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Why the Caps' road trip may have been successful despite losing two of three

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Why the Caps' road trip may have been successful despite losing two of three

Earning two points in three games on their Western Canada road trip can hardly be labeled a success.

Yet, there was a positive mood around the team on Tuesday as they returned to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

While the Caps had not earned the points they were hoping to get in the standings, the overall feeling was that the team took a big step towards finding more consistent success this season. How? Because the players finally recognized this team needs a new identity in order to win.

Let’s face it, this is not the same team as last year.

The roster is different and because of that, the team has to play differently in order to succeed. The team has struggled with that realization in the early season, but the message seems to have finally sunk in.

"The identity I think we're definitely figuring out,” Madison Bowey said. “I think this weekend was huge. I know we have to win those hard games, those close 3-2, 4-2 battles or 2-1 battles and I think once we really bear down and get those games in and get those wins I think that's the mindset we're going to have to have and then move on from there.”

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 “I think we've seen what works and what doesn't work so try to do what's working for us as far as managing the puck,” T.J. Oshie said.

The turning point was the win against the Edmonton Oilers. The takeaway was more about the way they played than the win itself.

“We try to prod them in each game to do certain things, but they have to have success at it,” Barry Trotz said. “The Edmonton game was a good example. We were diligent of playing a, you know, we're not a small team and so let's be hard to check, let's defend hard and you got a good result and it felt right.”

The Caps have focused more in recent years on a faster, highly skilled style of play. Having that much skill on the roster, however, allowed for the team to cover up its mistakes. There was enough talent throughout the lineup that they could play their way out of a big mistake or a poor turnover and they could rely on their high-scoring offense to produce at a high rate.

This year is different. This year, mistakes are ending up in the back of Washington’s net and the goals have been hard to come by. They don’t have the skill to play the same way. Change was needed.

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What does that change in identity look like on the ice?

“Not giving the other teams free offense,” Trotz said. “Making sure and making good decisions at the blue lines and not just throwing the puck loosely to the middle of the ice when maybe a play's not there. Maybe hanging on to it, maybe wearing people down then being able to create some offense.”

“It will be easier for the [Lars Eller], [Tom Wilson] line, for instance,” Trotz added. “That will be more of their game than maybe the [Evgeny Kuznetsov] line or the [Nicklas Backstrom] line, but they've got to find a balance that their game has to fit into what we do. So find your game within our game and have our philosophies in place and our protocols in place and execute them consistently.”

This new identity, however, remains very much a work in progress.

“It's hard to grasp an identity sometimes,” Trotz said. “But it's coming, it's coming. I thought this trip it started to come. We'll see if we can go forward. First 12 games hasn't been that easy.”

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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. 

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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: