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Carlson's big night power Caps past Lightning

Carlson's big night power Caps past Lightning

The Caps scored early and never looked back against the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to the 4-0 win on Friday.

How it happened: It didn’t take very long for the Caps to get on the board. Hampered by a screen from Jay Beagle, Andrei Vasilevskiy went for the glove save on a slap shot from John Carlson, but the puck bounced off the glove and into the net just 55 seconds into the game. Carlson would strike again in the first period, scoring on a one-time set up by Marcus Johansson from behind the net. Alex Ovechkin added to the lead in the third period with a breakaway goal thanks to a phenomenal pass by Dmitry Orlov.

The exclamation point came in the third period as Marcus Johansson launched out of the penalty box and fired a wrister past Vasilevskiy to make it 4-0. At that point, the Lighting threw in the towel, pulling Vasilevskiy and replacing him with AHL callup Kristres Gudlevskis.

What it means: The win snaps a two-game skid for Washington and ties them with the idle Philadelphia Flyers for the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Washingotn is now 18-0-0 when scoring three or more goals this season.

Turning point: The Capitals were dominant both offensively and defensively in the first period. Not only did they score twice, they also limited the Lighting to only nine total shot attempts. Carlson finished the first period with as many goals as Tampa had shots on goal (two). That is the tied for the fewest shots the Caps have allowed in a period this season. They also held the St. Louis Blues to two shots in the first period on Nov. 23.

Making up for lost time: Carlson is one of the Caps' top offensive weapons on the blue line, but the points have been hard to come by this season. Heading into Friday's game, Carlson had only one goal. With his two goals against the Lightning, Carlson now leads the Caps defensemen in goals with three. Friday was the second multi-goal game of Carlson's career. The last time he managed two goals was Dec. 2, 2014 against the Vancouver Canucks.

You shall not pass: Though he wasn't tested early, Braden Holtby was strong in net for the Caps turning aside 23 shots in a shutout performance. It was his third shutout of the season, tying him for third in the NHL. That also ties Holtby's total for last season in what was a Vezina-winning campaign for the Caps netminder.

Milestones approaching: With two assists, Nicklas Backstrom now has 20 on the season and sits just three assists shy of 500 for his career. Ovechkin’s breakaway goal in the second period pulled him to within 10 points of 1,000 career points. The goal was his third in six games and 15th of the season.

A helping hand: Tom Wilson recorded an assist on the first goal of the game. That marks the first assist of the season for Wilson. Wilson’s first assist of the season. That is a bit off the pace he set in 2015-16 in which he recorded 16 assists.

Look ahead: In observance of the Christmas holiday, no NHL games will be played Dec. 24-26. The Caps will be back in action on Dec. 27 in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders.

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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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