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Holiday wish list: 5 things the Caps need to prepare for a playoff run

Holiday wish list: 5 things the Caps need to prepare for a playoff run

It’s the holiday season and time and the Washington Capitals have been really, really good this year. So if Santa Claus needs any ideas for some last minute gifts, here are five things on their Christmas wish list (besides more playoff success or two front teet for Alex Ovechkin) to slip under the tree:

1. A weaker division

The old Southeast Division never seemed to do much for the Caps in terms of playoff preparation, so you may think the Caps will benefit from a tougher division. Even if you subscribe to this theory, however, the Metropolitan Division is a bit much. Five of the NHL's top seven teams hail from the Metropolitan Division. After winning 10 straight games, the Philadelphia Flyers have the seventh-best record in the NHL and still find themselves in fifth place in the Metro. While the Caps still look like they are in good shape for the playoffs — they have an eight point lead over Carolina who is the first team out — that still leaves them with the daunting task of having to play two Metropolitan teams in the first two rounds of the postseason. Sure, they could finish in a wild card spot and move to Atlantic side of the bracket, but then they would likely meet Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. So, let's cool things down, Metropolitan Division.

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Day 7

2. More goals for Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov is finally starting to emerge from a rough slump that began at the end of last season. He now has eight points in his last seven games. That’s good. The problem is that all eight of those points are assists. Kuznetsov’s at his best when he’s setting up his linemates, but he needs to be able to light the lamp himself too. He scored 20 goals last season but right now has only three through 30 games.

3. An end to Andre Burakovsky’s slump

Burakovsky scored two goals in the first game of the season and that is the last time he’s found the back of the net. Burakovsky is a forward with top-six skill, but his current slump is clearly affecting his play and has earned him a seat in the press box for three straight games. The Caps need him to shake off this slump and return to his top-six form.

4. More cap space

With the recall of Zach Sanford, chances are you have more money in your bank account than Washington has cap space. And things aren't going to get any better after the season. T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik and Karl Alzner will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season while Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer will be restricted free agents. Several of these players will be due for raises which means Brian MacLellan will have to make some tough decisions. The biggest question will be whether to re-sign Oshie or Alzner because it will take a Christmas miracle for the team to find a way to sign both.

5. More games with the throwback red jersey

The Caps’ vintage red alternate jersey is the exact opposite of an ugly Christmas sweater. It is a thing of beauty that should be worn at every conceivable opportunity.

MORE CAPITALS: NHL Power Rankings: A growing divide

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Nicklas Backstrom recounts what it was like the day hockey went dark

Nicklas Backstrom recounts what it was like the day hockey went dark

The last game the Capitals played was March 9 against the Buffalo Sabres. On March 12, the NHL suspended the season. That's how fast things went when the coronavirus began spreading through the United States.

No NHL games had been played in front of an empty arena yet -- Columbus was scheduled to play Pittsburgh in an empty arena that night -- no team had missed a scheduled game and the NHL had only just implemented its new rules preventing media access to locker rooms. We went from the league implementing precautionary rules regarding the media to the complete pausing of the regular season in less than a week.

When things went bad, they went fast. Or, at least it seemed that way from the outside looking in. What was it like for the players?

"It was weird," Nicklas Backstrom said on a video conference. "You're coming in on a game day and trying to get prepared, but at the same time, we were like, 'Is there going to be a game? What's going on? Are we going to play with no fans?' It was just a weird day."

The Capitals were scheduled to host the Detroit Red Wings on March 12, but on March 11, NBA player Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the abrupt postponement of a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Later that night, the NBA postponed all games. The NHL had a scheduled conference call with teams in the afternoon of March 12, but the league did not initially halt the season after the NBA's decision. That meant that teams like the Capitals had to prepare for a game that likely was not going to be played.

"Looking back at it, when we came here that morning, I think we all knew that the game was going to be canceled," Backstrom said. "We were starting to hear about it, the government started shutting down things. We were basically just waiting for the NHL to make an announcement and then NBA had done it before, so we kind of knew it was going to happen."

The morning skate was canceled before the players took the ice. The NHL followed with the announcement that afternoon that the season had been put on pause.

"After that, it was 'Alright, go home. See you later,'" Backstrom said. "So, it was kind of awkward back then, but at the same time, now we know why."

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T.J. Oshie likes his chances if given the opportunity to hit a penalty shot to win the Stanley Cup

T.J. Oshie likes his chances if given the opportunity to hit a penalty shot to win the Stanley Cup

T..J Oshie has some experience in clutch moments when the game is on the line and his name is called.

Thursday, his name wasn't listed in a hypothetical poll on Twitter on which player fans would want to take the final shot if the Stanley Cup was on the line. A shocking omission of one of the most legendary shootout players of all-time.

Even with options such as Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Patrick Kane, No. 77 insinuated he had a different player in mind.

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Oshie single-handedly defeated Russia at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi over six years ago.

Six times Oshie was sent to the ice in a shootout in a preliminary round match against Russia. He answered the bell four times for another legendary U.S. win over Russia.

Oshie has the fourth-most shootout goals (45) in NHL history, only trailing Kane, (47), Frans Nielsen (49), and Jonathan Toews (50).

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