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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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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."

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