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Dmitry Orlov's third period mistakes prove costly in Caps' loss to Islanders

Dmitry Orlov's third period mistakes prove costly in Caps' loss to Islanders

Locked in a goalies' duel, the Caps blinked first in a 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.

How it happened: Braden Holtby and Jaroslav Halak were perfect through two periods, but a costly fumble at the blue line by Dmitry Orlov proved disastrous. With the Caps buzzing on their best power play of the night, Orlov tried to stop the puck from clearing the offensive zone, but it squirted past him. Rather than abandon the play and immediately get back on defense, Orlov instead tried to corral the puck. That left Shane Prince free behind the defense. Once Casey Czikas got the puck away from Orlov, he launced Prince on the breakaway and Prince finished the play with the game's first goal.

Just 3:28 later, the Islanders made the Caps' pay for another Orlov turnover as he chipped the puck from the corner of the defensive zone back into the slot. The Islanders pounced on it immediately and after a scrum in front of the net, Brock Nelson finally fired the puck past the helpless Holtby. Jason Chimera added another goal just one minute later as the floodgates opened.

After getting blanked the first 43:15 of the game, the Islanders scored three goals in a window of 4:28 in the third period.

What it means: The loss is the second straight for Washington and snaps a 10-game point streak for the Caps against the Islanders. The Caps have now lost three of their last five games and are 2-4-2 against Metropolitan Division foes this season.

Rookie debut: It may have ended in a loss, but it was a night to remember for Jakub Vrana who made his NHL debut. It didn't take him long to make his presence felt as he registered the Caps' first shot on goal of the game, a pretty backhand that forced a nice save from Halak. Vrana was also given the rookie treatment during warmups as the Caps let him skate out alone for a few laps before joining him on the ice.

Too little, too late: The Caps thought they had broken the scoreless tie in the last second of the first period as Justin Williams tipped in a beautiful pass by Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov's proved to be a little too patient on the play, however. The goal was reviewed and it was determined the puck did not completely cross the line until after the clock struck 0.0 and the goal was disallowed.

You can watch it here.

It was just that kind of night for Williams. In addition to the overturned goal, he also took an elbow up high from Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck who was not assessed a penalty. Williams also had a season-high seven shots on goal, but walked away with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

An old nemesis: Any mention of Halak is bound to stir up memories of the Capitals' stunning playoff loss in 2010 in which Halak stood on his head for the Montreal Canadiens in an improbable upset of the Caps. He recaptured that form on Thursday as he turned aside all 38 shots he faced in his first shutout of the season. Heading into Thursday's game, Halak's numbers on the season were not pretty. In 14 games he had managed only a .904 save percentage and a whopping 3.08 GAA. He had not allowed fewer than two goals and allowed more than two in 10 of his 14 appearances. But there's just something about the Caps when it comes to Halak.

Look ahead: The Caps head south to Tampa Bay for a Saturday night matchup with the Lightning on Saturday. They then return to Washington for a brief two-game home stand against the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins.

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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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