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Sensational three-goal rally vs. Islanders earns Capitals a win, and a tie for first place in Metro

Sensational three-goal rally vs. Islanders earns Capitals a win, and a tie for first place in Metro

The Capitals were held scoreless through 40 minutes on Friday, but scored three times in the third period for a big 3-1 win over the New York Islanders.

The win pulls Washington even with the Islanders in the standings for first place in the Metropolitan Division with 81 points. New York does still have a game in hand, however.

Here are four reasons the Caps won their biggest game of the season.

Keep away

The Caps were trailing for the majority of this game, but they put on a dominant performance. Washington had possession for much of the game, held the puck in the offensive zone and just grinded the Islanders down into submission. The fourth line in particular really hemmed New York in their own zone, allowing the Caps to change up and get their top lines on the ice against a tired defense.

Washington limited the Islanders to only 21 shots on goal, including just four in the second period. New York had a strong defensive performance as they blocked 25 of the Caps’ shots, but Washington continued to maintain possession and wore New York down. Much of the Islanders’ offense came off bad turnovers leading to odd-man rushes. For the game, the Caps finished with a dominant Corsi-for percentage of 68.42-percent showing you just how much Washington controlled play.

Vrana parked in front

Tomas Greiss shut the Caps out the last time these two teams played in Washington on Jan. 18. He also shutout the Caps the first two periods on Friday as well. If Washington was going to beat Greiss, it was going to have to be a dirty one.

Jakub Vrana was interviewed during the intermission on the NBC Sports Washington broadcast and said, “We gonna go hard to the net and stay there.” That’s exactly what Vrana did.

Vrana parked in front of the net and got locked into a battle with Nick Leddy, but he would not give up his position and get boxed out. Michal Kempny looked for Nicklas Backstrom with the pass through the crease, but it was blocked and went right to Vrana. He shot it into the net before Greiss could recover to tie the game at 1.

Cashing in on the power play

Washington did not get a power play until the third period, but when they did they made it count. Anders Lee was called for interference less than a minute after Vrana’s game-tying goal. Ovechkin scored the power play tally to give the Caps the 2-1 lead with his 45th goal of the season.

It was not a typical Ovechkin power play tally. Greiss made the initial save but could not control the rebound and tried to chip it away from danger with his stick. Ovechkin batted the puck out of midair up and over Greiss into the net.

An own goal

Trailing 2-1 late in the third, Barry Trotz pulled Greiss for the extra attacker. The only problem was Josh Bailey did not seem to realize that.

T.J. Oshie cleared the puck out of the zone, Bailey got it at his own blue line and passed the puck back…to no one. With Greiss out, the puck went straight into the net for the easiest goal Oshie has ever scored in his career.

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan does not see why the 2020 Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan does not see why the 2020 Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk

The 2020 season is unlike any other and because of that, it has brought up debates that we typically do not see in a season. From year to years, no one really questions whether the winner of the Stanley Cup was somehow invalid. If you win four best-of-seven series, clearly you deserve to be the last team standing. But now that the NHL has a playoff format for when the league resumes play, there are those who believe this year's Stanley Cup deserves an asterisk.

That notion is ridiculous., but don't take my word for it. Listen to someone who has won the Cup twice.

Brian MacLellan won the Cup in 2018 as the Capitals general manager, but he also won it as a player in 1989 with the Calgary Flames. Obviously the way in which a winner will be determined this postseason is different than a normal year, but to MacLellan, he feels winning the Cup would mean just as much as in 2020 as it would any other year.

"It's going to be different, it's going to be unique," MacLellan said Friday in a video conference. "The format's unique, but I still think players are competitive. You get in that environment, you're going to want to win. Organizations want to win."

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You may be thinking to yourself, "what is he supposed to say?" but really, he had an opportunity to voice a dissenting opinion throughout the process. When the league voted on the 24-team playoff proposal, only two out of 31 teams voted against it and the Caps were not among them. MacLellan could have said this year is different or that it won't feel the same and, as someone who has won the Cup both as a player and a general manager, his opinion would certainly carry some weight.

But that's just not how MacLellan feels about it.

"Once we get into it and it gets competitive, I don't think players are going to sit there [and think] this is not the same," he said.

MacLellan added, "I don't know that it lessens it because we've had a break, we've had a situation that's come into society, come into sports."

Considering the winner of the 2020 Cup will have had to wait through a season pause of several months, played through a training camp, most likely live in seclusion in a hub city for several weeks throughout the postseason, won at least four rounds of playoff hockey (five if a play-in team goes all the way) and do all of it in the midst of a global pandemic, why would anyone think to win the Cup this year could somehow be less difficult or satisfying?

"It'll be different," MacLellan said, "But I think the satisfaction of winning a championship, playing with your team, playing with your teammates, getting through hurdles that you have to go through in the playoffs, I think that's all going to be very satisfying."

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With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

With the NHL limiting teams to 28 skaters for the playoffs, what will the Caps' roster look like?

In a typical NHL postseason, all roster limits and salary cap restrictions are lifted. This year, however, is no normal postseason and teams are going to have prepare for having a limited number of players on the road.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the NHL has advised teams to prepare for a 28-man roster plus unlimited goalies for training camp and the playoffs. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan confirmed this in a video conference on Friday.

"We got the roster number the other day of 28 plus unlimited goalies," MacLellan said. "So we're in discussions now on how we want to use those extra players and what's the best way we can organizationally."

It should be noted that "unlimited" goalies is a bit of a misnomer because all teams will only be allowed to bring a maximum of 50 people to their hub cities for the playoffs. So sure, bring as many goalies as you want, but for each goalie you bring that's one less staff member who will be able to go.

In a typical postseason, teams will recall several players from the minors to serve as "black aces," who are depth practice players. Several practices in the postseason are optional so having black aces ensures that regardless of the NHL regulars who wish to take part in a practice, there are still enough players to work with whether it be a goalie to shoot on or maybe shooters for a goalie to face against. Black aces also provide depth which is important for the grueling Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the players themselves, it provides younger prospects a valuable learning experience for what the postseason is like and how the veteran players approach it.

With a limited roster and limited personnel, however, MacLellan likely will not be able to bring all the players he normally would want to. Here's a projection of what a 28-man roster may look like for Washington.

The regulars

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Travis Boyd

Brenden Dillon - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Michal Kempny
Radko Gudas

When the NHL season was paused, there were 21 skaters on the roster. That number is down to 20 after Brendan Leipsic's contract was terminated. There is no reason to think any of the other 20 will not be with the team for the postseason.

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Possible Black Aces

With 20 players, that leaves just eight slots left for black aces. Here are the most likely candidates:

Shane Gersich
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby
Brett Leason
Beck Malenstyn
Connor McMichael
Liam O'Brien
Garrett Pilon
Brian Pinho
Mike Sgarbossa
Joe Snively
Daniel Sprong
Alex Alexeyev
Martin Fehervary
Lucas Johansen
Tyler Lewington
Bobby Nardella

Of those players, my best guess for the eight the team will take would be Gersich, Malenstyn, McMichael, Sgarbossa, Sprong, Alexeyev, Fehervary and Lewington.

First off, MacLellan named McMichael specifically as a player the team was considering taking. I don't think he does that if he was not fairly certain McMichael was going to be included. Malenstyn said in a video conference after the AHL season was officially canceled that he had been told by the team he was going to be a black ace. As for the rest, considering there is a fairly limited number of roster spots, I think the team would lean very largely on players who are more likely to be plugged into the lineup in case of injury. That means guys like Sgarbossa and Sprong would get nods over some prospects like Jonsson-Fjallby or Snively or, on defense, Lewington would be added over prospects like Johansen and Nardella.

Goalies

Braden Holtby
Ilya Samsonov
Pheonix Copley
Vitek Vanecek

Teams will always have a third goalie when possible in the playoffs and Copley also confirmed he will be a black ace in the video conference with Malenstyn. The only question is if the team would bring Vanecek as well just to be safe. With all the unknowns of the coronavirus, it would not be surprising to see MacLellan err on the side of caution and bring a fourth netminder. It may just depend on what other personnel the team may want to bring and if there is space in the 50-person limit for a fourth goalie.

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