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Capitals not concerned about 'underdog role'

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Capitals not concerned about 'underdog role'

Through five games, the Capitals lead all playoff teams with 235 hits and the New York Islanders are second with 217, making their first-round series the most physical among the NHL’s eight playoff matchups.

And the casualties are piling up like junkyard cars.

While the Capitals lost center Eric Fehr [upper body] in Game 3, the Isles, who began the series without injured defenseman Travis Hamonic, lost defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky [head injury] in Game 4 and Calvin deHaan [upper body] in Game 5.

“It’s something we talked about during the regular season and it’s even more important when you play in a seven-game series,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who leads the Caps and ranks tied for third in the NHL with 30 hits. “We lost the the first game but we told each other, ‘Just keep investing physically and eventually it’s going to take its toll.”

Tom Wilson’s big hit on Visnovsky knocked him out of the series in Game 4 and Troy Brouwer’s hit on deHaan forced him out of Game 5 in the third period.

“He made a pass and I was just doing what I do,” said Brouwer, one of 11 Capitals with 10 or more hits in the series. “I finished my check.”

As a result the Islanders may play Game 6 with two rookie defensemen in their lineup. Isles coach Jack Capuano said Friday he has not decided between his three options of Griffin Reinhart, who made his playoff debut in Game 5 and was a minus-2, Ryan Pulock, who is from Barry Trotz’s hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba but has yet to play in an NHL game, and Matt Donovan, who played 12 games for the Islanders this season.

MORE CAPITALS: ISLES HAUNTED BY THEIR OWN MISTAKES

“I don’t think you necessarily want to see guys get injured,” Orpik said, “but when guys aren’t as eager to go back and get pucks, it takes a lot out of you endurance-wise, too.”

It is no coincidence that Trotz has constructed his forward lines so that at least one “heavy” forward is on every line. Ward serves the role on the top line, Jason Chimera on the second, Brouwer and Jay Beagle on the third, and Wilson, Michael Latta and Brooks Laich on the fourth.

“It doesn’t have to be a big hit, but any time you’re wearing them down, it takes its toll over and over and over,” Brouwer said. “It does us justice, especially in a long payoff series.”

The Caps’ aggression also led to the Islanders taking 31 minutes in penalties in Game 5, including 24 in an undisciplined third period in which Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck took turns slashing Brooks Laich.

“At the start of the series we talked about being as disciplined as we can,” Capuano said. “But emotions run high. I get it. Guys are out there battling, so I didn’t mind it.”

Capuano said he’s hoping the emotion of playing what could be the final NHL game in the 43-year-old Nassau Coliseum will help offset his team’s inexperience on the blue line.

“Listen, our backs are against the wall,” he said. “We’re not going to change anything now. We’ve had a good year and I’m just trying to orchestrate a lineup that gives us a good chance to win here.

“You watch the TVs, everybody is talking about their defense and our defense and we’re the underdogs. That’s fine. We’ll take the underdog role. We have a chance in our building to take it to a Game 7. Our backs were up against the wall a lot this year and we responded really well and I think we’ll do the same tomorrow.”

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

MORE OVECHKIN NEWS:

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: What rookies will have an impact with the Caps next season?

In the team's push for the Stanley Cup the last few years, the Capitals brought in several veterans through free agency and trades to bolster the roster. As a result, there was not much room for the team's prospects. Last season, however, Washington took a very different approach.

Nine rookie players suited up for the Caps for at least one game in the regular season in 2017-18, the most the team has played since the 2013-14 season. Six rookies also played at least one game in the playoffs. Washington dressed zero rookies in the postseason in each of the two years prior. In fact, that is the most rookies Washington has used in a postseason in franchise history. 

To say the Caps won because they used their young prospects more so than before would be a gross oversimplification, but clearly there was value to adding cheap, young, talented players to the lineup.

But by returning virtually the same roster as last season, there will be little room for rookies to make a similar impact in 2018-19.

Here's a projected roster of the Caps' opening night lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd/Travis Boyd - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

Barring injury, there's just not much room there for the young players to break in.

Of the players who still qualify as rookies, the ones to watch are Boyd, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Liam O'Brien, Riley Barber, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov.

The most obvious answer to the question is Boyd. Jay Beagle's departure leaves a spot open at fourth line center and Boyd would be my pick for the most likely player to fill that role.

The addition of Nic Dowd means Boyd may be the only rookie forward to make the team on opening night. Barry Trotz usually kept only one extra forward and defenseman on the roster, but we do not know if Todd Reirden will have a similar outlook. If there is another spot open, Walker, Gerish, O'Brien and Barber will be in the running. I am not sure I see Walker becoming an every day NHL player, but I could see him coming on as a 14th guy since the Caps have a little bit of breathing room under the salary cap. The same does not go for Gersich who has a higher NHL ceiling. Even though he jumped right into the NHL last season, it is much more likely he goes to the AHL this year to take a large role in Hershey rather than to play scattered minutes in Washington.

O'Brien and Barber also make this list because the clock is ticking for them. Both are 24 and both have spent several years in the organization. They need a strong training camp to prove they belong in the NHL or they risk being viewed less as prospects and more as lifetime AHLers.

Like the offense, the defense also seems pretty set. Of the team's defensive prospects, Siegenthaler is probably the most NHL ready, but I have a hard time believing he will supplant any of the seven defensemen in training camp.

And that brings us to Samsonov.

Samsonov will make his North America debut this fall playing in Hershey. Brain MacLellan has been adamant that Samsonov will be starting in the AHL in order to adjust to the North American game. Just how quickly he can adjust, however, may determine if he earns a jump to the NHL at some point next season.

Samsonov is widely seen as Washington's future in net. While there is no reason to rush him, it is not hard to envision him supplanting Pheonix Copley as the backup should Copley struggle. But first, he has to play well in Hershey.

While the Caps look set throughout the roster, injuries always leave open the possibility for a player to get called up and play his way into a full-time role. As of now, however, it looks like there is not much room for the team's rookies this season, other than Boyd.

Other key Caps questions: