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Beagle faces toughest decision of his career

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Beagle faces toughest decision of his career

Jay Beagle makes no bones about it: he wants to stay in Washington.

He loves his teammates. He loves his coaches. And he’s loyal to the Capitals for giving him the opportunity to live his dream as a professional hockey player.

But is that enough to keep him in D.C.?

On Monday, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said that of his six unrestricted free agents – Mike Green, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Curtis Glencross, Tim Gleason and Beagle -- he thought Beagle would be “an easier one to sign.” He also said the Caps want to sign Beagle “at a good number as a fourth-line player.”

That’s where things get a little tricky.

Beagle ended the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs as the Caps’ third-line center. He also saw time as a third-line right wing and even spent some time in the regular season on the top line.

Beagle made $900,000 this season and was one of the Caps’ most sought-after players prior to the NHL trade deadline because of his ability to kill penalties, win faceoffs and play the right way.

“Beags is amazing,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who roomed with Beagle when both were rookies in 2008. “You can’t help but love the guy. Barry [Trotz] has said it before. He’s got a special place for him. He’s just a guy that works so hard and gets a little bit more out of everybody.

“Hopefully, he gets exactly what he deserves and hopefully, it’s with us. The guy’s an amazing player to have on your team. Guys hate to play against him and I think that’s hilarious. I’d love to have him frustrating guys on other teams with us a little longer.”

What would it cost the Capitals? If you look at comparables, former Caps center/winger Matt Hendricks, another heart-and-soul penalty killer, tested free agency two summers ago and landed a four-year, $7.4 million contract with an annual cap hit of $1.85 million.

Beagle is coming off a regular season in which he set career highs in goals [10], assists [10], plus-minus [plus-6], shots [84] and ice time [12:48]. In 14 playoff games he scored a game-winning goal and had four assists while logging 15:48 in ice time.

Those are numbers worthy of a raise, but how much of one?

“I’ve never been in this situation, so it’s definitely tough,” Beagle said. “I’m obviously very blessed to be able to play this game and to be in such a great spot with a great organization that has given me a chance to live my dream. It’s a situation I’ve never been in. I’ll just try to make the best decision I can for my family and for me. It’s going to be tough, that’s for sure.”

What’s so tough? The Caps likely will value Beagle as a fourth-line forward, while his agent, Wade Arnott, likely will produce numbers that suggest he’s a versatile and valuable third-liner.

Beagle said two key factors will play into his decision: the closeness of the Capitals and his relationship with Trotz.

“We’ve got such a great group of guys and a great group that’s unrestricted,” Beagle said. “I’d hate to be in management’s shoes. It’s such a great group of guys and if you look at the guys that are unrestricted, you hate to see any of them go. That’s the nature of the business and that’s what happens. It’s a tough situation.

“I’ve been in this organization [since 2008] but I’ve also had four different coaches so I know how special it is when you get a coach that likes your style of play and gives you opportunity to succeed and that’s what Trotz has done for me and I don’t take that lightly at all. It doesn’t come that often, so that also weighs into my decision making.”

If Beagle has played his final game with the Capitals, he’s disappointed with the way his career in Washington ended.

“This was a special group,” he said. “It was a year where a lot of us thought we had a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Just with the adversity we went through with the start that wasn’t as good as we wanted and the way our team grew and bought into the system.

“Just the way we were playing it was a year where I’m still shocked that we’re out. It’s such a fun group to be a part of and a great year. It was a lot of fun and it’s just disappointing to end. It motivates you and makes you a better player. You don’t want this feeling. You use it as fuel.”

Beagle said he hopes it’s fuel he can use in a Capitals uniform next season. Negotiations on a new contract could begin as early as this week.

“I would love to stay here,” he said. “It’s up to management. They have a lot of decisions to make. I’d be honored to [re-sign]. At the end of the day I will talk to my agent. That’s why I have him. He’s always been great for me. I definitely want to hear what he has to say and see what happens. I obviously love it here and I’m not going to say otherwise.

“The ultimate goal is to keep playing and to keep living out my dream.”

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.

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