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Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

Nicklas Backstrom forced overtime, but the Caps fell to the Lightning 2-1 in a shootout.

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring in the second period with a power play goal. The penalty killers were caught low as the puck went to the corner. A failed clear attempt went to Hedman who fed Kucherov at the blue line. With plenty of room to work with, Kucherov unleased a monster slap shot to beat Braden Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom pulled the Caps even in the third period when he called his own number on the power play, sending a wrister from the top of the circle past goalie Ben Bishop. With no winner in overtime, the game went to a shootout where the Caps lost in four rounds after Brian Boyle netted his first ever shootout goal.

What it means: Washington has now lost three straight games for the first time since Feb. 2015. The loss drops the Caps in a three-way tie with Tampa and the Philadelphia Flyers in the final two wild card spots. It was Washington's first loss to the Lightning since Nov. 1, 2014 after a stretch of five straight wins. The Caps have, however, earned at least one point in 12 of their last 13 games against Tampa.

Staying hot: Backstrom's goal was his seventh of the season and first on the power play. Six of those seven goals have come in the last nine games as the veteran center has really stepped up his game in recent weeks. He leads Washington in points this season with 21. Backstrom now has points in 11 of his 1ast 13 games against the Lightning.

Special again?: The power play struggles continued on Saturday as the Caps failed to convert on their first three opportunities of the game, bringing their streak up to 13 straight failed power plays. Then Backstrom finally, finally put the Caps on the board with his game-tying tally in the third period. It was the team's first power play goal since Nov. 25 against the Buffalo Sabres. For the night, Washington went 1-for-6 on the man advantage. Not a good night by any stretch, but the one goal the team did score proved crucial.

Trouble with the law: With two penalties on the night, Alex Ovechkin now leads the team in minor penalties with 10, one more than Lars Eller whose early season struggles were well documented. Ovechkin closed the gap quickly with four minors in the last two games. It's hard to blame him for either penalty on Saturday. In the first period, Ovechkin was tripped and then reached his stick out while on the ice after the puck. Victor Hedman tripped over it and Ovechkin received the only call. In the second period, Ovechkin slashed Hedman to try to break up a scoring opportunity. Even if you want to absolve him of both penalties in this game, however, the fact that he new leads the team is not what you want to see from the team's biggest offensive weapon.

Blanked: With Backstrom's third-period goal, the Caps avoided being shutout in consecutive games for the first time since March 2-4 of 2012. At that time, Dale Hunter was the head coach. To say that offense wasn't Hunter's top priority would be an understatement.

Look ahead: The Caps return home for a brief two-game homestand starting on Monday against the Buffalo Sabres. They host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday and then reacquaint themselves with the Sabres on Friday, this time in Buffalo.

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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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