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Concern about depth, championship mindset prompted the trade for Shattenkirk

Concern about depth, championship mindset prompted the trade for Shattenkirk

NEW YORK—Although Matt Niskanen is expected to return Tuesday night against the Rangers, his absence the past two games made one thing abundantly clear to Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan: he needed bolster the blue line in the event a key defenseman gets hurt in the playoffs.

So, on Monday night, MacLellan made a bold move, acquiring former All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues.

“We’ve always talked about defensive depth,” MacLellan said on a conference call with reporters. “If a top-4 guy goes down, what are we going to do? I think that played a big part in the decision. The timing of Nisky’s injury where he missed two games maybe created the urgency to pursue it more aggressively.”

MacLellan added: “This gives us insurance if something like that happens where one of our top guys misses a few games.”   

The Blues’ asking price, according to MacLellan, was “in line” with the cost for similar top tier rentals in recent years. As part of the deal, the Caps sent a first round draft pick, prospect Zach Sanford and a conditional pick to St. Louis.

“Every year, to me, it’s a first plus a prospect for the top [unrestricted free agent] guys, and it goes from there,” MacLellan said. “I think the market is fairly similar to what it’s been in the past. So this is in line with what’s happened previously.”

MacLellan said he expects the coaching staff to use the final 21 games of the regular season to figure out where Shattenkirk best fits into the lineup, at even strength and on the power play. 

RELATED: Shattenkirk trade may lead to another deal for the Capitals

Shattenkirk is expected to meet the team in New York and make his Capitals' debut at Madison Square Garden.  

MacLellan also said he consulted T.J. Oshie and Brooks Orpik prior to making the deal. Oshie played with Shattenkirk in St. Louis; Orpik played with him on Team USA.

“I’ve done as much homework as I can on the person,” MacLellan said. “I’ve talked to T.J. Oshie. I’ve talked to Brooks Orpik [about] what kind of guy he is, how would he fit in, what’s his personality like, do the guys like him. I did as much as I could on that side of it to reassure us that he’s a good fit personality wise.”

MacLellan acknowledged that bringing on a big minute blueliner such as Shattenkirk could diminish other players' roles. But he hopes those players will be able to see the bigger picture.

“When you bring in a player of this stature, there’s an excitement, an energy that goes throughout the room,” MacLellan said. “Everybody gets pumped up for the last part of the season. They get excited. You can never tell what it does to the chemistry.”

“As far as the on-ice stuff, there’s a degree of uncertainty,” he added. “It changes roles a little bit. People get less ice time. People get less power play time. I guess the hope is players and coaches and everybody manages it, and that the overall philosophy is everyone is doing what’s best for this team to be successful.”

And what constitutes successful at this point?

“Winning a championship,” MacLellan said.  

MORE CAPS: Two forwards called up from Hershey prior to game vs. Rangers

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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Capitals prepare for a Flyers team out to show the NHL they are more than just a hot streak

Capitals prepare for a Flyers team out to show the NHL they are more than just a hot streak

The Capitals are back in action for the second round robin game on Thursday as they take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all the action starting with Caps Pregame Live at 3 p.m. Watch the game and stick with NBC Sports Washington afterward for Caps Postgame Live.

Here's everything you need to know for Caps-Flyers.

Standings update

Here are the current round robin standings:

Tampa Bay 4 points
Philadelphia Flyers 2 points
Capitals 1 point
Boston Bruins 0 points

Tampa Bay and Boston have both played two games. Washington and Philadelphia have played only one.

Everything is still on the table for the Caps. They can win the round robin but they will have to win on Thursday to keep those hopes alive. A regulation loss will mean Washington can finish no higher than third.

Carlson update: Proceed with caution

The Caps are still being cautious with defenseman John Carlson. Though he continues to practice, head coach Todd Reirden said Wednesday that the team would continue to evaluate his situation on a day by day basis so it is unclear if he will play on Thursday. Carlson did not play in Monday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning after getting tangled up in the team's lone exhibition game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The team continues to take a cautious approach with Carlson and that makes sense. It took about five minutes to realize the round robin games were nowhere close to the same intensity as the qualifying round games as none of the top four teams want to risk any injury in these games. Though there is no definitive answer as of yet on Carlson, it would not be surprising to see him sit out again, especially considering the Caps still managed to earn a point without him against Tampa Bay.

In addition to Carlson's possible absence, the team will also be without center Lars Eller who departed Toronto on Thursday to be with his family for the birth of his second child. Travis Boyd is expected to fill-in on the third line in Eller's place.

RELATED: LARS ELLER LEAVES NHL BUBBLE FOR BIRTH OF SECOND CHILD

Here's a projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon - Dmitry Orlov
Michal Kempny - Radko Gudas
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen

Goalie matchup

The Caps will be going with Braden Holtby in net again after he stopped 26 out of 28 shots against the Lightning on Monday. Reirden was very non-committal when asked about Vitek Vanecek and it certainly does not sound as if there is any thought to getting him into Thursday's game.

The Flyers, on the other hand, will turn to goalie Brian Elliott over the young Carter Hart. This a break for Washington after the 21-year-old Hart was fantastic against the Boston Bruins in the team's first round robin matchup with 34 saves on 35 shots. In the regular season, Elliott managed a .903 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

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When last we met

The Caps and Flyers last played on March 4 in an ugly 5-2 loss for Washington. In fact, if you combine the last two games, the Caps have been outscored 12-4 by Philadelpiha. This has been a tough matchup for the Caps this season as the Flyers are the only of the three round robin teams in which Washington has a losing record against this season (1-3-0).

Flyers are still rolling

When the NHL paused the season, Philadelphia had won nine of its last 10. The Flyers were just one point shy of the Caps in the Metropolitan Division standings and, based on how both teams were trending, it seems likely Philadelphia would have overtaken them for the division. If you expected the Flyers to cool off after nearly five months off, however, they showed in their first round robin game that is not going to be the case.

The Flyers rolled to a 4-1 win over the Bruins, the top team in the conference, and now take aim at the top seed in the conference. Clearly this team is not going to fade away with its win streak now well in the past. In just his first year behind the bench in Philadelphia, Alain Vigneault is getting the most out of his team and has already turned them into a contender in the East.

“I think the coaching change did a lot for them, but at the same time, all their young players developed, they got better and they are so good defensively too so I think that is what the coach brought in," Nicklas Backstrom said. "I think it is the combination of everything."

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