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NHL Power Rankings: A tale of two teams

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A tale of two teams

If it seems like the Caps have been inconsistent of late, you’re half right.

In their last 10 games, the Caps have gone 6-4-0 with 25 goals for and 27 goals against. They dominated Pittsburgh and ended Minnesota’s win streak, but also suffered an ugly two-game road trip in Nashville and Colorado. They lost to Buffalo, but just barely managed wins over Edmonton and Arizona.

All of this makes it hard to figure out just what sort of team the Caps are.

There is one pattern, however.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

In those same 10 games, Washington is 5-0-0 at home with 15 goals for and eight against. On the road, they are 1-4-0 with 10 goals for and 19 against.

Washington has enjoyed a lot of success in recent years in the friendly confines of what is now called Capital One Arena. Even with the roster turnover this team saw over the offseason, the Caps are still getting a boost on home ice.

What makes them play so differently at home vs. on the road? Besides rules meant to favor the home team such as last change, energy may also play a big factor.

In Nashville and Colorado, the Caps struggled in the first period. Washington really seemed to wait for their opponents to come to them. They played a reactive game, not a proactive one and they paid the price for it. In both games, they found themselves down 2-0 after 20 minutes. Back at home on Saturday, there was a different energy at the start of the game. The Caps scored first and then responded with a second goal just 44 seconds after Minnesota tied the game.

How much of that energy at the start of the game had to do with the home crowd? It's a question with no quantifiable answer, but clear difference between the team's success at home vs. the road seems to suggest the crowd has at least some effect.

Here’s another stat to show you how important energy is for this team: in back to back games this season, the Caps are 0-4-0. In all four games, they gave up the first goal and never lead in the first period.

If Washington wants to improve its record, a major key to that will be getting better starts. If they feed off the energy of the home crowd, great, but they need to find something else to boost them on the road.

After their ugly road trip, the Caps took a hit in this week’s NHL Power Rankings. Find out where they land here.

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses 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: What rookies will have an impact with the Caps next season?

In the team's push for the Stanley Cup the last few years, the Capitals brought in several veterans through free agency and trades to bolster the roster. As a result, there was not much room for the team's prospects. Last season, however, Washington took a very different approach.

Nine rookie players suited up for the Caps for at least one game in the regular season in 2017-18, the most the team has played since the 2013-14 season. Six rookies also played at least one game in the playoffs. Washington dressed zero rookies in the postseason in each of the two years prior. In fact, that is the most rookies Washington has used in a postseason in franchise history. 

To say the Caps won because they used their young prospects more so than before would be a gross oversimplification, but clearly there was value to adding cheap, young, talented players to the lineup.

But by returning virtually the same roster as last season, there will be little room for rookies to make a similar impact in 2018-19.

Here's a projected roster of the Caps' opening night lineup:

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

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

Barring injury, there's just not much room there for the young players to break in.

Of the players who still qualify as rookies, the ones to watch are Boyd, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Liam O'Brien, Riley Barber, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov.

The most obvious answer to the question is Boyd. Jay Beagle's departure leaves a spot open at fourth line center and Boyd would be my pick for the most likely player to fill that role.

The addition of Nic Dowd means Boyd may be the only rookie forward to make the team on opening night. Barry Trotz usually kept only one extra forward and defenseman on the roster, but we do not know if Todd Reirden will have a similar outlook. If there is another spot open, Walker, Gerish, O'Brien and Barber will be in the running. I am not sure I see Walker becoming an every day NHL player, but I could see him coming on as a 14th guy since the Caps have a little bit of breathing room under the salary cap. The same does not go for Gersich who has a higher NHL ceiling. Even though he jumped right into the NHL last season, it is much more likely he goes to the AHL this year to take a large role in Hershey rather than to play scattered minutes in Washington.

O'Brien and Barber also make this list because the clock is ticking for them. Both are 24 and both have spent several years in the organization. They need a strong training camp to prove they belong in the NHL or they risk being viewed less as prospects and more as lifetime AHLers.

Like the offense, the defense also seems pretty set. Of the team's defensive prospects, Siegenthaler is probably the most NHL ready, but I have a hard time believing he will supplant any of the seven defensemen in training camp.

And that brings us to Samsonov.

Samsonov will make his North America debut this fall playing in Hershey. Brain MacLellan has been adamant that Samsonov will be starting in the AHL in order to adjust to the North American game. Just how quickly he can adjust, however, may determine if he earns a jump to the NHL at some point next season.

Samsonov is widely seen as Washington's future in net. While there is no reason to rush him, it is not hard to envision him supplanting Pheonix Copley as the backup should Copley struggle. But first, he has to play well in Hershey.

While the Caps look set throughout the roster, injuries always leave open the possibility for a player to get called up and play his way into a full-time role. As of now, however, it looks like there is not much room for the team's rookies this season, other than Boyd.

Other key Caps questions:

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NBC Sports to nationally broadcast 18 Capitals games in 2018-19 season

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NBC Sports

NBC Sports to nationally broadcast 18 Capitals games in 2018-19 season

All eyes will be on the Caps as they begin their quest to defend their Stanley Cup title. Literally.

NBC Sports released its national broadcast schedule for the NHL regular season on Monday and coverage will begin with the Capitals' home-opener on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins. The nation will be able to witness Washington raising its first Stanley Cup banner to the rafters on NBCSN.

NBC Sports will present a total of 109 games in 2018-19, the most since acquiring NHL rights before 2005-06 and the Caps will be featured prominently.

Washington will appear eight times on NBCSN's Wednesday Night Hockey, the most of any team in the NHL, and four times on NHL on NBC. NBCSN will also broadcast an additional six games.

All games will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app to authenticated users via TV Everywhere.

Here is the Capitals schedule as released by NBC Sports:

Wed. Oct. 3: Boston at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Oct. 10: Vegas at Washington, 8 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Oct. 17: N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN
Wed. Nov. 7: Pittsburgh at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Tues. Dec. 11: Detroit at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Wed. Dec. 19: Pittsburgh at Washington, 8 p.m. on NBCSN
Fri. Dec. 21: Buffalo at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*
Tues. Jan. 8: Philadelphia at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Sun. Jan. 20: Washington at Chicago, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Wed. Jan. 23: Washington at Toronto, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Sun. Feb. 3: Boston at Washington, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Sun. March 3: Washington at N.Y. Rangers, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Wed. March 6: Washington at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Tues. March 12: Washington at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*
Tues. March 19: Washington at New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN*
Wed. March 20: Tampa Bay at Washington, 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN
Sun. March 24: Philadelphia at Washington, 12:30 p.m. on NBC
Tues. March 26: Carolina at Washington, 7 p.m. on NBCSN*

* These games will be broadcast nationally, but will not be seen on NBCSN locally because they will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington

NBC Sports Washington remains the home of the Capitals for the 2018-19 season and will broadcast a majority of the team's games for the season including pre and postgame coverage. You can also expect extensive coverage on NBCSportsWashington.com throughout the season.

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