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An open letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans

An open letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans

Dear Pittsburgh Penguins and fans,

Well, it’s been a hell of a run, but finally it’s our turn. It’s our year.

First, congratulations on your amazing run. You won two straight Stanley Cups. That’s an incredible achievement. Yes, we are aware that nothing that happened this year can take away those Cups and yes, we are aware that we still haven’t won one yet.

But your two-year reign is over. And we ended it.

No, we’re not gloating. Believe us, we’ve had plenty of heartbreak in recent years. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone and what you’re going through right now sucks.

Really, we feel relief more than anything.

Can we be honest for a second? We may hate the Penguins, but we love this rivalry. We hate Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby as much as we love Peter Bondra and Alex Ovechkin. Every time we play you it means more. A regular season game in February can feel like the most important game in the world just because we want to destroy you so badly.

It’s been awhile since you’ve been in this position, since 1994 to be exact. Some of you may have trouble accepting this. Some may say “whatever, we’re not even rivals.”

First of all, don’t pretend like we’re not rivals because you hate the Philadelphia Flyers. Everybody hates the Flyers. You’re not unique in this. Second, yes we are rivals. You take over the steps of the National Portrait Gallery outside of Capital One Arena every time you win whether its the regular season or the playoffs. Those are the kind of traditions reserved just for rivals.

Seriously, do you have any big traditions in Phoenix every time you beat the Arizona Coyotes? Are there any major victory gatherings in Miami when you beat the Florida Panthers? No? That’s what we thought.

Yes, we all know we have only beaten Pittsburgh twice in the playoffs in 11 meetings. You can gloat about that all you want, but just like we can’t take anything away from your Stanley Cup runs the last two years, you can’t take any of the joy we feel this year away from us.

No more of this “Alex Ovechkin can’t win” nonsense. He scored the game-winner in Game 3 and had the primary assist in the game-winning goals in Game 5 and Game 6. He has eight goals and 15 points in 12 games this postseason and continues to produce at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs.

No more “Braden Holtby isn’t a playoff goalie” lunacy. He has the second-best save percentage in NHL playoff history.

No more curse.

The best part about this is that this finally feels like a real rivalry again. It always felt that way to us, but with every passing year, with every series loss, there was that nagging feeling that perhaps you may lose interest. Perhaps this won’t mean as much next year as it does now. The only thing worse than seeing a rival win is seeing a rival not care. But we don’t have to worry about that anymore because while you may have beaten the Caps nine times in 11 playoff meetings, we ended your Cup run. We handed Mike Sullivan his first playoff loss and we did it in front of your hometown fans.

We know that stings.

We know that regardless of how dismissive you may try to be about the Capitals, regardless of all the past wins, regardless of all the past Cups, you had to watch Ovechkin celebrate on your ice after beating your team and ending your chance at a three-peat. That will be tough to get over. It will be made worse by the fact that everytime these two teams meet next season, they will show a replay of Evgeny Kuznetsov slipping the puck through Matt Murray's five-hole in overtime. It will eat at you and you will want nothing more than to beat us every time we play just to erase that image and move on from a heartbreaking loss.

Now that's a rivalry. We can't wait either.

See you guys next year.

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

MORE OVECHKIN NEWS:

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

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USA TODAY Sports

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: