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Caps move one step closer to Presidents' Trophy with dominant win over Toronto

Caps move one step closer to Presidents' Trophy with dominant win over Toronto

Final score: Washington Capitals 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

How it happened: The Capitals dominated the opening frame, outshooting the Leafs 13-3 and outscoring them 1-0 thanks to a Lars Eller goal off a great cycle play by the third line. Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first goal as a Cap on a power play in the second period. Nate Schmidt added Tom Wilson added exclamation points in the third period. Mitch Marner ended the shutout bid late in the third.

What it means: The win is Washington’s ninth in their last 11 games. The Caps maintained a five-point lead over Pittsburgh for the top spot in the Metropolitan. They did not clinch the division or the Presidents’ Trophy, however, because of Pittsburgh’s win over Columbus. The magic number for Washington clinch is one.

Goals

Caps goal: Lars Eller from Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky at 14:34 in the 1st period. Burakovsky turned on the jets to beat out an icing call behind the net and tapped it along the boards to Eller. The cycle was on as Eller passed to Connolly who passed to Burakovsky who backhanded a pass that Eller one-timed into the back of the net. Caps 1, Maple Leafs 0

Caps goal: Kevin Shattenkirk (power play) from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin at 10:00 in the 2nd period. The Caps gave the Leafs a different look on the power play with a lot of player movement. As Backstrom held the puck, Shattenkirk and Ovechkin switched positions with Shattenkirk heading to the circle and Ovechkin going to the point. That drew a penalty killer too high to Ovechkin, leaving an open lane for the cross-ice pass to Shattenkirk. From there, the goal was practically a layup. Caps 2, Maple Leafs 0

Caps goal: Nate Schmidt from Justin Williams and Brett Connolly at 8:11 in the 3rd period. An aggressive forecheck generated a turnover in the Leafs' zone. Williams pounced on it and gave it to Connolly. Connolly skated to the corner to draw the defense, then backhanded a pass to the high slot and a wide open Schmidt. Schmidt wristed the puck home. Caps 3, Leafs 0

Caps goal: Tom Wilson from Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle at 16:46 in the 3rd. Winnik chipped the puck into the Leaf's zone as a dump-in, but Wilson caught the Leafs on a horrendous change and was in all by himself. He cut inside then slid the puck through the five-hole for the goal. Caps 4, Leafs 0

Leafs goal: Mitch Marner (power play) from James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak at 18:52 in the 3rd period. Van Riemsdyk pulled off a great pass through the legs to setup a wide open Marner for the easy goal. Caps 4, Leafs 1

3 stars

1. Lars Eller: How good did that goal feel? Eller scored his first non-empty net goal since Feb. 7 thanks to a great cycle play. He also drew two penalties on the night and was relentless on the forecheck. His effort level was fantastic all game long.

2. Alex Ovechkin: Columbus may have awoken something in Ovechkin in Sunday's game because he was a one-man wrecking ball to start this game. He finished with a team-high four hits on the night and also registered an assist on On Shattenkirk's goal.

3. Philipp Grubauer: Grubauer nearly earned his fourth shutout of the season turning aside 27 of the 28 shots he faced. The Leafs did not manage to get many pucks on net, but he was up to the task whenever they did.

Look ahead: The Caps return home on Wednesday to host the New York Rangers. They then wrap-up the regular season with another back-to-back on Saturday and starting in Boston and then ending in Washington against Florida.

Tell us what you think: After Tuesday's results, Washington and Toronto were slated at first round opponents for the playoffs. The standings are not yet final and bearing in mind that a postseason series is very different than Game 79 of the regular season, how do you think the Caps would fare in a seven-game series against the Leafs?

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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