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Caps beat Red Wings 6-3 for 11th straight home win

Caps beat Red Wings 6-3 for 11th straight home win

Final score: Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 3

How it happened:  It looked from the start like Washington was on its way to another blowout win as Marcus Johansson put the Caps up 1-0 just six minutes into the game. Andreas Athanasiou, however, responded with two quick first period goals to take the lead. Brett Connolly struck to tie the game at two and cap off a crazy, four-goal first period. T.J. Oshie scored in the second period to give the Caps back the lead, but Detroit struck early in the third with a beautiful goal from Henrik Zetterberg to tie it at 3. The Caps took over from there, however, as Oshie set up the game-winner for John Carlson and then scored a power play tally for the knockout punch.

What it means: The win is Washington’s 11th in a row at home and fifth in a row overall. It is also the tenth straight home game in which the Caps have scored at least five goals. Washington remains undefeated at home in 2017. 

Goals

Capitals goal: Marcus Johansson from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams at 5:57 in the first. Williams left the puck sitting just past the blue line for a streak Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov skated to Petr Mrazek’s right then tried to feed Johansson on the back door. Athanasiou almost intercepted the pass on the back check, but Johansson deftly took the puck back and fired it over the sprawled Mrazek. Caps 1, Red Wings 0

Red Wings goal: Andreas Athanasiou from Thomas Vanek and Ryan Sproul at 13:30 in the first. Athanasiou took the puck from behind the Caps net, then wheeled all the way around the face-off circle with the puck on his backhand. When he finally found a seam, he charged, putting the puck back on the  forehand and ripping a shot from the high slot past Braden Holtby. Caps 1, Red Wings 1

Red Wings goal: Andreas Athanasiou (power play) from Thomas Vanek at 16:23 in the first. Both teams battled for a loose puck in the Caps’ defensive zone, before Vanek finally tapped it loose to Athanasiou who found himself open for the shot and the goal. Caps 1, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: Brett Connolly from Lars Eller and Karl Alzner at 18:30 in the first. Mrazek kicked out the pad to save a shot from Alzner sending the puck to his right on the red line to Connolly. Despite getting shaken up on a check behind the net, Connolly was able to shoot the puck into the net from almost zero angle to tie the game. Capitals 2, Red Wings 2

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom at 1:16 in the second. After Backstrom broke up a Red Wing drive in the neutral zone, the puck found its way to Carlson who quickly passed the puck up to Oshie for the counterattack. Oshie went far-side with the wrister to beat Mrazek. Caps 3, Red Wings 2

Red Wings goal:  Henrik Zetterberg from Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist at 1:25 in the third. Mantha entered the zone on a two-on-two with Zetterberg and pulled up allowing Zetterberg to get in behind Kuznetsov who was trapped in the defensive zone. Mantha found Zetterberg with a beautiful pass and Zetterberg showed incredible patience before beating Holtby with the backhand to the top shelf. Caps 3, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: John Carlson from T.J. Oshie at 4:15 in the third. Oshie picked the pocket of Danny Dekeyser in the offensive zone then teed up Carlson for the slapshot on top of the face-off circle. Caps 4, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 14:18 in the third. Backstrom and Johansson played keep away behind the net before Backstrom fed Oshie for the one-timer. Caps 5, Red Wings 3

Capitals goal: Nicklas Backstrom (empty netter) from Jay Beagle at 18:28 in the third. Caps 6, Red Wings 3

3 stars

1. T.J. Oshie: Not only did Oshie score twice, his pickpocket steal of Dekeyser and led to an assist of the game-winning goal for Carlson.

2. Andreas Athanasiou: It's not everyday you see someone beat Holtby clean with a snapshot, but Athanasiou managed to do it twice Thursday.

3. Marcus Johansson: Johansson opened the scoring with his third goal in three games. He also added an assist in the third period on Oshie's power play tally.

Look ahead: Washington hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday in the last game before the Caps’ bye week. They will be off until Fri. Feb. 17 when they return to practice. Then it’s off to Detroit for a rematch with the Red Wings on Sat. Feb. 18.

Tell us what you think: The Capitals have been the healthiest team in the NHL this season by a wide margin. Does Andre Burakovsky leaving Thursday's game early with an upper-body injury change your thinking before the NHL trade deadline?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2014 NHL Draft: When is trading up not worth it?

The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.

But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?

NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2014

13th overall pick (first round): Jakub Vrana F

Vrana was the last forward the Caps have taken in the first round of the draft, and in him, they got a good one. Vrana came to North America at the end of his SHL season in 2015, playing in three games with the Hershey Bears. He reached the NHL in the 2016-17 season for 21 games, and then he was back with the Caps to stay in the 2017-18 season.

In his final season with the Bears, Vrana was benched in the playoffs, and it seemed he had mentally moved on to the NHL. Some criticism over his work ethic sprung up again this summer during his time playing for his native Czech Republic at the World Championships. From what we have seen in Washington, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Vrana is one of the hardest workers on the team and is always one of the last players off the ice every day at practice. This is not something the players have told us, this is something I have personally witnessed at Medstar Capitals Iceplex. He has the speed and skill to be a top-6 player, and his numbers back that up.

In 176 NHL games, Vrana has 40 goals and 40 assists and has cemented his spot in the top two lines in Washington.

39th overall pick (second round): Vitek Vanecek G

Washington moved up in the draft to snag Vanecek in the second round, giving up their second- and third-round picks to the Buffalo Sabres to move up five spots.

Vanecek is often overshadowed by fellow goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov, and though the ceiling does not ultimately appear to be as high, he is doing his best to show he still has NHL potential. Vanecek’s North American career began in the 2015-16 season which he spent mainly in South Carolina in the ECHL. He has spent the last three seasons in Hershey and was named an AHL all-star in 2018-19.

Playing in tandem with Samsonov, Vanecek had the better season but also looks to be much closer to being developed. I would project his ceiling to be as an NHL backup.

44th overall pick (second round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. They took forward Eric Cornel who, at 23, is still trying to break into the NHL after 216 games in the AHL.

74th overall pick (third round): Traded to the Buffalo Sabres

This pick was traded to Buffalo as part of the Vanecek deal. The Sabres took defenseman Brycen Martin whose NHL prospects look grim at this point as he continues playing in the ECHL with only 19 games in the AHL. He did not play in the AHL at all in 2018-19.

89th pick (third round): Nathan Walker F

The Caps made Walker the first Australian taken in the draft in NHL history. Walker had already played a year in Hershey, so the team had some familiarity with him, which is why it was willing to trade up to get him. Washington traded two fourth-round picks to the New York Rangers to acquire this pick.

Since then, he has spent the last five seasons playing primarily with the Bears with seven games up in Washington.

Walker is a good AHL player and a possible fit as an NHL fourth liner.

104th overall pick (fourth round): Traded to New York Rangers

This pick was traded to New York as part of the Walker deal. The Rangers used it to select defenseman Ryan Mantha. His career is in jeopardy after a blood clot damaged his central retinal artery and affected his vision in his left eye.

115th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, traded back to the Anaheim Ducks

In 2013, Washington traded Mathieu Perreault to Anaheim for John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick. The Caps traded this pick back to Anaheim in 2014 for Dustin Penner. The pick was then traded to the Dallas Stars, who took goalie Brent Moran.

Moran played four seasons in the OHL and now currently plays for Nipissing University. He seems like a longshot to reach the NHL at this point.

118th overall pick (fourth round): Acquired from the New York Islanders, traded to the New York Rangers

This pick was traded to the Rangers as part of the Walker deal. The Caps originally acquired this pick from the New York Islanders for goalie Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers took goalie Igor Shestyorkin. He has not yet played in North America, but his numbers in the KHL are outrageous. Last season playing for SKA St. Petersburg, he had a 1.11 GAA and .953 save percentage in 28 games. He is expected to play in the AHL with Hartford next season.

134th overall pick (fifth round): Shane Gersich F

After three years at the University of North Dakota, Gersich signed a professional contract near the end of the 2017-18 season and jumped right in the NHL, playing in five games for the Caps in the regular season and playoffs combined. He spent his second professional season in Hershey where he scored eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

Gersich is a fast winger who can be a bottom-six NHL forward, but still needs a bit more time to develop to get there.

159th overall pick (sixth round): Steven Spinner F

The Caps acquired this pick and goalie Edward Pasquale in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets for a sixth- and two seventh-round picks.

Spinner played four years in college but did not hold out for free agency and signed a professional contract. He played two total games with the Hershey Bears at the end of the 2018-19 season.

164th overall pick (sixth round): Traded to the Winnipeg Jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Pavel Kraskovsky who is still playing in the KHL.

192nd overall pick (seventh round): Acquired from the Nashville Predators, traded to the Winnipeg jets

Traded to the Jets in the deal mentioned above. The Jets used it on forward Matt Ustaski. He played four years in the University of Wisconsin and has played in one AHL game and 21 total ECHL games since going pro.

194th overall pick (seventh round): Kevin Elgestal F

Elgestal has spent his hockey career playing in Sweden. He played a few preseason games with the Caps but really seemed to struggle. The Caps no longer hold his NHL rights.

Takeaways

The Caps traded up to get Vanecek in the second round and Walker in the third. If you have been following along with these draft profiles, you have probably noticed by now that it is really hard to find value later in the draft. If you can find a player you like in the first three rounds and it will only take lower draft picks to get there, you do it because you probably are not losing very much.

Having said that, goalies are a bit different and typically slip down in the draft. When you trade up to take a goalie in the second round, that means you believe you have found a bonafide NHL starter. That’s probably not what they have in Vanecek, That third-round pick Washington traded away came five spots before Brayden Point was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Point flew under everyone’s radar in the draft, obviously, as he fell to the third round. Though there is no guarantee Washington would have used that pick on Point, it is maddening to think that the Caps legitimately had a chance to take Point but instead traded up to take Vanecek.

The good news for this draft is that Vrana looks like he will be a great top-6 producer, they found fifth-round value in Gersich who can be an NHL third-liner and they ultimately did not lose that much in their trades up the draft even if neither turned into a home run.

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The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.

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The chance to win another Stanley Cup brought Caps forward Carl Hagelin back to D.C.

Carl Hagelin spent last season feeling more like an NHL employee than part of an actual team. 

Traded twice in three months, dealing with a knee injury that cost him 20 games in Los Angeles before eventually landing with the Capitals, Hagelin was a vagabond. His car was in California. His wife and daughter were in Sweden. His mind was everywhere at once. It wasn’t until March, after the trade to Washington, that things finally began to feel normal again.

“When I got traded to Washington, I didn't really know what to expect,” Hagelin said. “But those [27] games I was able to play there gave me a better understanding of how good of a team it is and how much fun it is to play for the Caps. After the season, you're left with a bitter taste, obviously, not making it as far as we wanted in the playoffs. But in my exit meetings, I told them I wanted to stay if we could find something.”

That happened on Sunday. The trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday cleared some space under the salary cap and Hagelin, 30, signed a four-year, $11 million contract. That was far from guaranteed when the season ended with a disappointing first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

The Capitals had another pending unrestricted free agent in Brett Connolly, and forward Jakub Vrana needs a new deal as an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for Andre Burakovsky. Niskanen was the first domino to fall with his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. That saved $3.405 million on the cap and opened some breathing room.

All Hagelin could do was wait to see if that cap space actually materialized.

He spent time recovering his belongings left behind following trades from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in November and to Washington in February. He then returned home to Sweden with his family and left it up to his agent and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan to find common ground. Things came together quickly, and Hagelin and the team each got what they wanted: Term for him (four years) and a lower annual salary-cap number ($2.75 million) for them.

Like many of his teammates, watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on with him left a sour taste in Hagelin’s mouth. This is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, a player who’s gone on deep runs – mostly at Washington’s expense – many times dating to his time with the New York Rangers. The Capitals fell short in 2019. Hagelin sees a team capable of making it back to that level. He wanted to be part of it. 

“I’ve been fortunate to be in the playoffs every year since I got in the league, and I’ve been to five conference finals and three Stanley Cup Finals," Hagelin said. "And that’s what you love -- being in those situations."

“And every time around this time of year you watch all these other teams play in the playoffs and play in the finals, and it pisses you off a little bit. So that’s what I want to get back to, and if I didn’t think the Caps had a chance to play in the finals and win the Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t have signed with them.”

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