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Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Prospect report: Could Vanecek be the Caps' backup next season?

Hershey update: 16-6-4-2, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-1

Hershey Bears goalie Vitek Vanecek was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on Dec. 18.

Vanecek was given two starts over the week. He turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced in a shootout loss to Lehigh Valley on Friday and stopped all 22 shots he faced Sunday against Springfield for his third shutout of the season.

You can see highlights of the shutout here:

In his first season in the AHL, Vanecek has earned a .930 save percentage, 1.85 goals against average and an 8-3-3 record in 14 appearances. His three shutouts is tied for second in the league.

This is Vanecek’s first AHL honor.

Vanecek is playing exceptionally well in the AHL, far exceeding my expectations. With his play I believe the Caps will at least consider promoting him next season to serve as backup to Braden Holtby if Philipp Grubauer is plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft.

Grubauer is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning he almost certainly will re-sign with the Capitals. But Grubauer is rapidly becoming one of the most likely targets for Vegas in the expansion draft given his play this season.

Vanecek’s play in the AHL would certainly soften the blow of losing a dependable backup.

Granted, it’s not automatic that Vanecek would get the promotion to the NHL. He is a 20-year-old prospect with zero NHL experience. Expecting him to be able to start 15 to 20 games next season in the best league in the world would be a big jump. But I think he has at least earned consideration, especially if he keeps up this level of play throughout the 2016-17 season.

Forward Tim McGauley is finally healthy and poised to make his AHL debut in the upcoming week as he was recalled by Hershey from the ECHL on Sunday.

McGauley’s professional debut was delayed due to an injury, but he finally suited up for three games in the ECHL for the South Carolina Stingrays. He earned an assist while there, his first professional point.

In his junior career, McGauley scored 259 points in 276 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.

In other Hershey news, Stanislav Galiev tallied a goal and an assist in his return from injury this week. Defenseman Darren Dietz scored his first goal with the Bears on Sunday in the win over Springfield.

Travis Boyd continues his phenomenal season with two goals and three assists in three games. He currently leads the Bears in points with 28. Liam O’Brien and Christian Djoos also put together an impressive week as they each tallied four assists.

In one other note, Bears captain Garrett Mitchell has more holiday spirit than you do.

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Day 10

Other prospect notes:

In their first tuneup game in preparation for the World Juniors Tournament, Caps prospect Damien Riat scored a goal for Team Switzerland in a 4-3 loss to USA on Wednesday. Switzerland boasts two Caps prospects on the roster with Riat on offense and Jonas Siegenthaler on the blue line.

Check out a preview of the team for the tournament here from the SB Nation page “Eyes on the Prize.”

One player who should be at the tournament, but was not included on Team Canada’s roster is defenseman Connor Hobbs. He continued his sharp play in the WHL this week with a goal and an assist on Saturday, earning third star of the game honors.

You can watch the highlights here;

Hobbs boasts a fantastic slap shot, but what I love about this game is that he didn’t use it on either of his two points. On the goal, he recognized he had an opening and elected for the more accurate wrist shot which he hit perfectly in the top shelf. He showed that he doesn’t have to just unleash the slap shot every time he gets the puck. He has more than one tool in his arsenal and he’s smart enough to know when to use each.

Hobbs is definitely a player to watch as he continues to develop.

Just in case anyone forgot who the Stingrays’ NHL affiliate was, they made sure to remind everyone with these Caps-inspired alternate jerseys.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Burakovsky not enough for Caps in Philly

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A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

A pair of firsts: Dmitrij Jaskin, Travis Boyd score first goals for the Capitals

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets featured a number of high-profile NHL stars. In a battle for first place in the Metropolitan Division, you would expect Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Braden Holtby or Sergei Bobrovsky to be the heroes.

While Ovechkin did score and Holtby recorded a shutout in a 4-0 win over Columbus, it was Washington’s fourth line that stole the show as Dmitrij Jaskin and Travis Boyd each scored their first goals as Capitals.

While playing well this season, Jaskin has struggled finishing offensive chances. This is a player with 25 career NHL goals and who scored 13 goals in a single season in 2014-15. And yet, coming into Saturday’s game, Jaskin had yet to score a goal in 22 appearances with the Caps. The way he finally got into the net was by doing the same things he’s been doing effectively all season.

One of Jaskin’s best attributes is that he always goes to the net when he’s in the offensive zone. Boyd had the puck high in the zone and drew both Blue Jacket defensemen to him. Jaskin, as always, was headed to the front of the net and got in behind Columbus’ overly aggressive defense. Boyd looked for him on the pass, but it hit off of Jaskin’s skate and went directly into the top shelf behind a shocked Bobrovsky.

“I’ll take it,” Jaskin said. “Even if it was off the skate, I’ll take it any day.”

Boyd had an even more memorable night as he scored not only his first goal as a Cap, but the first goal of his NHL career.

Alex Ovechkin pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone launching a two-on-one with Boyd. Ovechkin looked ready to wrist it, but instead passed it to Boyd who had plenty of net to shoot on as Jonas Korpisalo, who came on in relief of Bobrovsky after the first period, of course expected Ovechkin to shoot.

It was a nice moment not just for Boyd to get his first goal, but for it to come off the stick of Ovechkin who Boyd gave an assist to last season for his first NHL point.

“Pretty cool how it worked out for me having my first assist be on an Ovi goal and he feeds me a beautiful pass,” Boyd said. “Had a wide-open net for my first goal so pretty cool.”

It was truly a night of firsts for Washington with Jaskin’s first goal, Boyd’s first goal and the Caps walking away still in first place of the division.

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Alex Ovechkin takes over NHL goals lead in 4-0 win at Columbus

Alex Ovechkin takes over NHL goals lead in 4-0 win at Columbus

Alex Ovechkin is taking over. 

With a goal and an assist in Saturday’s decisive 4-0 shutout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ovechkin continued one of the hottest streaks of his career. 

At 11 games, this is Ovechkin’s second-longest point streak in his brilliant career. He has 10 goals and six assists during that stretch, and has taken over the NHL goal lead with 22 through 29 games. 

This outburst has helped make up for a stretch where Washington missed center Evgeny Kuznetsov for six games, and they still don’t have forward T.J. Oshie (concussion). He’s missed 11 games in a row. 

The power play has dried up with the personnel on the top unit in and out due to injury. Tom Wilson, who replaced Oshie in the “bumper” role in the slot on the power play, has missed two straight games. That hasn’t hurt Ovechkin at all. He has 16 points during the stretch – but 15 of those are at even strength or with the opposing goalie pulled (two goals, two assists) and a chance to put the game away.   

That’s a big deal. Washington’s power play during that stretch is 6-for-32, yet Ovechkin is still producing. Dating to Nov. 11 the power play is actually 6-for-39 (15.4 percent). He isn’t feasting in that area, which is normally a lock.

Ovechkin leads the NHL with 22 goals. He’s on pace for 62. That probably isn’t happening, and he will cool off at some point. But he’s put himself in legitimate contention for an eighth 50-goal season. Ovechkin just missed at 49 goals last year. 

A lot of Ovechkin’s work has come with center Nicklas Backstrom by his side. But he’s become a playmaker, too, lately. He showed that unselfish side again on a 2-on-1 with Travis Boyd against Columbus.

Last year Boyd earned his first NHL point when he was pushed into emergency duty on the top line in a March game at Philadelphia. He had a sweet spin-o-rama pass to Ovechkin for a goal. On Saturday, Ovechkin pushed a pass to Boyd , who scored his first NHL goal. 

It’s been that kind of month. Ovechkin goes for 12 in a row Tuesday against Detroit due for both a power-play goal and a multi-goal game, which he has done just once during the streak (Nov. 19 vs. Montreal). 

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