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Capitals, Rangers too even to call after 3 games

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Capitals, Rangers too even to call after 3 games

As he sat in the penalty box for what probably seemed closer to two hours than two minutes, Capitals 21-year-old right wing Tom Wilson contemplated the boarding penalty he had just taken early in the third period against New York Rangers left wing James Sheppard and prayed the Caps’ penalty killers would do their jobs.

“To be honest, that penalty could have cost us the game,” Wilson said on Tuesday, after a tense 1-0 win over the Rangers Monday night gave the Caps a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“We’re up 1-0 and if they score on that power play, whether it’s a bad hit or not, I can’t put our team in that situation."

The Caps killed the penalty -- they are now 21 for 22 in the post-season -- and hung on for the win thanks to a 30-save effort from goaltender Braden Holtby.

“In the playoffs it’s a really fine line," Wilson said. "You want to play hard and leave your mark on those guys, but you can’t put your team down because one power pay could potentially lose us the game or the series.”

Indeed, that’s how close these two teams are as they battle for the right to play in the Eastern Conference finals.

Each of the Rangers’ five wins and each of their three losses in these playoffs has been decided by one goal. Five of the Capitals’s six wins and two of their four losses have also been by one goal.

“There isn’t any small moments in the game of hockey,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Every moment counts. You never know what the difference is going to be.

“It’s gonna be a last faceoff. It’s gonna be just throwing the puck to the net from a certain angle. It’s getting a puck behind a defenseman versus trying to dangle him at an inappropriate time. It’s managing a game based on the time of the game. It’s discipline when you need discipline. Every moment counts.”

On Monday night, it was getting a Jay Beagle wraparound attempt to go off the back of Henrik Lundqvist’s skate and into the net.

“My goals are never how I draw them up,” Beagle said of his first goal of these playoffs. “It’s always just grinding it out and trying to create havoc in front and good things usually happen. Last series I got robbed a couple times, so it was nice to be rewarded.”

The Caps bubble wrapped that 1-0 lead and carried into the third period, which opened with defenseman Brooks Orpik getting slammed into the boards by a hard but legal body check from Rangers left wing Rick Nash, who has taken his share of body blows from Orpik in the first three games.

No penalty was called on the play, but when Wilson rammed Sheppard into the boards seconds later, he was sent to the box for what could have been a game-changing boarding penalty. It was the third straight game Wilson spent time in the sin bin. He was also called for roughing, along with Tanner Glass, in Game 1 and charging in Game 2.

On Tuesday Trotz was asked if he thinks Wilson is being targeted by the officials.

“No,” Trotz said. “I talked to Tom about that situation. There’s no need for him to make that hit. That was a situation for support, not for contact. He’s a young player. It was a penalty, in my opinion. He’s got to learn from it. That was a teaching moment for him.”

Wilson disagreed with the penalty and said it was not in retaliation for Nash’s hit on Orpik.

“I think the ref probably thought so,” he said. “I let up on my hit. I kind of rubbed him out. I don’t think it was a bad hit, but I probably shouldn’t even be going over there to make that hit.

“[Defenseman Tim] Gleason is right there. It’s not a bad body check by any means, but Brooksie got hit pretty hard. I don’t think the ref really saw it. If Brooksie doesn’t have a visor on he might have a cut on his face.

“It wasn’t a retaliatory thing at all. It was just trying to play hard and get hits. I tried to let up and the ref thought I went and hit him in retaliation to Brooks. I have to do a better job of making sure it’s not in the numbers and clean.”

He’ll get that chance in Game 4 Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

Fehr practices: Sidelined since Game 3 of the first round with an upper body injury, Caps center Eric Fehr took part in an optional practice on Tuesday but will not play in Game 4, Trotz said.

RELATED: [Jill and Chuck: Holtby was terrific in Game 3 win]

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Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

Why Tom Wilson’s return to the lineup could shake up the Caps roster

The return of Tom Wilson Tuesday gave Todd Reirden his full offensive lineup for the first time this season. It is not hard to figure out where he fits in the lineup. The real question is now what his return means for the rest of the roster.

Wilson found a home on the top line last season alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He provides defensive balance to a very offensive duo; he is able to win puck battles along the boards because of his physical play, which generates more offense and he has the offensive skill and skating ability to keep up with his incredibly skilled linemates.

That was all evident on Tuesday, as Wilson scored a goal in his return in very typical Wilson fashion.

After trying in vain to find a suitable replacement for Wilson on the top line, Reirden immediately plugged him back into the top line. Instantly, a lineup that looked jumbled with players trying to find their spots suddenly looked complete again. The top nine that Washington rode to the Stanley Cup last season was restored.

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly

With Wilson back, Washington is at the maximum roster limit of 23 players and just slightly under the salary cap. But they also have two extra forwards on the roster. Most teams do not typically carry two extra forwards because it means sitting two assets in the press box every single night. You need one to plug in in case of emergency, but a second is most likely better served being traded or moved down to the AHL.

Assuming the top nine sticks, that leaves the team with Nic Dowd, Travis Boyd, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin.

If the Caps were interested in moving one of those players, a fourth line player won’t yield much in a trade. That makes placing a player on waivers as the best option.

The question is who?

There are compelling reasons to keep each of those five players. Dowd and Boyd are centers and a team can never have enough of those, Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes with seven goals in the postseason and Stephenson brings a lot of speed. The most likely choice would appear to be Jaskin who has only two points in 12 games since he was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues. There is clear potential there and he has improved drastically since he was first acquired just prior to the start of the season. There is definitely more there than what we have seen from him.

But Jaskin also was not part of last season’s Stanley Cup roster.

The good news for Jaskin and all the team’s depth players is that there is no rush for the Caps to make any sort of roster move since they can technically carry the current roster as is and, per Cap Friendly, they can still fit everyone when Brooks Orpik returns from LTIR by sending Jonas Siegenthaler back down to Hershey.

But a decision is likely to come sooner rather than later to avoid having to sit two forwards in the press box every night. That makes these next few games critical for everyone on the fourth line to make an impression.

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Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

Capitals mailbag: With Tom Wilson back, does that fix the penalty kill?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Nov. 14 edition below. Have you got a Caps question you want to be answered in next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

Getting Tom Wilson back certainly helps in terms of the penalty kill. The Caps killed off five out of six power plays in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota and the only goal they gave up came after the game was no longer in doubt. In his very first game back, Wilson logged 5:23 shorthanded minutes so you can see how important he is.

Todd Reirden wanted the penalty kill to be more aggressive this season, but the Caps have not found a way to do that while not leaving themselves vulnerable defensively. It will take time to adjust. The first goal of the game Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes came because the penalty kill got caught in the offensive zone with three Caps players going behind the goal line and they could not get back in time to set up. That’s a coachable moment. You show that video and tell the players if you are on the PK, you should never be behind the goal line.

The best thing they can do is study Arizona’s penalty kill. The Coyotes rank first in the league at 90.6-percent and have also scored an unfathomable nine shorthanded goals already, less than a quarter of the way into the season. That’s the type of penalty kill Reirden is looking for so find out what makes it so effective and replicate that.

Let’s not get too low on the power play. It still ranks second in the NHL at 30.3-percent. The production we saw at the beginning of the season was simply unsustainable. The bigger problem offensively has been five-on-five scoring, but Wilson’s return has set the lines right so that should improve as well.

From Nathan S.: I always hear that what happens on the ice stays there but I have to imagine that some tense words can be exchanged between players who have had nasty hits on them, i.e., would Pens players “have words” with Wilson about his dirty hits if they came across him in a bar? Do players ever confront their opponents off ice or do they all go hang out together after the games the way NBA players apparently do?

There are occasions where bad blood can carry over off the ice. It happens, but for the most part players and coaches are good at moving on.

It is important to remember that the division among teams and rivalries run much deeper among the fans than they do for the players. Players are very good at compartmentalizing and moving on from frustrating incidents because they have to, not just in terms of looking towards the next game, but because of their relationships with one another. These players train together, many have played together or will play together in the future. Heck, you may even play for some of those players you play against someday so it doesn’t make sense to burn bridges because you can’t let something that happened on the ice go.

Dmitrij Jaskin fought Wilson on Sept. 22, 2017. The Caps didn’t ask him if he was still upset with Wilson before claiming him off waivers because you have to move on.

That’s not to say all the players like each other. I’m sure Alex Ovechkin and Nazem Kadri aren’t buddies just like I doubt Zach Aston-Reese will be sending Wilson a Christmas card this year. But most players are smart enough to know to leave it on the ice.

Ryleigh V writes: How can I meet Oshie?

The Caps hold a number of events every year in which players interact with fans. Oshie in particular is very good at those kinds of things. My advice would be to check on the Caps’ website or their twitter account for any update on any local events. Sometimes you can meet players after practice as well at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, but not always.

Or you could just try to catch the same Metro train as him on the way to a game. If you do meet him, just don’t ask him to drink a beer through his shirt. A lot of people keep asking him to do that.