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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly

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The 25 most important players for the Caps: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly

Every player on an NHL team plays a role. Some play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Jill Sorenson, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles. 

Today’s player: No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly.

Will Devante Smith-Pelly manage to ressurect his career this season?

After getting bought out by the Devils on June 30, Smith-Pelly signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Caps a few days later. The deal will pay him $650,000 in Washington and $300,000 in Hershey.

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It's a significant paycut from the $1.25 million that Smith-Pelly, 25, earned last season, and the contract offers less job security. But he's got another chance, much like the one the Caps gave to Brett Connolly a year ago, to seize a spot in the bottom six and reestablish himself in the league. Connolly, after being cut loose by the Bruins last summer, took full advantage of his opporrunity here, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games and earning a two-year, $3 million extension from GM Brian MacLellan.    

When training camp opens in mid-September, the Caps are going to need a pair of wingers to play with center Jay Beagle on the fourth line. There will be no shortage of competition for those positions, with Smith-Pelly expected to battle Anthony Peluso and forward prospects Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson, Riley Barber, Travis Boyd, Liam O’Brien and perhaps others.

Smith-Pelly would seem to have the inside track based on experience alone. He’s played in 266 NHL regular season games and 24 playoff contests. (Peluso, 28, has played in 142 games, while no one else I mentioned has appeared in more than 14.)

Smith-Pelly, a 6-foot, 214-pound righty, has also had some eyebrow raising stretches in his career. In the 2014 playoffs as a member of the Ducks, he amassed five goals in 12 games while averaging 4.4 hits per. In 2016, he was dealt from Montreal to the Devils late in the season and ended up racking up eight goals and five assists in only 18 games.

So, Smith-Pelly has been productive. He just hasn’t been consistent.

Will that change in Washington? That’s yet to be determined. But we can already surmise this much: he's got a pretty good opportunity in front of him and he's probably running out of chances.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
— No. 22 Pheonix Copley

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4 things to know for Caps-Flames: Back in the Saddle(dome)

4 things to know for Caps-Flames: Back in the Saddle(dome)

The Capitals (6-2-2) started off the road trip with a win on Sunday in Chicago. Now they begin the three-game tour through western Canada starting with the Calgary Flames (5-4-1). You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 8 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 8:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 9 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are 4 things to know for Tuesday’s game.

Kempny is back on the top pair

Based on the lines the team used in Monday’s practice, Michal Kempny will return to his normal spot on the top defensive pairing alongside John Carlson.

The defense has stabilized quite a bit since Kempny has returned, though he started both games he has played on the third pair. This move would suggest that he has felt fine since returning and there are no lingering concerns over his hamstring.

Kempny’s return not only stabilizes the top defensive pair, but the trickle-down effect boosts the entire defense. Jonas Siegenthaler has been playing on the top pair in Kempny's absence. He has done as well as could be hoped for a young player in just his second NHL season, but moving him to the third pair takes some of the pressure off the young blueliner. Plus, putting him on the third pair with Radko Gudas makes for a pretty darn good bottom-pair.

NHL points leader John Carlson

Carlson enters Tuesday’s game leading the NHL in points with 18. In 10 games he has been held without a point only once. He has six multi-point games and a seven-game point streak.

Carlson’s start to the season puts him in pretty elite company as only two other defensemen have managed 18 or more points in their first 10 games. They are Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr.

You don’t get more elite than that.

Calgary has not lost in regulation at home

In four games at the Saddledome this season, Calgary is 3-0-1. The lone loss came against the Los Angeles Kings thanks to Drew Doughty’s overtime winner. In their three wins, the Flames have outscored opponents 11-2.

The Caps have been road warriors so far this season with a 4-1-0 record away from home. In addition, Alex Ovechkin has scored five of his six goals this season on the road. Washington also has beaten the Flames seven of the last 10 games these two teams have played in Calgary.

A special teams battle

No team in the NHL has been called for more minor penalties this season than Calgary which has 46 already. Their 122 PIMs ranks second only to Vegas’ 125.

Washington is currently clicking at 27.0-percent on the power play, good for 9th in the NHL. The Flames, however, rank 5th on the penalty kill at 87.5-percent.

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The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The Capitals are 10 games into the 2019-20 season. For the most part, things have gone well. The team is 6-2-2 and sits atop the Metropolitan Division. John Carlson leads the entire NHL with 18 points which puts him in some pretty elite company. Ilya Samsonov looks as good as advertised while Braden Holtby looks like his old self after a brief reset. Alex Ovechkin has six goals already and T.J. Oshie leads the team with seven. Plus, both special teams units look improved.

That’s a pretty solid start.

But there remain two important questions that still need answers.

Who should play on the right on the second defensive pair?

Michal Kempny finally returned after missing the first eight games of the season. He started the last two on the third pair, but is working his way back up to the top pairing. Once he gets there, the defense will finally be at full strength.

That gives Washington a pretty solid top three of Kempny and Carlson, plus Dmitry Orlov. But who should play on the right with Orlov?

Jensen had the first crack at it to start the season, but after some up-and-down play, Radko Gudas was bumped up for a few games. Since Kempny returned, Gudas moved back down to third to play with him and Jensen moved back with Orlov.

So far Gudas has been as good as advertised, but playing well on the third pair does not necessarily mean he should be on the second.

Jensen was one of Detroit’s top defensemen when he was acquired by the Caps. The team is still waiting for that player to emerge. It has been a tough transition for him to Washington's system and, while he has shown flashes of strong play, he remains largely inconsistent. His Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 is the second-worst on the team at 46.82-percent. He is one of only three Caps below 50-percent with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tyler Lewington being the other two.

The issue for the Caps may be that they have two high-quality third pair right defensemen in Jensen and Gudas and only one top-four right defenseman in Carlson which leaves a hole on that second pair.

When it comes to the defense, we should reserve all judgment until Kempny is back to playing on the top-pair full-time so we can see this defense at full strength. Until then, however, the second pair remains a question mark.

Can the Caps get enough production from the third line?

There wasn’t much offense to speak of from the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik trio and it didn’t take Todd Reirden long to split them up. Hagelin is the Swiss Army knife of the Caps’ offense, but his offensive production is limited. Panik meanwhile has had a tough start to his Caps’ tenure with zero points and is on long-term injured reserve.

As always, the top six for this team remains lethal and the additions of Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway to the fourth line have been home runs. The third line is the only one that remains a question and it may need a boost from a player like Jakub Vrana, who has been playing there the last few games with Eller and Hathaway, to help spark some production. Ultimately, however, you would like to see Vrana back in the top six and Hathaway back on the fourth. Hagelin, Eller and Panik are the best fit for the third, but if they can’t produce together it may mean weakening the top six or the fourth line by moving players around to find a combination that produces on that third line.

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