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Prediction Recap: A look back at Capitals pre-season predictions

Prediction Recap: A look back at Capitals pre-season predictions

With the regular season now over, it’s time to go back and see how we did with our preseason predictions.

Tarik El-Bashir’s predictions:

Braden Holtby will become the first goalie since Martin Brodeur in 2006-07 and 2007-08 to win the Vezina Trophy in back-to- back seasons.

We don’t officially know who will win the Vezina this season and while Holtby will almost certainly be a finalist, I believe ultimately Sergei Bobrovsky will win the award considering how important he has been to Columbus.

Dmitry Orlov will thrive in a top-four role.

After a few shaky moments at the beginning of the season, Orlov did prove he was ready to be a top-four defenseman. In the 2016 playoffs, Orlov was part of a revolving door on the bottom pair that exposed the team’s weakness in defensive depth. This season, if Barry Trotz wanted to shake things up on defense, he would have to go through a few other players before thinking about benching Orlov.

Evgeny Kuznetsov is going to flirt with 100 points.

Not quite. Nicklas Backstrom led the team in points with 86 and that was by a wide margin. Kuznetsov finished third among the Caps with 59 points. Only one player in the entire NHL reached 100 points this season and that was Connor McDavid.

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JJ Regan’s predictions:

The Capitals will trade for a defenseman.

I thought of this prediction when the team traded for Tom Gilbert and whether I thought that should count. Luckily for me, general manager Brian MacLellan saved me the trouble by also trading for Kevin Shattenkirk. Washington’s defensive depth was exposed in the playoffs and I thought promoting Orlov to the top-four wouldn’t come close to solving the issue. In reality, the defense took a major step forward even before the Shattenkirk deal. Shattenkirk ultimately was brought in to bring left-right balance to the defensive pairs rather than to address depth, but I will still gladly take the win.

Lars Eller will register 40+ points.

While Eller turned out to be the player Washington hoped they were getting after an initial slow start to the season, he didn’t come close to the optimistic offensive production I projected. He finished the regular season with just 25 points.

Philipp Grubauer will start at least 20 games.

The Caps did not lose to Pittsburgh last season because of goaltending. While Braden Holtby played well enough to give Washington the win, however, there were points in the postseason where he looked fatigued. I thought that would make getting him more rest a bigger priority this season, but in fact he played in just three fewer games (63). As for Grubauer, he had only 19 starts. Are you kidding me? You couldn’t get him just one more start, Barry!?!

RELATED: Full 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Bracket

Official results

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington
2. Pittsburgh
3. Columbus

Atlantic Division

1. Montreal
2. Ottawa
3. Boston

Wild Card 1: NY Rangers
Wild Card 2: Toronto

Central Division

1. Chicago
2. Minnesota
3. St. Louis

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. San Jose

Wild Card 1: Calgary
Wild Card 2: Nashville

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Tarik El-Bashir’s predictions

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington
2. Pittsburgh
3. NY Islanders

Atlantic Division

1. Tampa Bay
2. Florida
3. Montreal

Wild Card 1: NY Rangers
Wild Card 2: Carolina

Tarik’s dark horse pick of the Islanders did not pay off as New York did not reach the playoffs and head coach Jack Capuano was fired midseason. The entire state of Florida was a major disappointment considering neither the Lightning nor the Panthers were able to reach the playoffs.

Central Division

1. Nashville
2. Chicago
3. Dallas

Pacific Division

1. San Jose
2. Los Angeles
3. Calgary

Wild Card 1: St. Louis
Wild Card 2: Anaheim

Tarik had a lot of confidence in Nashville after the P.K. Subban trade. While he remains one of the top defenseman in the NHL, his acquisition did not automatically turn the Predators into the Cup contenders many envisioned.

RELATED: The Caps are not the favorites to win the Stanley Cup

JJ Regan’s predictions

Metropolitan Division

1. Washington
2. Pittsburgh
3. Carolina

Atlantic Division

1. Tampa Bay
2. Montreal
3. Florida

Wild Card 1: NY Rangers
Wild Card 2: NY Islanders

Carolina’s downfall last season was its goaltending. It was better this season, but the Hurricanes were still not good enough to get to the playoffs. Like Tarik, I also had more faith in Tampa Bay and Florida. The Lightning have to be one of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season for me. The biggest surprise? Columbus. Neither Tarik nor I saw them reaching the postseason let alone challenging for the Metro.

Central Division

1. Chicago
2. Nashville
3. St. Louis

Pacific Division

1. San Jose
2. Calgary
3. Los Angeles

Wild Card 1: Dallas
Wild Card 2: Minnesota

Los Angeles’ failure to reach the postseason would be understandable with Jonathan Quick’s injury, but Peter Budaj played really well in relief. Goaltending was not their problem which makes the Kings’ failure this season especially surprising. While I still had Dallas as a wild card team, I foresaw this collapse. It seemed crazy to me to think they would be able to have similar success as last season considering they did nothing to address their goaltending issues. I also had faith Bruce Boudreau could lead the Wild to the playoffs, though I had no idea he would have as much success as he did.

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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