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Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Bruins slide to wild card, but will they stay there?

Capitals’ playoff opponent watch: Bruins slide to wild card, but will they stay there?

In the final stretch of the season, it’s time to start projecting possible first round matchups for the Caps.

Washington has given itself some breathing room away from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they can’t seem to shake the Columbus Blue Jackets who remain hot on their heels for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. As of now, however, the Caps remain in first place in the division which would mean a first-round matchup against the second wild card team.

As of right now the Caps would be playing: The Boston Bruins (86 points)

Caps’ record vs. Bruins this season: 2-0-0 (1 game remaining on April 8)

Boston slid out of third place in the Atlantic, but they did manage to stay in a playoff spot with two wins to end a four-game skid. This is not a wild card team to sleep on given that they boast one of the top offensive players and agitators in the NHL in Brad Marchand and a top netminder in Tuukka Rask. There is a concern, however, that Rask has been overworked this season and that is a sentiment shared by Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. As good as Marchand is, Boston won’t be going anywhere without Rask. Does he have enough left in the tank to lead the Bruins into the postseason and if he does, how much more will he have left for the playoffs?

RELATED: As the season winds down, Ovechkin is ramping up

Other possible playoff opponents

Columbus Blue Jackets (105 points)

Caps record vs. Blue Jackets this season: 2-1-1 (1 games remaining on April 2)

Columbus and the Caps battled in a tight game over the week that saw the Caps earn a narrow 2-1 shootout win. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is making a case for the Vezina or the Hart with this play. He has a .935 save percentage and 1.97 GAA and is more than capable of leading the Blue Jackets deep into the playoffs. But, as Columbus continues winning, the battle for the Metro is becoming more and more of a two-team race. Pittsburgh, currently five points back of the Caps, would have to pass both Columbus and Washington for a Caps-Jackets first-round matchup. That seems unlikely at this point.

Pittsburgh Penguins (103 points)

Caps record vs. Penguins this season: 2-0-2

With the Caps and Columbus separating themselves from the Penguins, the race to win the Metro has suddenly become the race to avoid a first-round matchup with Pittsburgh. While the Caps have earned at least a point in each game against the Penguins this season, you can go ahead and throw the records out when it comes to these two teams. While this may not be the matchup you want to see in the first round, it perhaps would not be the worst thing in the world for Washington. The Penguins are not a healthy team right now as they are dealing with several injuries to key players including Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Would the Caps be better off getting Pittsburgh early while they are still getting healthy?

Toronto Maple Leafs (87 points)

Caps’ record vs. Leafs this season: 1-1-0 (1 game remaining on April 4)

It’s hard to know what to expect from a young team like the Leafs when they reach the postseason. Toronto is way ahead of schedule with its rebuild and was not expected to reach the playoffs this year. With Mike Babcock behind the bench as well as young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev this is a dangerous team that will be playing very loose and free with no expectations. Plus, they are a team the Caps always seem to struggle against. The last time these two teams met, Braden Holtby was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period. The health of goalie Frederik Andersen is a concern, however, as he is dealing with an unspecified injury. That could lead Toronto to slide in the standings down a wild card spot or perhaps even out of the postseason altogether, depending on how much time he may miss.

Tampa Bay Lightning (83 points)

Caps’ record vs. Lighting this season: 2-0-1

Every time I’m ready to write the Lightning off, they surge. Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman are single-handedly keeping a beaten up Tampa team in the playoff race. Here’s what makes them so dangerous: At some point, a Lightning team that has reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons is going to start getting some of their injured players back such as Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. At full strength, Tampa is much better than a wild card team. No one wants to be playing them when they finally do get healthy.

New York Islanders (82 points)

Caps’ record vs. Islanders this season: 2-3-0

I'll be honest, I have no idea really what to make of the Islanders right now. They recalled Jaroslav Halak from the AHL and he started in a shootout win over Pittsburgh. Since then, they went back to Thomas Greiss and have lost both games. Now, to be fair, New York scored only one goal in both games so you can’t lay all those problems at the feet of Greiss. Having said that, however, why recall Halak if you’re not going to use him? Now the Islanders are back to three goalies and seemingly no plan on how to utilize them. This feels like a team just throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick. I am not giving them much chance of getting back into the wild card.

Carolina Hurricanes (82 points)

Caps’ record vs. Hurricanes this season: 3-1-0

A 12-game point streak in which the Hurricanes have gone 8-0-4 has resurrected Carolina’s playoff hopes. Rookie Sebastian Aho has been tremendous, Jordan Staal remains as dangerous as ever and the goaltending, long thought to be the Achilles heel of this team, has been just good enough. It’s not great, but it is not the glaring weakness it was last season. Bill Peters is one of the most underrated coaches in the NHL and the Hurricanes are peaking, but is there enough time left for them to climb over the teams in front of them?

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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