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Caps dream team: Semin, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin

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Caps dream team: Semin, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin

In Finland today Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will skate together as teammates, representing Russia in the quarterfinal round of the World Hockey Championships.

For a time, Capitals fans held out hope they would one day see the three talented forwards together on the same ice at the Verizon Center.

Not so much anymore.

Who wouldnt like to be a fly on the wall listening to what Ovechkin and Semin are telling Kuznetsov about the Capitals?

With Semin, 28, headed toward unrestricted free agency, Ovechkin, 26, unhappy about his playing time and Kuznetsov, 20, committed to playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the next two years, Capitals general manager George McPhee is faced with a very difficult philosophical decision.

Is the risk of drafting highly touted Russian players worth the reward?

For years, other NHL general managers have shied away from drafting Russian players, fearing they would do what Kuznetsov is doing spurning the NHL for the KHL.

Weve talked to Kuznetsovs agent, McPhee said. It doesnt appear that hes going to make it over for next season. Hes a young guy, hes only 20 years old, so we understand why he might not want to leave yet. But at some point hell want to come to this league.
Its the best league in the world and hes a heck of a player, so when hes ready to come well be ready for him.

No one has ever questioned Kuznetsovs talent. In fact, some say hes the worlds best player not in the NHL.

In 49 games with Traktor Chelyabinsk this season he posted career highs with 19 goals, 21 assists and 40 points and delivered seven goals and two assists in 12 playoff games.
He was the best player on the ice at the 2012 World Junior Championships with six goals
and seven assists in six games.

Several NHL general managers, including McPhee, believe Kuznetsov would make an immediate impact in the NHL next season. McPhee says hes concerned that two more seasons in the KHL will adversely affect Kuzentsovs transition to the NHL if and when it comes.

It is a concern, McPhee said. We like him a lot as a player. We think hes a terrific player. But at the same time, I think he can take the bad habits out of the game. On the other hand, theyre usually bigger and stronger if they come a little bit later.

If McPhee had known at the NHL trade deadline that Kuznetsov would not be coming to Washington next season he might have dealt his rights. There were several NHL general managers, including Ottawas Bryan Murray, who asked about the talented Russian.

But with Kuznetsov committed to two more years in Russia those offers likely wont be coming this summer. And if Semin decides to make his millions elsewhere, the Caps will be left with just two Russians on their roster Ovechkin and defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

Another Russian prospect, forward Stanislav Galiev, also stands a good chance of making the Capitals 2012-13 roster.

As for filling the potential voids left by Semin and Kuznetsov, McPhee says its on his list of things to do this summer, after hiring a head coach, of course.

Id just be speculating, McPhee said. Every summer is a challenge with these jobs. Theres never a summer when you dont have anything to do.

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

The Capitals are going to be a bit shorthanded when they take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in Denver (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington Plus). Friday’s game will be exactly one year to the date since the Caps last played in Colorado, a 6-2 loss just two days after a 6-3 loss in Nashville. Those two games were the low point of the entire 2017-18 season forcing the Caps to rally in their return home.

Here are three things to watch as the Caps hope for a better result this year in Denver:

Injury adjustments

Prior to Friday’s morning skate, the team announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby will all be out due to upper-body injuries. Holtby suffered an injury the morning of Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg while both Kuznetsov and Oshie were injured off of questionable hits from the Jets during the game.

There is at least some good news as defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, is back in.

With all the injuries and the players coming and going, here’s a look at what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

Obviously a very different look offensively than what we have seen to this point.

Injuries are never good, but the silver lining is seeing who steps up when they are presented with an opportunity. Burakovsky is someone who desperately needs to break out and he is playing on a second line with a lot of skill. Boyd moving up to the third line is a player to watch as well.

Ilya Samsonov will be the backup goalie

With Holtby out, Pheonix Copley will make his third consecutive start. But the Caps won’t be using an emergency backup this time as the team has recalled star prospect Samsonov from the Hershey Bears and he was on the ice Friday morning in Denver. In a corresponding move, Jonas Siegenthaler was reassigned to Hershey, but that may be just a paper move and he will most likely stay with the team for the remainder of the road trip.

In eight appearances in Hershey this season, Samsonov has registered a 3.73 GAA and .875 save percentage. Those are not great numbers by any means, but both he and the team have improved drastically since the start of the season.

It is, of course, unlikely that Samsonov will play, but there is at least a chance of Samsonov getting into his first NHL game.

Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche

Ironically enough, Colorado will have two goalies with more Capitals experience than the Caps will on Friday with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.

On Friday, it will be Grubauer who gets the nod against his former team and the team in which he helped win a Stanley Cup last season.

“Looking down, yeah it’s going to be weird seeing guys on the other end, but then once the puck drops it’s all about business,” Grubauer told reporters on Friday.

Grubauer has had a rough start with his new team, posting a 3.55 GAA and .893 save percentage, but despite that he also has managed a 3-1-1 record. That's a stark contrast to his start last year in which he posted incredible numbers but struggled to get into the win column early in the season.

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”

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