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Prospect report: Hershey looks to make playoff push after rough January

Prospect report: Hershey looks to make playoff push after rough January

Hershey update: 24-13-7-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 3-0-0-0

After a rough January, the Hershey Bears are rebounding with four straight wins including three last week.

Stanislav Galiev was on fire with four goals and one assist in three games, including a hat trick against Binghamton on Friday. It was Galiev’s first AHL over the weekend, Galiev has already matched his entire total for January.

The Bears should get a boost this week with the return of Riley Barber. Barber has been out of the lineup since November with an upper-body injury, but was cleared for contact last week. Hershey head coach Troy Mann told CSN that if there were no setbacks, he hoped to have Barber back in the lineup on Friday, Feb. 10. With three games this week, if Barber is not ready for Friday’s contest he still should be back at some point over the weekend.

The past week has seen Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana recalled by the Caps and then sent back down to Hershey. Zach Sanford is now the latest callup and is currently with the Caps.

Washington has been carrying the minimum of 12 forwards on their roster and choosing to add players from Hershey for brief stretches. Barry Trotz has called these recalls a reward for good play.

Defenseman Christian Djoos spoke with Don Scott of the Lebanon Daily News about his time in the AHL and what is was like to get drafted by the Caps in 2012.

“I was very happy to be drafted by the Capitals because I grew up in the same town as Nicklas Backstrom so Washington was my favorite team for the same reason. This is my second full year here and I like this area, the community and the people here.”

You can read the full conversation here.

Djoos tallied one goal and two assists in the Bears’ three games over the week.

RELATED: Caps have worked to eliminate the 'cheat' from their game

Other prospect notes:

Damien Riat and Jonas Siegenthaler have gotten a promotion. After a successful showing in the World Junior Championship, both players were added to Switzerland’s senior national team for the upcoming Slovakia Cup. Siegenthaler, however, will not participate due to an injury. Switzerland plays Belarus on Friday.

Ilya Samsonov is also suiting up for his national team as Team Russia is competing in the Sweden Hockey Games tournament. Russia’s first game is on Thursday against Finland.

To prepare, Samsonov caught some fruit in a shopping cart at a grocery store. No, I’m not making this up.

It was a tough week for Shane Gersich as North Dakota lost both of its games to St. Cloud State. Gersich tallied only one assist, but, as Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald writes, he has established himself as one of the top offensive playmakers in the nation.

Gersich already has 18 goals this season after tallying just nine last year. Part of that improvement is the extra work he does in the morning. Twice a week, Gersich works on his game with an assistant coach on the ice for about half an hour before heading to class.

Interestingly enough, the coaches seem to believe his boost in offense is tied to what he does defensively.

"First and foremost, he isn't a guy who waits for the puck and says, 'Hey, give me the puck, I'm going to score,'" UND coach Brad Berry said. "He goes and gets it. He's a worker.

"If you watch him on the ice, he's one of the first guys tracking back through the neutral zone, trying to get the puck back. He plays with pace and tempo. He has a passion for the game. Those are a few of the things that have led into his success."

You can read the full article here.

One player who did have a good week in the college ranks was Chase Priskie who scored two goals and one assist in a 5-2 win for Quinnipiac over Yale on Saturday.

Down in the WHL, it was a big week for several Caps prospects. Beck Malenstyn was named the third star on Friday with two assists against Vancouver. He had three assists in three games over the week. Garrett Pilon scored two goals and three assists in three games.

It was also yet another big week for Connor Hobbs who has made a habit of big games for Regina this season. He was named the second star for Wednesday’s game after scoring one goal and three assists. Hobbs currently leads all defensemen in the WHL in goals (23) and points (61).

Hobbs showed off his versatility on Saturday as he suited up at right wing. It should be noted that there are no plans to move him to forward full-time and that he was back to playing defenseman in the very next game. The move to offense on Saturday was made due to a shortage of forward options for Regina in that one game.

Despite his offensive success on the blue line, Hobbs says making the transition from defense to offense for a game is a difficult one.

“It’s just different; everything is different,” said Hobbs. “All I want to do is go get the puck like a D-man would. I have to kind of rein myself in, so to speak, and be more patient. It’s tough.”

MORE CAPITALS: Winnik: 'Hopefully we don't make any trades'

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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USAT Sports Images

Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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