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After slow start, Caps' power play reclaims a spot among NHL's elite units

After slow start, Caps' power play reclaims a spot among NHL's elite units

After an uncharacteristically sluggish start to the season, the Capitals’ power play has slowly but surely reclaimed its rightful spot among the NHL’s elite units.

In fact, entering Saturday’s game against the Ducks, Alex Ovechkin and Co. had climbed into a tie for 6th with a 21.9-percent success rate. Last season, the unit finished fifth at 21.9-percent.

The Caps’ surge can be traced back to a power play goal scored by Ovechkin in Montreal on Jan. 9. Including that goal, the Caps have scored 16 times with the man advantage over the past 16 games.

RELATED: Nicklas Backstrom closing in on NHL points lead

No team in the NHL has had more success (38.1-percent) on the power play during that span.

For comparison’s sake, Washington’s power play was clicking at just 16.4-percent (19th) from opening night through Jan. 8.

Ovechkin is now tied for second in the league in power play goals with 11. The Caps' captain has also led his team's recent charge with five power play goals over the past 16 contests. But he's gotten plenty of help, too, from all over the lineup and across both units. In all, seven players not named Ovechkin have also found the back of the net since Jan. 9th.

Coach Barry Trotz attributed the uptick to some minor tweaks and an increase in precision.

“We’re executing [and] we’re executing with pace and with a little more precision,” Trotz said. “There have been a few adjustments for each [unit] and they seem to be grasping on it.”

The players have also grasped the fact that they’ve got to bear down when they do get an opportunity. During their 16-game hot spell, their 42 power play opportunities are 14th most. For the season, their 164 power plays rank 18th.

“The fact that we’re not getting a lot of power plays—I know the coaches have [said], ‘We don’t get many so make them count,” Trotz said.

MORE CAPITALS: What does Burakovsky's injury mean for Capitals?

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

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NBC Sports Washington

Ted Leonsis reflects on Capitals' induction to D.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Click "play" in the embedded podcast to listen to the Capitals Talk Podcast interview with Ted Leonsis and click here to subscribe to the podcast.

Just as the party seems to be ending, the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals are finding new ways to celebrate.

Sunday at Nationals Park, the Caps were honored with the "team of distinction" award in the D.C. sports hall of fame, the first-ever award of its kind.

“I think it just shows how this team connected with the fans and as many people have noted, this is one of the most divided cities in the world," Caps majority owner and president of Monumental Sports, Ted Leonsis said to Rob Carlin on the Capitals Talk podcast. "People can’t agree on anything, but they agreed on how much they loved, and how much fun they had and how proud they were that we won the Stanley Cup."

Founded in 1980, the D.C. sports hall of fame honors athletes, sports journalists and executives each year for excellence in D.C. sports. 2019 was the first time an entire team was formally recognized, fitting for the first-ever Stanley Cup championship in D.C.

"It [the honor] is a good capstone on that run," Leonsis said.

Listen to the full episode linked below.

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