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Holtby: 'Our goal isn't to win the regular season'

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Holtby: 'Our goal isn't to win the regular season'

For fans who vividly remember the incredible dominance of the 2009-10 Capitals, this season seems all too familiar.

The Capitals of six years sprinted to the Presidents’ Trophy with a league-high 121 points, eight more than any other team in the NHL, and 38 points more than the second-place Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division.

The 2015-16 Capitals are on pace for 130 points, two short of the NHL record set by the 1976-77 Canadiens, and have opened up a five-point lead on the Chicago Blackhawks and an 18-point lead on the second-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.

Led by a dynamic trio of Alex Ovechkin (50 goals), Nicklas Backstrom (33 goals) and Alex Semin (40 goals), the 2009-10  Caps finished first in the NHL in goals per game (3.82) and power play percentage (25.2 percent).

This year’s Capitals also lead the NHL in goals per game (3.33) and power-play percentage (27.1 percent). Ovechkin is on pace for 50 goals, Backstrom is set to hit 28 and right wing T.J. Oshie is on pace for 27.

The 2009-10 Caps won a franchise-record 13 straight home games, a mark the 2015-16 Caps can match with a win Friday night at home against the Anaheim Ducks, who are coached by the same man who guided that 2009-10 team, Bruce Boudreau.

But to those who remember the 2009-10 Capitals, who were eliminated by Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a distinct difference this season.

“This team just seems more robotic,” said left wing Brooks Laich, who recorded 25 goals and 59 points for the 2009-10 Caps.

“That team was a little bit Jekyll and Hyde sometimes. We could score five goals, but we could also give up five. This team is more controlled in terms of a more consistent style of play.

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“Over 60 minutes we make it very difficult for teams to hang with us for the full 60. It might be tight after one, it might be tight after two, but usually we can feel the ice tilting a little bit and we’re going to find our breaks. We have great goaltending, great special teams and we’re hard to play against. We’re harder to beat, I think.”

The reason is team defense. The 2009-10 Capitals ranked 15th in the NHL in goals against per game (2.77) and 25th on the penalty kill (78.8 percent). This year’s Caps rank first in the NHL in goals-against per game (2.15) and fourth on the penalty kill (84.9 percent).

“The way we’re winning games is different,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who played 21 games as a rookie on that 2009-10 team. “We won a lot of high-scoring games that year and we didn’t have to grind out as many as we have this year.

“The confidence is there and we feel good about the way we do win games. A lot of it comes from the coaches; a lot of it comes from the veterans in this room.”

Unlike their predecessors, this year’s Capitals have found a way to shut the door on teams after building a lead. They are 17-0-0 when leading after one period, 26-0-1 when leading after two, and 13-2-3 in one-goal games. They are also 30-8 in games decided in regulation.

“I think with Barry it’s defense first,” said former NHL coach Craig Berube, now scouting for Team Canada. “He makes everybody accountable defensively. They don’t give you a lot of room out there. They’ve got five guys on the ice willing to play defense and that’s the biggest difference I see.

“I think last year we all saw how they can play in the playoffs and that’s the way you’ve got to win games. How many 2-1 games did Chicago win last year? It takes a lot of grinding, hard work, blocking shots, all the dirty stuff. They’re still scoring lots of goals and their power play is still good, but they’re playing way better defensively.

“And (Braden) Holtby’s a top goalie. What I like about him is he can let in a bad goal and it doesn’t bother him.”

Holtby, who is on pace to establish an NHL record with 53 wins, credits Trotz for the Caps’ businesslike approach to the regular season and his long-range focus on what lies ahead.

“Standings don’t mean much for us,” Holtby said. “We want to just keep getting better as a group. We go into each game with a game plan and we try to execute it and we’ll see where we end up.

“Our experience in here helps. Guys have been in positions where they’ve been at the top of the standings in the regular season. It helps that this is nothing new. I think in the past maybe it wasn’t handled correctly.

“We’re in a good place right now but our goal isn’t to win the regular season, it’s to win the Stanley Cup.”

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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