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NHL Power Rankings: Did the Capitals send a message with their win over Tampa Bay?

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NHL Power Rankings: Did the Capitals send a message with their win over Tampa Bay?

Whatever happened in Saturday’s game, one team was going to walk away feeling confident and talking about sending a message while the other would be left saying it was just one game. The Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning have met three times in 15 days with Tampa Bay winning the first two. Either the Lightning were going to sweep the season series or the Caps would win the last matchup for the final exclamation point.

No team knows better than the Caps that what happens in the regular season does not necessarily carry over into the playoffs, but just the way they were able to control Tampa Bay on Saturday makes you wonder if perhaps Washington could have injected a little bit of doubt into the minds of the Lightning.

The Caps dominated Tampa Bay in a way that few teams have this season. The Lightning are the top team in the NHL by far and have already clinched the top spot in the division, the conference and the league. In fact, the Presidents’ Trophy was awarded to Tampa Bay prior to Saturday’s game. That was about as good as things got, however, as the Caps dominated from the drop of the puck to the final horn. They looked bigger, faster and better than the top team in the league and it felt like they were reminding both the Lighting and the rest of the league that they are still the defending champions and the road to the Cup still runs through Washington.

Considering Tampa Bay lost to the Caps last season, you have to wonder if this loss will leave more than just a bad taste in their mouth. Will they be able to simply dismiss it and move on or when every team is starting to look ahead to the postseason, did the Caps plant a tiny seed of doubt into the minds of the Lightning?

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps:

  • Remember when Alex Ovechkin scored 33 goals in 2016-17 and we thought his days as a 50-goal scorer were over? I am done predicting that. One day, age will catch up with him as it does for everyone, but he is superhuman and clearly it is going to take longer to catch up with him than anyone expected. Let’s just enjoy the ride.
  • Carl Hagelin has been such a great pick up. Everyone knew he was a good penalty killer and brought speed, but he is so much more than that. He makes an impact just about every time he is on the ice. One shift in particular stood out to me on Saturday. He carried the puck into the offensive zone by himself as the Caps were on a line change. He got caught in a board battle with Victor Hedman, one of the top defensemen in the league, won the puck and passed it back to the blue line. That started an offensive cycle that resulted in T.J. Oshie’s first goal. It would have been easy for Hagelin to dump it in or lose the puck to a top-notch defenseman, but he did not take the easy way out and he never gave up on a play that looked dead at the start. He won the puck back and kept the offensive play alive. He is a great player and someone the Caps should really try to re-sign in the offseason.
  • The key to fixing the power play is to shoot more. Washington’s power play works when opposing teams have to account for all five weapons they employ on the ice and not just Ovechkin. Lately has been to get the puck to Ovechkin which has led to teams covering him more and more. Ovechkin from the office just has not been there of late because everyone is cheating to him and getting in his shooting lane or the passing lane between him and John Carlson. On Saturday, Tampa Bay started covering Ovechkin closely giving Carlson a lane on net so he fired the puck towards the goal and T.J. Oshie deflected it in. If the other four players shoot more, that will result in more opportunities for Ovechkin. No one should take this advice more than Nicklas Backstrom.
  • Braden Holtby is probably not going to get much love for the Vezina this year and people are not going to be talking much about him heading into the playoffs. The last few games, however, he is playing as well as any goalie in the league. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with once the postseason starts.
  • When figuring out just what to do with the defense heading into the playoffs, I think you can take playing Nick Jensen on his off-side off the table. The goal Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele scored Thursday against Jensen pretty much sealed the deal. Sometimes players can give up big plays, it happens, but it was the way that it happened that caught my eye. Jensen was caught on the left and looked completely lost on how to defend. He held his stick out in front of him with both hands swinging wildly then reached with his arm and not the body when Foeegle was turning the corner on him. Jensen clearly is not comfortable on his left and it showed. There are three games left in the regular season before the playoffs, now is not the time to force a round peg into a square hole.

There is just one more week remaining in the regular season. Find out where the Caps stand compared to the other team in the league here in this week’s NHL Power Rankings.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

There usually is no rush in re-signing restricted free agents since teams own their rights. Having said that, I thought the deal for Jakub Vrana would get done quickly so that Brian MacLellan would know how much money he had to work with under the cap. It would make sense for Vrana too because, with every signing, there is less money for him. Yet, we are still waiting.

This issue may get a little complicated with reports saying the salary cap could actually be lower than initially expected. Still, that probably does not affect Vrana’s final number, it just affects how much money the Caps will have to spend on other players. Whatever moves MacLellan still wants to make, he will have to leave enough room to get Vrana re-signed. I expect this deal to get done soon after the cap is finalized, but long before July 1.

As for Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, we could see a bit of momentum on the Backstrom front. Moving Niskanen did not just save cap room for this season, but for the following year. Gudas has only one year remaining on his contract while Niskanen had two. There is zero chance Holtby gets extended this summer, however. With the expansion draft looming and goalie Ilya Samsonov as the team’s No. 1 prospect, all decisions regarding the team’s future in net will be on hold until we see how both players perform this season. If Samsonov looks ready to step into the NHL, it may ultimately not make sense to re-sign Holtby at all. That’s just the reality of the business.

Darren L. writes: With the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas and the subsequent signing of Carl Hagelin, do you think there is still a chance, however slim, that Brett Connolly can be re-signed?

Benjamin C. writes: Now that we’ve sign Carl Hagelin does that basically end Connolly’s time in Washington?

Before the offseason, I was not sure it would be an either/or scenario between Hagelin and Connolly. When the realities of the salary cap set in, however, it seems pretty clear that re-signing Hagelin means Connolly’s tenure in Washington is over. The one caveat is that I did not expect Hagelin’s cap hit to be under $3 million as I thought there would be a market for him in free agency. He wanted to stay, however and was willing to take less per year for term. Kudos to MacLellan for getting Hagelin’s cap hit down to $2.75 million.

Connolly is coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals in a third-line role and limited power play time. Hockey-Graphs projects him to get a deal worth just over $3.5 million per year. To me, I think he could get more than that. I am of the opinion that there will be teams out there willing to offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than what the Caps can which will make it hard to keep him. If the offers all end up in the $3.5 million range, however, Washington could potentially afford that. So there is a chance, more than I would have thought, of keeping Connolly at $3.5 million per year. That’s about the limit I think they could afford and if his price tag goes up, that will be the end of that.

Darren L. writes: I keep reading that the Caps are very aggressive in the trade market. Do you think that there is an under the radar move that we, as fans, don’t know about yet?

In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

The Niskanen trade was one we all saw coming, maybe not for Radko Gudas, but Brian McNally and I have been saying pretty much since the offseason began that Niskanen was going to get traded. I also wrote Tuesday on why the Caps could be players at the draft to move from their 25th pick. Anything beyond that, whether it means bringing in someone or sending someone out, I think we could label as unexpected.

Sure, there are players like Andre Burakovsky who it would be a surprise but not be shocking to see moved. If the Caps are as big a trade player as Friedman reports, I think we could be looking at a surprise move especially considering they would have to ship out cap space to get someone of significance.

Tyler A. writes: With Brett Connolly likely leaving Washington, how can the Capitals add some more offensive power to the bottom six this off-season?

Good question and it is an important one as depth offense is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. The Caps probably have enough cap room for one significant third-line signing in the $3-4 million range depending on the salary cap. They could probably get a Joonas Donskoi, Micheal Ferland type for that amount.

But it is also important to remember that the fourth line needs a boost as well. The team just did not seem to find the right combination for that bottom line. For most NHL caliber RFAs, there is usually little question as to whether they will be re-signed. For Washington, however, the questions needs to be asked if it makes sense to bring back Chandler Stephenson or Dmirij Jaskin when the offensive upside looks pretty limited. Do the Caps have enough money to go after free agent fourth liners like Noel Acciari or Brian Boyle? And then, of course, what do you do with Andre Burakovsky and that leads to the next question….

Benjamin C. writes: Do you think we can get Andre Burakovsky back?

Eric C. writes: With the signing of Gudas and Hagelin what do you think this means for Burakovsky and his future in D.C.?

This depends on whether Burakovsky will be willing to sign for less than the $3.25 million the Caps would have to offer to qualify him. To me, there is definitely room for Burakovsky with the probable loss of Connolly. He can be an asset to the bottom-six so long as he gets paid like a bottom-six player.

After three straight seasons of scoring 12 goals, at this point, it is time to view and judge Burakovsky like a bottom-six player. We saw in the playoffs that he boosts the fourth line as he provides more talent than most teams see when facing an opponent’s fourth line. But you cannot afford to spend $3.25 million on a fourth line wing. That’s the key.

Bob C. writes: Why do you and some others maybe feel that Andre Burakovsky deserves to come back to the team? Myself and other fans feel he will never develop any more than what he has been.

“Deserve” has nothing to do with it. I have been pretty consistent in the fact that I think the Caps should bring Burakovsky back only if they can get him for less than what it would take to qualify him. That is too much for a player who has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play throughout his career and who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

With Connolly likely on his way out, that’s 22 goals coming off the third line. Washington’s bottom-six accounted for five goals in seven games in the playoffs. That’s not enough. In this day and age, you need players who can produce on the third and fourth lines. Burakovsky provides a dangerous offensive option in the bottom six, his skill set still has a high ceiling and the team is running out of options and cap space to improve depth scoring.

Lower the bar for Burakovsky and assume he is a bottom-six producer at this point. If he exceeds that expectation, great. If not, well then you paid a bottom-six forward a bottom-six salary.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

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Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

If you've been to a Caps game, you've definitely heard the incredible voice of Caleb Green singing the National Anthem.

Behind his impassioned voice is an undeniable patriotism, as Green is a retired Master Sergeant of the United States Army.

Beloved by Caps fans, Green decided to take his talents to the biggest stage in the world: America's Got Talent (AGT).

"Voices of Service" is an acapella group comprised of Green and three other servicemen and woman that have found music as a way to provide music therapy to servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Tuesday night on AGT, Green and the "Voices of Service" delivered an incredible acapella rendition of Katy Perry's "Rise," resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd and a resounding "YES" from the judges to advance to Hollywood.

 

The Washington Capitals gave their own shout out to Green following his performance.

As did Capitals commentator, Craig Laughlin.

America's Got Talent airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.

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