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Right on time, Devante Smith-Pelly is delivering big goals for the Caps

Right on time, Devante Smith-Pelly is delivering big goals for the Caps

Through two periods Saturday, Devante Smith-Pelly was a having a rough night. He had taken both of his team’s minor penalties, including an early goalie interference infraction that negated a goal.

The good news for Smith-Pelly was that he still had 20 minutes remaining to redeem himself.

And redeem himself he did.

With the Caps up a goal and the Golden Knights making a push, Smith-Pelly finished a slick Jay Beagle setup pass to seal a 3-1 victory in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I wanted to get one back because I had two penalties in the game,” Smith-Pelly told CBC’s Scott Oake after the game. “I’m happy I got to redeem myself.”

It was indeed a measure of atonement for Smith-Pelly. 

But it also fit a pattern of DSP coming up huge in clutch moments this postseason.

In fact, Smith-Pelly now has five goals in 22 playoff games. To put that into perspective, he had seven goals all regular season (75 games).

Of his five postseason tallies, four have come in the third period. The Caps are also 4-1 when he scores.

Let’s recap his goals:

  • Game 1 vs. Columbus: The Blue Jackets ended up winning 4-3 in OT, but DSP gave the Caps a 3-2 third period lead…and, for a moment, some hope of seizing early control of the first round series.
  • Game 6 vs. Columbus: Smith-Pelly gave the Caps a 4-2 third period lead in the series-clinching win.
  • Game 2 vs. Tampa Bay: He knotted the game 2-2 early in the second period, sparking a run of five straight goals for the Caps.
  • Game 6 vs. Tampa Bay: Smith-Pelly scored midway through the third period to put the Caps ahead 2-0 in a game they eventually won 3-0.
  • Game 3 vs. Las Vegas: He struck in the third period to put Washington up 3-1, ending the Golden Knights’ push before it really gained any traction.

It should also be noted that Smith-Pelly assisted on Lars Eller’s double OT tally in Washington’s season-saving Game 3 victory vs. the Blue Jackets.

Should Smith-Pelly’s postseason outburst come as a surprise?

Not entirely.

He forged a reputation for shining on the postseason stage in junior with Mississauga of the OHL. Then, as a third-year NHLer in 2014, he produced five goals in 12 postseason games for the Ducks.

When the Caps were contemplating signing Smith-Pelly as a free agent last summer, his history of performing in the playoffs was a factor in the decision to bring him aboard.

And now he’s delivering—right on time—exactly what the Caps hoped he would.

“It started in junior—I’ve always loved the playoffs,” Smith Pelly told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after Saturday’s game. “I love scoring the big goals. I don’t know what it is, but these kinds of games, obviously, are the best to play in.”

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

There won't be any suspense for the Capitals on Wednesday night during the NHL Awards show (8 p.m., NBCSN). Alex Ovechkin will receive the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, but no other Caps are up for any other hardware.

Instead, let's give out some of our own.

If the NHL awards were reserved just for the Capitals, here's who would be getting each trophy for the 2017-18 season:

Calder Memorial Trophy (best rookie): Jakub Vrana

The Caps had nine players play for the team this season who qualified as rookies according to the NHL: Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd and Liam O'Brien. Each of the first four were certainly worthy of consideration.

Vrana gets the nod with his 13 goals and 27 points. His game did suffer some inconsistencies throughout the season, but each rookie experienced that as well. Djoos and Bowey played major roles for the Caps this season as both were called upon to be regular blue liners, but they were largely protected by how they were utilized by Barry Trotz.

The deciding factor for me was this: Who was a better fit this season, Vrana when he played in the top six or Djoos when he played in the top four? The answer for me was Vrana.

Lady Byng  Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship combined with high standard of play): Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson recorded 18 points and proved to be a valuable member of the bottom six, but what really stood out was how clean his game was.

Here's a look at the players with the fewest PIM for the Caps this season: Jerabek (0 PIM), Gersich (0), Boyd (2), Tyler Graovac (2), Walker (4), Anthony Peluso (4), O'Brien (5), Stephenson (8), Taylor Chorney (8), Aaron Ness (8).

Excluding Stephenson, Chorney played the most with 24 games. Everyone else played in 11 games or fewer. Stephenson played in 67.

Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey): Devante Smith-Pelly

This award is unique in that every team gets a nominee as voted on by each local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association (of which I am a member). All 31 candidates are then voted on by the PHWA at large. I will go with the Capitals' nominee from this season, Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly was bought out of his contract last season by the New Jersey Devils and came to the Caps on a two-way contract. He filled a key role for the Caps on the bottom-six all season despite a shaky training camp and played in 75 games with 16 points.

When faced with racial taunts from fans in Chicago, Smith-Pelly reacted with class and grace in the wake of the incident. The way he handled the situation allowed for a negative to turn into a positive as Chicago fans raised and donated $23,000 to Fort Dupont.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Jay Beagle

No Caps forward had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Beagle. His 58.5-percent faceoff win percentage was among the league's best. He also blocked 44 shots per game over the course of the season, sixth among the team's forwards, but he had less ice time than all but one of the five forwards ahead of him.

James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman): John Carlson

This one's a slam dunk. Before Michal Kempny was brought on, defensive depth was the obvious weakness of the Caps even before an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was called upon to play nearly 30 minutes a night and he proved himself capable of playing strong, hard minutes on both ends of the ice.

Carlson's 68 points led all defensemen in the league. In a contract year, he earned himself a lot of money with how he played this season.

Vezina Trophy (best goalie): Philipp Grubauer

This one was tough, but considering this is a regular season award, the nod has to go to Grubauer.

Yes, Braden Holtby played in 54 games, 19 more than Grubauer, and he earned 34 wins, 19 more than Grubauer managed. But Grubauer's superiority when it comes to the stats is undeniable.

Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

From Nov. 1 through the rest of the regular season, no goalie who appeared in at least 20 games had a better GAA than Grubauer and only two netminders recorded a better save percentage.

Grubauer stepped in to stabilize the Caps in net when Holtby was in the midst of the worst slump of his career and he helped Washington win the Metropolitan Division with a strong finish to the season, especially in a brilliant performance in Pittsburgh.

There is no doubt Holtby remains the Caps' No. 1 given what he did in the postseason and revisionist history will have many questioning why Grubauer started for the Caps at the beginning of the postseason. If you followed the team all year, however, there was no question who the stronger netminder was at the end of the regular season.

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin

Who else?

Carlson comes in at a close second because of what he was tasked to do on defense, but Ovechkin was the MVP for this team.

Not only did he lead the team in points with 87, the Great 8 once again found the fountain of youth scoring 49 goals to lead the NHL after tallying just 33 the season before. His 49 goals accounted for over 19-percent of the Caps' goals this season. Had Ovechkin scored the same number of goals as he did last season, that would have knocked the Caps from 9th in goals all the way down to 15th. That's how important his resurgent offensive performance was to the team.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Caps are in need of a new head coach.

Barry Trotz resigned as the Caps coach on Monday after he and the team failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. How did we get here and where do both parties go from here? JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break it all down.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.