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Caps' win streak clipped by Canadiens in narrow loss

Caps' win streak clipped by Canadiens in narrow loss

The Washington Capitals fell to the Montreal Canadiens in a narrow 2-1 loss on Saturday.

How it happened: Artturi Lehkonen got inside positioning on Matt Niskanen in the corner to take possession of the puck. Seeing a clear lane behind the net, Lehkkonen called his own number and caught Braden Holtby by surprise with the quick wraparound that went five-hole to put Montreal up 1-0. The Caps took advantage of a two-man advantage in the second period as Justin Williams found Nicklas Backstrom for the sharp angle shot on the wide open net, but Montreal responded just 2:23 later.

With Max Pacioretty driving into the Caps' zone, Karl Alzner called for Marcus Johansson to cover the trailing Jeff Petry, but Johansson lost his man and Petry was all alone in front of the net for the easy tip in.

What it means:  The loss snaps what was a six-game win streak and a seven-game point streak. The Caps are now 5-3-0 against Canadian teams this season and 7-2-1 against teams from the Atlantic Division. The loss is also the first regulation loss of Braden Holtby's career against Montreal. His career record coming into Saturday's game was 8-0-2.

RELATED: Sanford shows flashes in loss to Montreal

Turning point: The game was close for much of the game, but trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, Washington did not register a shot on goal until there was less than seven minutes remaining in the game. Washington put on a good push at the end of the period, but goalie Carey Price was up to the task. Had the Caps been able to generate that kind of pressure throughout the period, perhaps it would have had a different outcome.

Slow start: Saturday’s game was the third straight in which the Caps gave up the first goal. Starting strong was a focus of the Caps coming into the season and, for the most part, they have done well, scoring first in 20 of their 30 games so far. The difference in win percentage is significant. When scoring first, the Caps are 15-3-2. After Saturday's loss, Washington is 4-5-1 when yielding the first goal.

Weber scare: Montreal's workhorse defenseman, Shea Weber, left the game in the second period after taking a puck to the knee on a blocked shot. Weber played nearly half of the first period with 9:38 of ice time. Luckily for Montreal, he returned for the start of the third period.

Staying special: When you get a two-man advantage against Carey Price, considering how tough an opponent he is, you have to score. The Caps did just that in the second period. With the goal, Washington has now scored a power play goal in seven of its last eight games and has 14 power play goals in its last 15 games.

We're going streaking: Backstrom's second-period goal gives him six points in his last six games (2 goals, four assists) and 18 in his last 16 games (8 goals, 10 assists). Williams and Alex Ovechkin picked up assists on the play. The assist extends Williams' point streak to four games. He now has seven points (5 goals, 2 assists) in his last seven. Ovechkin, meanwhile, has four points in his last four games. He now sits just 11 points shy of 1,000.

Look ahead: The Capitals get a few days off before they return to action on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers who just saw their 10-game win streak snapped on Saturday. Washington then returns home to host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday in the last game before the NHL’s winter break.

MORE CAPS: Capitals Twitter trolls their own fans

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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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