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Can Caps afford to bring Joel Ward back next season?

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Can Caps afford to bring Joel Ward back next season?

Welcome to a playoff edition of our Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Friday six-pack, where we try to keep it real while answering your questions on the Capitals and their drive for the Stanley Cup. Let’s get started:

The fact that Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle skated on Friday should quell any kind of vindication the Rangers would have carried into Game 2 on Saturday at the Garden. Video replays can be interpreted a hundred different ways and while Nicklas Backstrom’s upper arm made contact with Boyle’s head, he did not appear to target Boyle’s head, nor did he launch himself into Boyle, two factors the NHL’s director of player safety considers when reviewing head shots. Backstrom was suspended during the Caps’ first-round series against the Bruins three years ago but he has an otherwise clean record. I think the Rangers were more upset that a penalty was not called than they thought there was an intent to injure, so any response from them in Game 2 should be minimal. Will they hit Backstrom, who led the Caps with five hits in Game 1, a little harder and a little more often? Probably. But the Rangers need to be very careful with their emotions. If Tanner Glass goes out there looking for revenge and puts the Capitals on the power play, New York will be down 2-0 in a series before they know what hit them.

Yes, but it will cost the Capitals. When we last asked Caps general manager Brian MacLellan about renegotiating contracts with his potential unrestricted free agents he said their performances and how they fit into the club’s structure, both on the ice and financially, would determine their fate. I’m a big believer that the chemistry in a locker room matters and Ward is a glue guy. He is an immovable object in the crease and he may have found a permanent home on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Backstrom. At 34 is he worth more than his current $3 million? Probably not. But I think that is the salary range we’re talking and I think the Caps see the value in keeping him.

I agree and it starts with personnel. Brooks Orpik clearly has stepped up his level of nastiness in the post-season and paired with John Carlson on the PK they have done an excellent job of forcing both the Rangers and the Islanders to the perimeter while also clearing the porch in front of Braden Holtby and eliminating second chances. Tim Gleason has also been a grit and spit player on the blue line and the Caps have gotten some big defensive zone faceoff wins from Jay Beagle. That will need to continue against the Rangers, who struggled on the power play in the regular season [16.8 percent] and are even worse in the post-season [13.6 percent].   

Good question. The Caps went 4-5-1 in day games during the regular season and that trend continued against the Islanders as they lost Games 3 and 6. I don’t think Alex Ovechkin is a big fan of afternoon games and I know most players don’t like being taken out of their game-day routines, which often include pre-game naps. With all of that in mind I think it was a good decision by Barry Trotz to give his players the day off on Friday and his players agree. “It was a long series against the Islanders and a quick turnaround for us,” Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think a lot of us were kind of drained after the game last night, both mentally and physically, and this time of year you’re not getting a lot out of practice, really. It’s just about adjustments. You can watch video and make sure your bodies are healthy. I think it was a good move for us.” With desperation as their guide, the Rangers will be flying in Game 2 and if the Caps can’t get up for an afternoon playoff game in Madison Square Garden, shame on them.

I would love to see it, but I just don’t see it happening, unless the Caps have multiple injuries on their blue line. Tim Gleason handled himself pretty well in Game 1, delivering two hits and blocking one shot while being an even player in 15:00 of ice time. I can’t imagine Barry Trotz changing his personnel on the blue line unless someone gets injured and my gut tells me Nate Schmidt would be the Caps’ first option if there is an injury on the back end. Trotz would be hard-pressed to give Orlov his first NHL game action of the season in the playoffs, but if two defensemen go down I think Orov would be the Caps’ next option behind Schmidt.

That’s a good question and I’m not sure the Caps even know the answer right now. Peters has one year and $950,000 remaining on his two-year deal with the Capitals. I don’t think many NHL teams would be interested in trading for him and I’m not sure buying him out is a great option, either. I think it’s imperative that Philipp Grubauer and Phoenix Copley continue to develop in Hershey and having Grubauer as a backup to Braden Holtby next season might slow his development. If I’m going under the assumption that Holtby will play between 65 and 70 games next season then I’m OK with Peters being his backup, because I think if Holtby was injured for any length of time Grubaer would be recalled as a starter anyway. For all he has been through this season Peters has been a consummate professional and that could go a long way in him returning to the Caps next season. 

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets was built up as a battle for first place. It didn’t take long for Washington show that they remain the class of the division as the Caps walked away with an emphatic 4-0 win.

The  Metropolitan Division is just plain bad this year. New Jersey and Philadelphia are surprisingly atrocious, Carolina is still a player or two (and a goalie) away from being a playoff team, the Rangers will go only as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, the Islanders have made great strides under Barry Trotz but are nowhere close to contending and this looks like Pittsburgh’s weakest team since the Mike Johnston era.

At this point, the only two teams that look like clear playoff teams are Washington and Columbus and even that may be a stretch depending on how the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation pans out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, but the Caps made an early statement on Saturday that they remain the team to beat in the Metro and no one looks anywhere close to challenging them at this point.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:
•    Tom Wilson provided one heck of a spark when he returned from suspension. The way the Caps responded to his injury with two wins on the road is impressive and says a lot about this team’s mental makeup and resiliency, even more so than how they rallied after Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both came out of the lineup.
•    Is Kuznetsov all the way back? He just does not seem like the same player who dazzled us in the first month of the season. Yes, he has a five-game point streak, but he is not dominating the game the same way. Earlier in the season, his talent was evident every time he stepped onto the ice. Whenever Connor McDavid is on the ice, you notice him. Whenever Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, you notice him. That was true of Kuznetsov early on, but has not been true since he returned to the lineup.
•    Oshie is skating which means he is making progress, but the team should take a slow approach to his return. After he suffered a concussion last year from a hit by Joe Thornton, he did not play well when he returned for quite a while. The Caps are winning and are in first place, there’s no reason to really rush him back.
•    The power play is starting to become a major concern. The loss of Oshie certainly hurts, but that unit was starting to struggle even before the game in Winnipeg in which he was injured. When watching the Columbus game on Friday, someone asked Alan May what he thought the problem was and he said zone entries. There’s definitely something to that. The power play still looks as deadly as ever when the team sets it up, but it seems like they are having a real tough time just getting to that point. They just cannot get the puck into the offensive zone and keep possession.

Even with Wilson, Oshie and Orpik out, the Caps keep finding ways to win and that his them climbing up the rankings.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS.

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A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets featured a number of high-profile NHL stars. In a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division, you would expect Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Braden Holtby or Sergei Bobrovsky to be the heroes.

While Ovechkin did score and Holtby recorded a shutout in a 4-0 win over Columbus, it was Washington’s fourth line that stole the show as Dmitrij Jaskin and Travis Boyd each scored their first goals as Capitals.

While playing well this season, Jaskin has struggled finishing offensive chances. This is a player with 25 career NHL goals and who scored 13 goals in a single season in 2014-15. And yet, coming into Saturday’s game, Jaskin had yet to score a goal in 22 appearances with the Caps. The way he finally got into the net was by doing the same things he’s been doing effectively all season.

One of Jaskin’s best attributes is that he always goes to the net when he’s in the offensive zone. Boyd had the puck high in the zone and drew both Blue Jacket defensemen to him. Jaskin, as always, was headed to the front of the net and got in behind Columbus’ overly aggressive defense. Boyd looked for him on the pass, but it hit off of Jaskin’s skate and went directly into the top shelf behind a shocked Bobrovsky.

“I’ll take it,” Jaskin said. “Even if it was off the skate, I’ll take it any day.”

Boyd had an even more memorable night as he scored not only his first goal as a Cap, but the first goal of his NHL career.

Alex Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone launching a two-on-one with Boyd. Ovechkin looked ready to wrist it, but instead passed it to Boyd who had plenty of net to shoot on as Jonas Korpisalo, who came on in relief of Bobrovsky after the first period, of course expected Ovechkin to shoot.

It was a nice moment not just for Boyd to get his first goal, but for it to come off the stick of Ovechkin who Boyd gave an assist to last season for his first NHL point.

“Pretty cool how it worked out for me having my first assist be on an Ovi goal and he feeds me a beautiful pass,” Boyd said. “Had a wide-open net for my first goal so pretty cool.”

It was truly a night of firsts for Washington with Jaskin’s first goal, Boyd’s first goal and the Caps walking away still in first place of the division.

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