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Capitals lineup projection: Johansson trade shuffles up the offensive lines

Capitals lineup projection: Johansson trade shuffles up the offensive lines

It was a busy weekend for the Capitals. On Saturday, the team watched free agents Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Justin Williams all sign with new teams. Then on Sunday, Evgeny Kuznetsov was re-signed to a monster eight-year deal and Marcus Johansson was traded to New Jersey soon after.

The free agent departures were all anticipated moves, but the Johansson trade will definitely shake things up from the last lineup projection.

Here’s the latest update as to what the Caps’ lines for next season may look like after a tumultuous weekend:

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly – Lars Eller – Jakub Vrana
Nathan Walker – Jay Beagle – Riley Barber

Extra: Chandler Stephenson

Kuznetsov’s cap hit for the next eight years will be $7.8 million. As much as the team values Backstrom, that’s not a deal you give to a top center in waiting, especially as a restricted free agent. This is a signal the Caps see Kuznetsov as a top-line center now. If the team tries to spread out its talent more across the lines, that will namely mean moving Ovechkin from Backstrom. If Backstrom moves down to the second, then I see Ovechkin on the first to play with Kuznetsov.

Before the Johansson trade, it looked like the Caps had one too many top-nine forwards. Now after the trade, Washington could be in a position where they have to plug in not one, but two prospects onto their fourth line. That’s not ideal. There are other players who you could plug into the fourth line such as Connolly or Wilson, but it is hard to believe that either a Walker or Barber type player will walk into the NHL and take a top-nine role from anyone else on the roster.

The good news is that this allows the team to give an increased role to Wilson which is warranted after his performance in the postseason. The bad news is that a fourth line with two rookies is going to get victimized early and often. The Caps cannot hope to roll four lines as they like to do with this lineup. While re-signing restricted free agents Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer has to be the priority for the little money this team has left to spend under the salary cap, don’t be surprised if general manager Brian MacLellan kicks the tires on a few bottom-six forwards as possibilities for the fourth line.

Defensive pairs

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos/Taylor Chorney – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey

The idea of a big trade to land a top-four defenseman seems to be fading with every passing day. Grubauer remains Washington’s biggest trade asset, but there is seemingly no market for goalies and the team is tight up against the salary cap. Plus, with players leaving for free agency and the Johansson trade, any more trades off the roster would seriously dip into the team’s depth. Washington may be forced to have both Bowey and Djoos on the roster for next season. This will lead to a healthy dose of playing time for Chorney in relief as the two prospects may not yet be ready for the grind of an 82-game NHL season.

Goalies

Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

The expansion draft showed there is no market for goalies right now and that market got even worse after free agency. A team like Winnipeg is not going to break the bank to pursue Grubauer after signing Steve Mason as a free agent. The best thing for the Caps to do now is to wait and hope someone gets desperate. That wait seems likely to extend into the season at this point.

MORE CAPITALS: Kuznetsov among highest paid centers

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Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

To call it a hit is generous. To call it a huge play is accurate. 

Capitals forward Tom Wilson backed into a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone of Friday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He waited for a hit sure to come from behind. 

Colin Wilson, the Avalanche center, moved in to dislodge the puck. Instead he got dislodged from gravity. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson, barely moving and braced for contact, used his own leverage to launch Colin Wilson into the air, arms and legs akimbo. 

By the time Colin Wilson crashed to the ice, Tom Wilson had chipped a blind backhand pass to center ice, where Alex Ovechkin stopped it with his skate, dropped it to teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who gave it back as they entered the offensive zone. Ovechkin crossed from left to right and ripped a shot past former teammate Philipp Grubauer in goal for Colorado. 

It was a wonderful pass from Backstrom, who put the Avalanche on their heels. Ovechkin’s shot was a bullet that left little chance for Grubauer. But make no mistake – it all started with Wilson, who was prepared to take a hit to make a play. It is those little things that the Capitals missed during Wilson’s 16-game suspension by the NHL. It was the little things that helped them to a 3-2 overtime victory.  

“[Wilson] brings so much energy to this group,” Backstrom said. “He’s everywhere out there. That’s what we need. He’s playing PK, he’s playing power plays, he’s doing everything. He’s a valuable guy in this group so we’re happy to have him back.”

The game-winning goal in overtime by Backstrom was a perfect example. Wilson took a drop pass from defenseman John Carlson 12 seconds into overtime with Washington on a 4-on-3 power play. That’s when he went to work. 

For six seconds Wilson and Avalanche center Carl Soderberg did battle along the right boards high in the offensive zone. Just as Wilson was knocked to the ice, he slipped a pass back to Backstrom alone at the point. 

With Soderberg on top of him and both out of the play, Wilson watched Backstrom take advantage of the extra space in what effectively became a 3-on-2. He passed to Carlson in the right faceoff circle and then got the puck back in the high slot and beat Grubauer blocker side for the win. That doesn’t happen without Wilson. 

“When you’re playing with good players, you just try and keep it simple, win your battles and they’ll do the rest,” Wilson said. “And that’s exactly what happened on both those plays. At the end there, I thought about throwing it across the ice a couple times, but I’m not that comfortable out there yet so just kind of ragged on the wall and waited. Nicky got open for me and made it easy, I just threw it over to him and it was in the back of the net.”  

The Ovechkin goal put Washington ahead 2-1 at 18:29 of the second period. The Backstrom winner came 22 seconds into overtime. Wilson, in his third game back after his original 20-game suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator, played a career-high 24 minutes, 24 seconds. He moved to the power play for 4:19 with T.J. Oshie out with an upper-body injury and contributed 1:35 on the penalty kill – a little less than usual. 

Wilson played on the PK for 5:23 in his first game back Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He scored a goal in that game, too, by driving the net hard and has been a jolt of energy for a team that was scuffling coming into a difficult four-game road trip. The Capitals are 2-1-0 with one game left Monday at the Montreal Canadiens. 
 
“Tom is one of those guys that was vocal in our room, vocal on the bench that we’re fully in control of that game still even though we gave up the late goal,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “But that’s a tough start [after the suspension], three in four, and then add in the altitude and the minutes that we’re counting on him playing because they aren’t easy minutes. And then obviously having to chase around that top line tonight from Colorado is no easy task. Just really happy with the fact that we got him back a little earlier than was originally set up for us. It’s been a good bounce for our team.” 

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Tic-Tac-Toe

The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.


Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.


A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.

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