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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: MacLellan signs a No. 3 goalie

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: MacLellan signs a No. 3 goalie

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign.

The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Signing Joe Cannata as the No. 3 goalie

The Caps made a number of minor league moves in the offseason and while I won't go into each and every one of them, the signing of Joe Cannata deserves some discussion considering he will be the guy the team calls up in case of injury to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer.

What do you get the guy who has everything? That's how the offseason felt a bit for the Capitals who had very few offseason needs. With the departure of goalies Justin Peters and Dan Ellis, however, the Caps found themselves in serious need of a No. 3 goalie.

First, an explanation. When many fans heard the team was looking for a goalie, their reaction was why? They have Holtby, Grubauer and 2015 first-round pick Ilya Samsonov, right? Problem solved.

Not so much.


Samsonov is under contract with the KHL for the next two years. Should the Caps find themselves in need of a goalie this year, Samsonov would not be available to them. Even if he was, a 19-year-old with no NHL experience would not be their first choice. As for their other prospects, Adam Carlson will head to ECHL South Carolina this year while Vitek Vanecek will get the bump from the ECHL to AHL Hershey. That still leaves one opening in the AHL.

Enter Joe Cannata.

What exactly does a team look for in a third goalie? Someone who would be comfortable spending the entire season in the AHL, but who can be called up to the NHL on a short-term basis. Someone who can sit on the bench and enter an NHL game in relief if the need arises. If Holtby suffers a minor tweak and is out for two weeks, for example, then Cannata will be called up to serve as Grubauer's back up.

What we are not talking about is someone who can replace Holtby or Grubauer in case of long-term injury. At that point, the Caps would almost certainly bring in someone via trade. Goalies capable of playing in the NHL long term don't sign deals to play in the AHL.

Cannata, 26, has 88 games of AHL experience, including 40 games last season in Utica, where he went 20-13-6 with two shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average (GAA) and a .909 save percentage.

"He'll be the third goalie, work with Vanecek in the American League," general manager Brian MacLellan said at development camp. "[Goalie coach Mitch Korn] and [associate goalie coach Scott Murray] will try and develop both those guys to get to the next level."

Last year, the Caps went with experience by signing Ellis, a veteran journeyman goalie with over 200 games of NHL experience. He did well over the course of the season with a 2.38 GAA and .908 save percentage, but he ran out of gas in the playoffs, getting torched in his only two games with a 4.80 GAA and .843 save percentage.

Cannata, on the other hand, has no NHL experience. Clearly, the Caps have decided to go younger with a goalie tandem of Cannata and Vanecek.

At 26, there's certainly higher upside to Cannata than there was for Ellis. He continues to improve his game and could ultimately develop into a solid AHL starter or even an NHL backup, but I have to wonder at this point just how much confidence Barry Trotz would have in him if he needed to call him up in October or November.

Grade: B

If everything goes according to plan, this will be the last Caps fans think about Cannata this season. Holtby and Grubauer will again be the Caps' top two netminders and Cannata will spend the entire year in the AHL where he has shown he can be successful. What we are talking about here is a goalie who can be successful in Hershey and who the Caps would be comfortable comfortable with for a short-term call up. Cannata checks that first box, but otherwise seems like a curious choice.

With no NHL experience, it's hard to imagine Trotz having that much faith in him. Granted, it doesn't take much experience to sit on the bench, but there are plenty of free agents available with some NHL experience that perhaps would have been a better fit. I'm not a scout and I can't tell you what they see in Cannata, but clearly they saw something that told them it was worth the risk.

Cannata's upside is a plus, but I'm not sure Hershey is better off this year with Cannata and Vanecek than last year with Peters and Ellis and I'm not sure just how much faith Trotz will have in Cannata even in the short-term.


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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

The Caps return to action Wednesday as they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m., NBCSN) in a Metropolitan Division clash.

Here are four things you should be watching for in this game.

The schedule finally gives the Caps a break

The early season schedule for Washington has been bizarre to say the least. Finally, they will be catching a break on Wednesday as the Rangers will be playing in the second leg of a back-to-back.

That certainly does not guarantee a victory, but it is something the Caps are very aware of and they hope to take advantage.

“I think speed is a big part of the game and for them to be fatigued off the back-to-back is definitely going to help us whether we move the puck a little quicker than we would in other games just kind of knowing they are coming off that back-to-back,” Nathan Walker said.

“We've got to make them skate, we've got to make their D go back for pucks,” T.J. Oshie said. “I don't feel like they're going to look tired at the start of the game, usually that comes towards the end of the game, second half, and so you've got to work to drain them down a little bit and we've got to take advantage of that opportunity tonight.”

Top-line Stephenson

Stephenson was added to the top line on Saturday with no practice other than the morning skate that day. A few days between games has given him a chance to practice with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and it should pay dividends on Wednesday.

This game also should be a good opportunity for Stephenson who was added to the top for his speed. Playing a tired Rangers team is something he will need to take advantage of.

“It's always tough to play back-to-back and with the travel and stuff like that,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I think that that's going to be important and just to play a full 60, that's something that we want to get consistent with and we haven't been so far … But for the most part, I think the start will really help us tonight.”

Nathan Walker returns

The Caps made a change to the lineup for Wednesday’s game as Nathan Walker will be in for Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.

When asked why he made the change, Reirden said, “Just a different look. A team that's on a back-to-back, we wanted to really come at them with some speed, tenacity and intensity that we know we always get from Nathan so thought it was a good add into tonight's lineup.

The Caps have got to get more offense from their bottom six and adding the speedy Walker to the bottom six could provide a boost. He has had trouble playing within the system in the past and his play has been more frenzied than controlled at times, but with Tom Wilson still suspended, there’s definitely an opportunity for Walker to earn more playing time depending on how he plays Wednesday.

King Henry remains on his throne

In addition to a tired Rangers team, the Caps are also expected to face a tired goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist started New York’s game on Tuesday and is expected to start again on Wednesday against Washington. That is not confirmed as the Rangers did not have a morning skate because of the back-to-back, but it is believed Lundqvist will play again.

There was a time when Lundqvist was considered the best netminder in the NHL and he is off to a phenomenal start this season with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games thus far.

But how will the 36-year-old goalie handle a back-to-back?


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Caps vs. Rangers: A look back at playoff heroes from the past

Caps vs. Rangers: A look back at playoff heroes from the past

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers will meet for the first time this season on Wednesday at Capital One Arena (7 p.m., NBCSN). There’s a lot of history between these two teams.

The Caps and Rangers have met nine times in the playoffs, producing a good number of memorable postseason moments and heroes.

Here’s a look back at some of the more memorable playoff heroes between these two teams.

1990: John Druce’s monster postseason

Before Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly’s 2018 postseason heroics, there was John Druce. In the 1989-90 season, Druce scored eight goals and 11 points in 24 games for the Capitals. No one could have possibly predicted what he was going to do in the playoffs that year.

Druce became unstoppable in the playoffs in 1990, scoring 14 goals and 17 points in 15 games, but it took him a while to get going.

Washington defeated the New Jersey Devils in six games of the first round setting up a second round matchup against the first place Rangers. Druce had three goals against the Devils, but exploded against the Rangers for nine goals and 11 points in just five games, including a hat trick performance in Game 2. The Caps went on to cruise to a 4-1 series win over New York. It was the first time in franchise history the team advanced past the second round.

1991: Alan May’s first playoff goal

Local legend May scored only one playoff goal in his career, but it was a big one. It came in 1991, Game 4 against the Rangers. Washington trailed the series 2-1 at that point, but in the third period May managed to whack the puck through the five-hole of Mike Richter to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. The goal would prove to be the game-winner and tied the series at 2 games apiece. Washington would not lose again in that series.

2009: Sergei Fedorov scores the Game 7 winner

In Alex Ovechkin’s fourth season, the Caps made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference, expectations were higher for Washington than the year prior. Their first round opponent was the Rangers who proved to be a tougher out than most had expected.

New York stunned Washington by winning three of the first four games of the series. The Caps battled back to win the next two to force a Game 7. With the score tied at 1 late in the third period, 39-year-old Fedorov, who was acquired at the trade deadline the year before, took the puck from his own zone, streaked down the right side of the ice, pulled up at the faceoff dot and fired a wrister that beat Henrik Lundqvist to the top shelf.

The goal would prove to be the series winner giving Washington its first playoff victory in the Ovechkin era and the first since 1998.

2011: Jason Chimera scores in double OT

Meeting in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, the Caps took a 2-0 series lead on the Rangers in 2011. New York hoped to even up the series when play shifted to Madison Square Garden. The Rangers won Game 3 and the two teams battled to a 3-3 tie through 80 minutes in Game 4. Finally in double overtime, Chimera finished off the blue shirts.

Chimera tried to shoot on net, but the puck was blocked Bryan McCabe and headed towards Lundqvist who was poised to cover it up and stop play. Marian Gaborik got his signals crossed, however, and swept the puck away from his own goalie and right to Chimera who had followed up his shot. With the puck behind Lundqvist, Chimera had an easy tap in for the winner.

2013: Mike Green’s one-timer wins it in OT

As a defenseman, Green was a player with some flaws to his game in his own zone. When he was in his prime, however, there were few blue liners as clutch offensively.

In the brief Adam Oates era, the Capitals made the playoffs only once and faced the Rangers in the first round in 2013. Washington took Game 1 and looked to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Both teams battled to a scoreless draw through 60 minutes in Game 2, forcing overtime.

Steven Oleksy took a delay of game penalty early in the overtime for the Caps. Washington killed it off and Ryan McDonagh returned the favor with a delay of game penalty of his own five minutes later. That was the wrong team to give a power play to.

Dmitry Orlov faked a slap shot then passed it to the point for a Green one-timer. The shot deflected off Derek Stepan, off the post and into the net.

2015: Joel Ward scores the game-winner with one second left to go

Ward pulled off perhaps the most remarkable finish to a playoff game in Caps history. After dispatching the New York Islanders in Round 1 in Barry Trotz’s first season behind the bench, Washington faced the Rangers in the playoffs yet again for the fifth time in seven years.

Both teams traded goals in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden and it looked like the game was headed to overtime. With just five seconds left, Nicklas Backstrom hit Dan Boyle in the corner to free up the puck. Ovechkin snatched it and skated behind the net. The Rangers got caught watching Ovechkin and lost track of Ward who was by himself in front. Ovechkin fed Ward who scored with just 1.2 seconds left on the clock to give Washington the improbable win in regulation.