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Capitals keep rolling with win over Canucks

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Capitals keep rolling with win over Canucks

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Center Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a beautiful goal off the rush, assisted on Tom Wilson’s goal with a crafty pass from behind the net and found an empty net with 0.6 seconds remaining. Braden Holtby turned aside 29 of 30 shots, leading the Caps to their 14th win in their last 16 games. Defenseman Karl Alzner also scored for the Capitals, who improved to 12-0-2 against Canadian teams this season.

What it means: The Caps (33-7-3) improved their league-leading point total to 69, seven more than the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars. The Caps have won five straight and are now 14-1-1 in their last 16 games. They are also 23-3-3 since losing Brooks Orpik to a lower body injury on Nov. 10.

Holt-beast: Holtby (28-4-2) lost his shutout bid with 8:51 remaining when back-to-back penalties to Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich led to Radim Vrbata’s power-play goal with 1 second remaining on the Canucks’ 5-on-3 advantage. Holtby is now alone in second place on the Caps’ all-time wins list by a goaltender with 129, one more than Don Beaupre. He’s also 20-0-2 in his last 22 decisions, the longest points streak by an NHL goalie since Jose Theodore went 20-0-3 with the 2009-10 Caps. Theodore finished with a 30-7-7 record that season.  

Hard coconut: Caps right wing Justin Williams left the game with under a minute to play in the first period when he was struck in the back of the helmet by an Andre Burakovsky shot. Williams returned for the second period and assisted on Karl Azner’s third goal of the season.

Russian magic: Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov already has four more goals (15) and four more points (41) than he had last season. He’s now tied with Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps with 41 points in 43 games. With 6:12 gone in the second period Kuznetsov made a beautiful forehand-to-backhand move on Ryan Miller to beat him far post. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov broke up a rush by Alexander Edler out of the penalty box and turned the puck up the right side of the ice before dishing to Kuznetsov streaking toward the net.

Alzner from Niskanen? Caps defenseman Karl Alzner’s third goal of the season 12:03 into the second period leaves him two shy of the career-high of five he scored last season. He was left all alone at the left point, thanks to a big hit defense partner Matt Niskanen put on Canucks forward Sven Baertschi along the right wall. Bo Horvat immediately went after Niskanen, leaving Alzner with the time and space to  crank a slap shot past Miller, who slammed his stick on the ice, complaining a penalty should have been called on Niskanen.

Wilson vs. Canada: All four of Tom Wilson’s goals this season have come against Canadian teams (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver). After going the first 22 games of the season with no goals, five assists and a minis-1 rating, Wilson has four goals, six assists and is a plus-7 in his last 21 games.

Look ahead: The Caps have scheduled an 11:30 a.m. practice at Kettler on Friday, followed by a flight to Buffalo, where they’ll face Jack Eichel and the Sabres Saturday night. They return home for a 5 p.m. game against the Rangers on Sunday.

RELATED: Caps honor Ovechkin with pregame red carpet ceremony

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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