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Beagle wants Caps to see him as third-line center solution

Beagle wants Caps to see him as third-line center solution

Later today we’ll begin our player-by-player analysis of the 2015-16 Capitals’ numerical roster (beginning with Matt Niskanen and ending with Evgeny Kuznetsov).

But since the topic of improving the Caps’ third-line center position has been a hot one lately, fueled by general manager Brian MacLellan stating it’s one of his top priorities in the offseason, it’s worth revisiting Jay Beagle’s take on where he’d like to fit into the Caps’ lineup in 2016-17.

“I want to be a third-line center,” Beagle said. “That’s what I want to be. That’s up to the coaching staff. Coming into this year that was my goal, to make that third line stronger and I felt the coaches gave me that opportunity and when I had that opportunity I did my best with it. Playing with guys like Chimmer (Jason Chimera) and Willy (Tom Wilson) was awesome. It was a lot of fun.”

RELATED: OVECHKIN, KUZNETSOV, ORLOV FINISH WITH A MEDAL

And until Beagle broke his hand on Dec. 30, when he was slashed by Buffalo’s Jake McCabe when trying to glove an airborne puck, the Caps’ third line was pretty productive.

At the time of Beagle’s injury, he had six goals and six assists in 32 games. Chimera had 10 goals and 10 assists and Wilson had two goals and nine assists for a total of 18 goals and 25 assists.

Beagle underwent surgery on Jan. 2 and sat out the next 24 games, forcing the Caps to move Marcus Johansson into the role of third-line center. Johansson infused speed onto the line but was eventually replaced by Mike Richards.

Beagle began skating five days after his surgery but had just 70 percent grip strength when he returned to the lineup on Feb. 28, nearly two months after the injury.  

He finished the season with just two goals and three assists in his final 21 games of the regular season and notched three goals in the playoffs, two against the Flyers and one against the Penguins.

With two years remaining on his three-year, $5.25 million contract with the Caps, Beagle said he’d love to be given another chance to play alongside Chimera and Wilson on the third line next season.

Whether he gets that chance depends on what the Caps are seeking in the free agent and trade markets.

“I think I had a pretty good season,” he said. “Breaking my hand midway set me back a bit, I think coming back on the ice I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent with grip strength and it took a bit to find a groove again. The start of the season I felt really, really good. I think it was the best hockey I played. Playing with Chimmer and Willy for as long as we did, they kept that third line together until I busted my hand, really.

“I felt like we had a lot of good chemistry and we were playing really good hockey. It was a lot of fun playing with them. I think it was the best hockey I played. Coming back (from the injury) I think I could have been better. I felt like I was not as good. I was still trying to find my groove but I found it later in the season and in the playoffs I felt pretty good.”

MORE CAPITALS: CAPITALS SETTING THEIR SIGHTS ON A NEW THIRD-LINE CENTER?

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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