Holtby has had his rest. If he’s healthy, it might be time to let him carry the weight for a while.  2.Another Chance for Burakovsky?There’s constant talk now about the future of Andre Burakovsky, who returned to the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. Caps coach Todd Reirdan was clear about what Burakovsky had to do to stay in the lineup. We’ll see tonight if that happens. Playing on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, Burakovsky played just 10:46 against the Blues and was on the ice for a goal against. But he did have three shots on goal and seemed engaged. Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch in six of the past 16 games.  3. No. 700 for OshieOne night after defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 1000th career game, forward T.J. Oshie will reach a milestone of his own with game No. 700. Oshie has been kept off the score sheet the past two games, but had two goals in a Jan. 8 game against the Philadelphia Flyers.  4. Powering UpAlex Ovechkin’s power-play goal in the loss to St. Louis on Monday might mean the Capitals are coming around in that area. A struggle for weeks, they at least now have two goals on the man advantage in the past four games. But they have slipped all the way to 14thin the NHL (21.2 percent) so there is work left to be done. Monday’s game featured much better puck movement by the top unit.    

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: