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Keith Kinkaid bedevils Caps as Washington falls in shootout

Keith Kinkaid bedevils Caps as Washington falls in shootout

Keith Kinkaid stood on his head for the Devils earning his team the unlikely 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Thursday.

How it happened: Evgeny Kuznetsov took the puck into the corner off a faceoff in the defensive zone and inexplicably attempted a no-look behind the back pass into the high slot that went right to the stick of P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau wasted little time wristing the shot past Braden Holtby. Down a goal and down a man in the third period, Daniel Winnik pressured Beau Bennett at the blue line to force a turnover and started the rush with Jay Beagle. Winnik finally finished the play off himself knocking the puck past a sprawled Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at one. With no winner in overtime, Jacob Josefson finished the game in the shootout after Kinkaid stopped shots from both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What it means: The loss was the Caps' fourth in their last five games and the first against New Jersey since Nov. 14, 2014, snapping a seven-game win streak against the Devils. Washington's record against the Metropolitan Division now sits at 4-5-4. The Caps' shootout record also dropped to 1-4.

Turning point: The Caps offense couldn't seem to solve Kinkaid until they were shorthanded and in desperate need of a goal. Winnik's goal in the third period was the Caps' third shorthanded goal of the season, already surpassing last season's total of two. With an assist on the play, Beagle now has three shorthanded points, tying him for second in the NHL. Though the Caps ended up losing in a shootout, the penalty kill earned the Caps a point in the standings.

Second to no one: Cory Schneider is considered one of the top netminders in the league, but it was his backup who stole the show on Thursday. Kinkaid was phenomenal in net with 39 saves in regulation, 43 for the game and he stopped both shots he faced in the shootout. He adjusted well against deflections, he stuffed Jay Beagle on a breakaway, he fought off a scrum in front of the net after losing his stick late in the second period and dove across the crease to get his glove in the way of a wraparound stuff attempt by Nicklas Backstrom in the third. He may be the backup for the Devils, but he sure didn't play like on against the Caps.

Message received? Justin Williams was not happy about the number of penalties the Caps took Tuesday against the New York Islanders. They did not allow any goals, but the penalties took the Caps out of their momentum. On Thursday the Caps again took four penalties including two in the third period, one with the team trailing 1-0 and the other with the score tied at 1. In both situations, it was an inopportune time for Washington to take a penalty.

No easy wins: The Metropolitan Division has established itself as the best division in hockey with teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. Given how difficult it will be for the Caps to gain ground on the teams at the top of the division, they cannot afford to lose to the weaker teams. Yet, those teams seem to be giving the Caps fits this season. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and New Jersy Devils sit 6th, 7th and 8th respectively in the division. The Caps have only managed a 3-3-1 record against those teams this season.

Look ahead: The Caps head to New Jersey for a rematch with the Devils on Saturday. Then they ring in the New Year with a quick turnaround against the Ottawa Senators back in Washington on Sunday.

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

The NHL draft is fast approaching. The first round will take place on Friday and it could be a busy night for the Capitals.

Washington currently holds the 25th pick in the draft. It will be the highest pick this team has had since taking Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall in the 2015 draft. The question, however, is will they stay there?

The more you look at the team’s situation, the more a move in either direction looks like a realistic possibility for the Caps. Here’s why.

Why the Caps could move up

In most situations, an NHL team should pick the best player available. Since most NHL prospects, including most players taken in the first round, will take years to develop before they see NHL action, it does not generally make sense to draft for an immediate need. When teams become fixated on drafting a certain position, it can lead to those teams passing on elite talent at other positions.

For Washington, however, they no longer can afford to ignore the team’s need for a difference-maker at forward.

You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time the Caps drafted a forward in the first round when they drafted Jakub Vrana. Since then, however, they have drafted a goalie, two defensemen and have traded out of the first round completely.

The dearth of forward talent among the team’s prospects is starting to catch up to it. In a year in which the Caps need forward depth but have very little money to fill it, an ideal solution would be to plug any holes on the bottom six with cheap prospects.

Without any top-end forwards in the system, however, that is not really an option.

Riley Barber (sixth-round pick) is an unrestricted free agent and said he does not see himself re-signing with Washington. Nathan Walker (third-round pick) is also a UFA and, though he sounded more open to re-signing with the Caps than Barber, there is no guarantee he does not leave in free agency. Shane Gersich (fifth-round pick) and Garrett Pilon (third-round pick) still look like they need another year in Hershey. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (fifth-round pick) has a whopping 16 games of North American experience and it is hard to know what exactly to expect from him. Kody Clark (second-round pick) and Riley Sutter (third-round pick) still need time to develop.

This team needs a high-end forward prospect, if not for this year then for the near future. It needs that guy who can infuse a bit of youth and excitement, as well as skill, back into the lineup when he gets a call-up. We are not talking about the next Connor McDavid here, just a top-six forward to add to the system because right now it does not appear Washington really has any top-six forwards besides the guys already in the NHL.

That needs to change.

There is value to be found late in the first round of the draft—Marcus Johansson was taken 24th overall in 2009, Evgeny Kuznetsov was 26th overall in 2010 and Andre Burakovsky was 23rd overall in 2013 just to name a few—but waiting for a good forward to drop into their laps this year may not be the ideal strategy knowing they need to pick a forward in the first round.

Moving up the draft will ensure they can grab one of the top forwards available. If they move up high enough, perhaps they could even snap someone who could potentially be ready to help the team in the latter half of the season, though that is a lot to ask of a young forward.

The point is Washington cannot afford to go with the usual “best available” mentality and see who falls to 25. General manager Brian MacLellan will have to get proactive and move up to ensure he gets the best available player at the position of need. We may not be talking Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but even moving up to the mid-round can dramatically affect the quality of prospects available.

Why the Caps could move down

Elliotte Friedman had an interesting note on the Caps in his latest 31 Thoughts column. He listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

When a team is in “go for It mode” and trying to win a Cup, the first-round draft pick can be useful trade bait to help bring in a significant piece and bolster the roster. Granted, Washington has very little cap room available so any trade would likely include sending salary with the pick which would, in turn, lower the value of return, but this team is just one year removed from winning the Cup. It is not as if they need to make a major addition to be a contender.

Trading away a first-round pick would be the exact opposite of addressing the team’s need for high-end prospect forward talent as written above, but it is hard to build a team for now and for the future. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Co. all in their 30s, it would be understandable why MacLellan would choose to go all-in on winning another Cup in the next few years.

Whether the Caps move up, down or stand pat, we will have all the latest analysis on NBC Sports Washington’s coverage of the draft starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.


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The Capitals were mentioned on Jeopardy! and of course we're proud of it

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The Capitals were mentioned on Jeopardy! and of course we're proud of it

The Stanley Cup no longer resides in Washington, and all eyes have shifted toward the offseason as the Capitals look to retool for next season. But, that doesn't mean we can't stop and appreciate the magical 2018 season now and again.

A week after reminiscing about the championship run and ensuing parade, the famous game show "Jeopardy!" gave us one more moment of glory on Monday night.

One of the clues featured in the latest episode had the Capitals as the answer and even featured Alexander Ovechkin.

It appears that one of the contestants did answer it correctly. More importantly, according to the replies, it was also cleared up that no one brought up the Pittsburgh Penguins during that round. 

While it may be somewhat hard to cope with the fact that the Capitals will not be enjoying another offseason of championship partying in 2019 we can take pride in the fact that the question was about the Caps winning the Stanley Cup, and not centered around a dreaded title drought.