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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 8

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 8

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 8, a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 13 that featured another milestone for the Great 8, a shutout for the rookie goalie and the 500th game of Tom Wilson’s career. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

Two players carried the Capitals on the evening. It was clear early on that Alex Ovechkin brought his “A” game. About 12 minutes into the first, Ovechkin started the Caps’ attack by carrying the puck into the zone and flipping it to the corner. Tom Wilson recovered and found Ovi back in front of the net. Ovechkin beat Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek five-hole to get Washington on the board. 

  

The Caps managed to draw four penalties on Carolina in the first period, and took advantage of the last one. John Carlson won a battle along the boards and sent the puck to Jakub Vrana at the blue line. Vrana passed to Alex Ovechkin in his office and Ovi did the rest. 

  

And that was all the scoring on the night. Ilya Samsonov made sure the lead stuck, stopping all 23 shots from Carolina. Tip of the cap to Mrazek who deserved a better fate in this game. Mrazek made the save of the night, using a “scorpion” move to deny Carl Hagelin a goal. 

 

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

Samsonov had another stellar night, even if he didn’t have to do a whole lot. This was his first career shutout, and so far, the only shutout the Capitals have had all season. It was Samsonov’s 13th win in 15 games. He ran his win streak to eight straight. Over those eight games, Samsonov had a GAA of 1.62 and a save percentage of .942. His best save of the night came in the first on Jordan Martinook. 

  

The goalie controversy that had been simmering for a month boiled over after this game. Even though Todd Reirden never officially announced it, Samsonov became the effective #1 goalie when the team returned from the All-Star break. Braden Holtby would reclaim his spot later in February. 

 WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of an amazing run for Ovechkin. His two goals against the Hurricanes were the start of a stretch of 14 goals in seven games. His first goal of the night was the 685th of his career, which passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time list. In the span of three weeks, Ovechkin would end up alone in eighth place with 698 career goals. 

WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT 

This game was also an important win for the Capitals because they were coming off their worst game of the season, a 5-1 loss to New Jersey. During that loss, Reirden called a timeout to rip into his team. The Capitals responded as expected to get back on the winning path. 

For Tom Wilson, this was career game No. 500. On Caps Overtime Live it led to a debate over favorite Tom Wilson moments. Instead of going with his goal in Game 4 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, or perhaps another postseason goal, our Grant Paulsen went off the board a bit. Grant chose his fight with Brayden Coburn in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. It was a fight that inspired twitter gifs and novelty t-shirts. 

 

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How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

For the past two weeks, updates to the 2020 postseason have been rolling in making it hard to keep track of them all. A very different 2020 postseason awaits when play resumes so you may not know all the ins and outs of how the playoffs will work. Right now the most important things for Capitals fans to remember are that Washington is in, we don't know who they will play in the first round or where they will be seeded and yes, they could play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

So let's go over the specifics.

Where will the Caps be seeded?

We don't know. Next question!

Washington finished third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division, just barely edging out the Philadelphia Flyers, but that won't get them much. All this means is that the Caps are among the top four teams in the conference so they will play a three-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Washington will play Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each one time in games with regular-season rules (meaning shootouts instead of endless overtime). The team with the best record in that round-robin will earn the top seed in the conference. It doesn't matter that Boston had 10 more points than Washington when the season paused, the Caps could still jump to the top of the conference should the finish with a better record in these three games.

The only way in which regular-season records matter at this point is to determine the four teams that get to play in the round-robin and as a tiebreaker. Regular season points percentage will be used as the tiebreaker for teams tied after the round-robin.

Who will the Caps play in the playoffs?

We won't know that specifically for three reasons. First, we have to know where the Caps will be seeded and we won't until after the round-robin; second, we won't know until after the play-in round; and third, it was announced on Thursday that the teams will be reseeded after each round so it's possible we won't know exactly who the Caps will play until the play-in round is completely finished.

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If that sounds like reseeding makes things more complicated, it does in a sense, but it was the right decision. Yes, when the playoffs begin we won't be able to have a clear bracket for the playoffs but...so what? I mean, does that really matter? What reseeding does is prevent the top seed from getting screwed. A bracket is made with the assumption that the top team will win each round. That means the No. 4 is supposed to play the No. 5 in the first round, but what happens if a No. 12 upsets the No. 5 in the play-in? All of a sudden, the No. 4 team would be playing the lowest seed left in the tournament while the No. 1 would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

That does not make sense.

Yes, trying to explain who the Caps could play after their bye from the play-in series is enough to make your head spin, but trust me, it makes a lot more logical sense to do it this way and ensures the better playoff matchups in the later rounds as opposed to the early rounds which has been a problem for the NHL since they adopted their division system.

How could the Caps play the Penguins in the first round?

For most Capitals fans, whenever the playoffs roll around everyone starts looking to see if a Washington-Pittsburgh postseason rematch is in the cards. Despite describing how we basically don't know anything about who the Caps could play in the first round yet, there is actually a pretty straightforward path for a Caps-Penguins matchup.

As the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh is the highest-seeded team in the play-in round. Now that we know the NHL will reseed after each round, if the Penguins win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, they are guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If Washington finishes last in the round-robin and Pittsburgh wins its series, get out the popcorn and work on that bird celebration, because it will mean a Caps vs. Penguins series yet again.

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NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

The NHL will transition to Phase 2 of its return to play plan, the reopening of team facilities for training activities, on June 8, the league announced Thursday.

Since the season was paused on March 12, the league has considered itself to be in Phase 1 of the plan, meaning self-isolation. While the NHL and NHLPA have made progress off the ice towards a return to play negotiating things such as the playoff format, throughout all those talks the league still remained in Phase 1. This is the first concrete step the NHL has taken towards an eventual return to the ice.

"Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice)," a statement released by the NHL said. "Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning."

As the statement notes, participation in Phase 2 activities are voluntary and will be limited to six players at a time. The Capitals have not yet set a date for the team's start of Phase 2.

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Phase 3 of the plan is training camp and, despite Thursday's announcement, we remain far off from that point. According to Pierre LeBrun, the earliest the league would start camps is July 10. Phase 4 is then the resumption of the season.

Presumably, Phase 3 will not start without a date set for when Phase 4. It is hard to believe the NHLPA would agree to an indefinite training camp. Phase 2, however, can begin without any formalized dates for Phases 3 and 4.  So while this is certainly a step towards the return of hockey and a sign that things are improving, all the difficult deciions regarding health and safety protocols as well as a timeline for the eventual 2020 postseason are still yet to be decided.

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