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Carrick stands by decision to go to OHL


Carrick stands by decision to go to OHL

Hes only 18 years old, but Capitals defensive prospect Connor Carrick already thinks like a family man.

When the Capitals took Carrick in the fifth round of the NHL draft last month in Pittsburgh, Carrick made sure his two younger brothers, Blake, 15, and Hunter, 11, were there to soak up the atmosphere.

And when the Caps invited him to participate in this weeks development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Carrick found a way to have his two little brothers tag along.

Maybe that explains the extra cheering Friday when Carrick scored his first goal of development camp.

I thought I heard them, Carrick said. Or maybe they were in the lobby getting nachos.

When the Capitals drafted Carrick, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Orland Park, Ill., had already signed a commitment letter to attend Michigan. But in the weeks that followed Carrick grew more interested in the opportunity to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and recently agreed to play there instead.

When people say you went back on your commitment, those are tough words to swallow, Carrick said. But they might not know all the different facets of my decision and how much sleep was lost over this decision.

At the end of the day I had to do what was best for me. If I thought Michigan was the best road for me I would have gone there 100 percent. I changed my mind and Im going to go into Plymouth 100 percent.

Although he crafted his game under the U.S. development program, Carrick said he decided to go to the OHL for several reasons. He likes the idea of playing a 68-game schedule similar to the NHL and the fact he will receive lots of ice time with the Whalers.

But he especially likes the idea of living at home with his family, which is looking to rent a home in nearby Novi, Mich. Carricks brothers are playing triple A hockey in Michigan and said his family decided its best if they stay together for the next few years.

Carrick said its important for the coaching staff at Michigan to realize that his decision was made by him and not by the Capitals.

It looked as if the Capitals pushed me one way and that could not be more wrong, he said. I was pretty much decided on Plymouth before the draft.

Many NHL teams believe Canadas major junior programs are best suited to prepare prospects for the demands of an NHL schedule, but Caps director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said the club did not try to influence Carricks decision one way or the other.

Are we happy hes going to play there? Sure, Mahoney said. Hes going to play lots of games and have lots of practices. If he had gone to college, would that be a good decision for us? Sure. Its a family decision and we would have supported him either way he chose to go.

Carrick may not possess the size, speed or passing skills of many of the defensemen taken ahead of him in the draft, but his positional play is excellent, his decision making is quick and hes not afraid to throw his body into forwards much bigger than him.

In fact, one of Carricks hardest hits came against 6-foot-4, 205-pound right wing Tom Wilson, who will be his teammate next season in Plymouth.

Hes pretty competitive, Mahoney said of Carrick. Hes not a 6-foot-4 defenseman, but hes very competitive. He had a couple good body checks the other day. He probably surprised Tom a little bit and put him flat on his back.

As for his education, Carrick said he still plans on attending classes at Michigan while playing for Plymouth. And while that may get under the skin of Wolverines fans, hes doesnt seem uncomfortable with that at all.

If they werent really upset then youre not a very good player, he said. They are kind of confused admirers, I guess.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”


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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.