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Everything you need to know about Caps-Rangers

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Everything you need to know about Caps-Rangers

NEW YORK - News, notes and quotes as the Capitals and Rangers tee it up for Game 1 of their second-round playoff series tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden:

Marty for Zuc: With Rangers top-line right wing Mats Zuccarello reportedly out for the entire second round with a head injury, 39-year-old veteran Marty St. Louis will take his place on a top line with Rick Nash and Derrick Brassard.

St. Louis had 21 goals in the regular season but was held to just one assist against the Penguins in the first round. In 93 career playoff games he has 41 goals and 43 assists for 84 points.

St. Louis has terrorized the Caps in his 16-year career with 31 goals and 53 assists for 84 points in 77 career games against Washington.

“You can plug him anywhere in the lineup the way he competes,” said caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, who will be playing in his 100th career playoff game tonight. “He’s always kind of had a chip on his shoulder. I remember when he was in [University of] Vermont, people said he was too small to play in college and he still has a little bit of that left in him, proving people wrong.”

St. Louis, who is generously listed at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, said he’s looking forward to facing Orpik, who is 6-foot-2, 219. Well, sort of.

“He’s got experience, he’s a physical player, good stick,” St. Louis. “He’s a guy that defends well.”

No rest for weary: The Capitals will be playing in their eighth game in 17 days, while the Rangers will be playing for the first time in six days. Will it make a difference?

“We earned that rest and it let some guys get back to where they need to be,” St. Louis said.

One of those players is smooth skating defenseman Kevin Klein, who has not played since an Alex Ovechkin slapshot broke his left arm on March 11.

“We’re pretty antsy,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “You’re watching these series go six or seven games and you’re watching the intensity. We’re happy the game is finally here.”

Friendly foes: Capitals right wing Tom Wilson and Rangers right wing J.T. Miller were linemates together with the OHL Plymouth Whalers in 2011-12. Miller was taken by the Rangers with the 15th pick overall in the 2011 NHL draft. Wilson was taken by the Caps with the 16th overall pick one year later.

Miller said he remains good friends with Wilson and took exception to Wilson being labeled a dirty player.

“No, he plays a physical game, he plays hard,” Miller said. “When he gets a chance to be on the ice he’s trying to make his presence known. He likes to lay the big hits, but he’s a good player and I don’t expect him to slow down at all.”

Big bang theory: After the Caps and Isles combined for 630 hits in Round 1 it is highly unlikely this series ramps up to that same kind of physicality. The Rangers delivered 172 hits in their five-game series against the Penguins, while the Caps dished out 313 body blows.

“We’ve got a big group of forwards and you ask our D, if they get the puck and get hit all the time they’re going to get worn out,” said right wing Jason Chimera, whose 21 hits rank fourth on the Caps behind Orpik [41], Alex Ovechkin [31] and Wilson [21]. “Look at [Islanders defensemen Nick] Leddy and [Johnny] Boychuk. They weren’t jumping up in the rush because they were so tired of getting hit. You want to impose your will on guys like that and you want to hit some of their better players like [defensemen Keith] Yandle and [Dan] Girardi and [Ryan] McDonagh.”

Fehr update: Caps center Eric Fehr, knocked out of Game 3 against the Islanders with an upper body check suffered on a check by Kyle Okposo, skated on his own Thursday and Caps coach Barry Trotz said he's "very close" to returning to the lineup. 

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz compares Ovechkin to Rangers great

Here are projected lineups for Game 1:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward

Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Tim Gleason – Mike Green

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov

Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]

RANGERS

Forward lines

Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller

Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast

James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi

Marc Staal – Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle – Kevin Klein

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot

Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers

Injuries: RW Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

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Capitals re-sign Madison Bowey leaving Tom Wilson the lone remaining RFA

Defenseman Madison Bowey re-signed with the Capitals on Thursday, inking a two-year extension that will carry an average of $1 million.

Bowey carried a cap charge of $703,333 last season.

The 23-year-old appeared in 51 games for the Caps in 2017-18, amassing 12 assists, 24 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Bowey also suited up in nine contests for AHL Hershey, though he finished the season as one of the Black Aces during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup.

With Bowey back in the fold, the Caps now have six of seven defenseman from last season’s roster under contract. (Veteran Brooks Orpik remains an unrestricted free agent.)

Bowey had an uneven first year in the NHL—he didn’t play following the late-February addition of Michal Kempny—but the Caps expect that the 6-2, 198-pound right-shot blue liner will become reliable full-time player with more seasoning.

Bowey’s deal leaves Tom Wilson as the Caps' only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. The sides are in discussions on a multi-year extension.

Including Bowey’s extension, the Caps have roughly $7.3 million in salary cap space remaining, according to CapFriendly.

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