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Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov steals the show in World Juniors

Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov steals the show in World Juniors

Hershey update: 18-7-5-2, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-0-0

News broke last week that Madison Bowey, one of the Caps’ top defensive prospects, would be out indefinitely after suffering a cut by a skate to the tendon in his ankle.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir caught up with Bowey last week to talk to him about the injury. The projected time frame for the injury at this point is three months which would mean he would return at the beginning of April.

On the ice this week, Liam O’Brien put on a show for the Bears in Friday’s win over Bridgeport. O’Brien scored two goals and an assist in the game.

Watch the highlights here:

The game was the first three-point game of O’Brien’s career. He now has 18 points on the season, two more than he had in all of last season.

With the Caps currently carrying only 12 forwards on the roster, a call up from Hershey is imminent. Now is a good time for a player like O’Brien to be showcasing his talent.

When thinking about the team’s prospects in Hershey, O’Brien is not the player many jump to when considering who the Caps may call up. He is a gritty forward who is not afraid to drop the gloves. He played in 13 games for the Caps in 2014-15 scoring one goal and one assist. But O’Brien is proving he can me more than just an agitator this season.

"In the past, you'd think of him as maybe a tough guy, fourth-line left-winger, try to get him some penalty-kill time, try to turn the momentum," Hershey head coach Troy Mann said, "but now he's able to do that and contribute offensively, as you saw on the pass to Stephenson on the first goal."

It has been a tough season for Stanislav Galiev who has been limited to only 15 games due to injury. But the Russian forward had a good week with one goal and two assists including a great spin move to set up Brad Malone for the goal (see it in the video above). Malone made the play harder than it needed to be as Galive fed him the puck on his forehand with an empty net yawning, but Malone elected to deke and go for the five-hole rather than take the easy goal. Luckily, he still was able to finish the play.

Zach Sanford scored the Bears’ lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Providence on Saturday. In just nine games with Hershey, Sanford already has five goals and four assists.

RELATED:Orpik among the many Capitals amped up for Jackets

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov had a rough start tot the World Junior tournament allowing five goals against Canada, but he has played very well ever since.

On Dec. 29 in Russia’s first game against USA, Samsonov made 34 saves in a 3-2 loss. He followed that performance with two shutouts against Slovakia and Denmark. The in Wednesday’s semifinal rematch with USA< Samsonov really kept Russia in it for much of the game, making 40 saves in the 4-3 shootout loss.

You can see highlights of all four games he played over the past week here: USA (first round), Slovakia, Denmark, USA (semifinal)

It’s important to keep in mind while watching Samsonov that he is 19 years old and still very much a work in progress. You can see he over commits on a few goals and is slow to react on others, especially when dealing with a screen. The third goal he allowed in the semifinal game is ugly. That’s one he has to have.

But the junior tournament also highlighted Samsonov’s raw potential. He is similar to Braden Holtby in that he seems to play with an aggressive style. He is quick with the poke check which he used to stop a penalty shot in Russia’s first game with USA. While the third goal in the semifinal game was bad, he also came up with a big glove save on a penalty shot to keep the deficit at one in the third period. That was a big-time save in a big-time moment.

Samsonov has a 2.33 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage at the World Juniors. There have been only four shutouts in the entire tournament and he has two of them.

Russia will play in the third-place game against Sweden on Thursday.

It was also a successful tournament for the Caps’ two Swiss prospects, Jonas Siegenthaler and Damien Riat. Both players tied for second on the team in points with 1 goal and five assists each. Siegenthaler’s six points have him tied for second among all defensemen.

The reviews of Siegenthaler were particularly glowing as the young defenseman proved to be the Switzerland’s workhorse on the blue line. He led the team in ice time with an average of 25 minutes per game.

TSN analyst Craig Button also named Siegenthaler as a junior all-star.

In the college ranks, Chase Priskie tallied one goal and one assist in the Three Rivers Classic for Quinnipiac and was named to the All-Tournament team. Brian Pinho recorded three assists in Providence’s two games and now leads the team in points with 17 in 18 games.

Forward Beck Malenstyn had an impressive week in the WHL as he scored three goals and one assist in three games for the Calgary Hitmen. He now leads the team in goals with 16 and is second on the team in points with 25.

South Carolina goalie Adam Carlson was scratched from his start last week. He was not on the bench for either of the Stingrays’ games this week and is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

MORE CAPITALS: 3 bold predictions: Can Caps halt Columbus' win streak?

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If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

If the Capitals want to go far in the playoffs, they have to get physical

The first half of Monday's game was a struggle for the Capitals. While both Washington and the Tampa Bay Lightning were initially feeling out one another, the Lightning seemed to get their legs first and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. It looked like the game was headed in the wrong direction...and that's when things got physical. Up to that point, the Caps were playing without any intensity to their game at all. When T.J. Oshie dropped his gloves against Yanni Gourde, however, the goals soon followed. This game was a good reminder for Washington that if they want to go far in the playoffs, they will have to get physical.

"I think that’s what we pride ourselves on," Brenden Dillon said. "When we’re playing our best hockey, we’re playing physical."

There are a lot of ways to win in the playoffs. If there was only one formula for it, everyone would just do that. For this Washington team, however, the key is to be physical.

In 2018, the Capitals came up against a Tampa Bay team in the conference final that was better. Momentum from beating the rival Pittsburgh Penguins carried the Caps to a 2-0 series lead, but the Lightning took over to win the next three and push the Caps to the brink of elimination. Washington responded with one of the most physical games I have ever seen. Not recklessly physical, but purposeful. In my estimation, Game 6's 3-0 win over the Lightning was the greatest playoff game in franchise history. It was a complete victory, but the key was the way in which the Caps bullied Tampa Bay. They pushed them around. The Caps battered, bruised and beat them into submission, outscoring Tampa Bay 7-0 in the final two games of the series.

Washington has incredible skill, they have speed, but at their core, this team is at its best when it is playing physical hockey.

"That’s a big part of our identity as a team, no fun to play against and yet still have the ability to execute skill plays when we get in those situations," head coach Todd Reirden said. "But for us, the physicality that we can bring on a nightly basis, we feel that really allows us to have success and tilt the ice in our favor."

RELATED: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CAPS' LOSS

This isn't just about 2018, it was evident again on Monday.

When it comes to just pure talent, the Caps are a little behind Tampa Bay. When the game was being played with little intensity and skill was able to take over, the Lighting had the edge. From the first shift of the second period, Tom Wilson clearly came in trying to change the momentum and spent his first shift hitting everything that moved. It did not stick, however, until Oshile's fight.

Down 2-0, Oshie dropped the gloves with Gourde. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2.

"We started to create some momentum in probably the second half of the second and then really took it to a different level after T.J.'s fight really inspired our group and then we just built on that," Reirden said.

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He added, "I just felt like as we got going now we were finding our stride a little bit more and then eventually we were able to wear them down a little with our physical play. I thought the more we invested physically, then we were able to see some benefits of it."

For the Caps to win a Stanley Cup, several factors will be important. Alex Ovechkin will have to continue to be elite, the defense will have to improve from what we saw in the regular season, Braden Holtby will have to be at the top of his game, etc., etc. But the key to all of it, just like in 2018, will be the Caps playing a physical game and wearing down their opponents.

"When we’re playing our best hockey, we have the skill to go with it and the speed as well," Dillon said. "Come playoff time, we know we’re built for this style of game."

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Red Penguins: The story you've never heard about the Penguins' partnership with Russia's Red Army hockey team

Red Penguins: The story you've never heard about the Penguins' partnership with Russia's Red Army hockey team

It may be the greatest hockey story you've never heard of and it's almost too crazy to believe.

The upcoming Universal documentary Red Penguins tells the story of how the Pittsburgh Penguins developed a partnership with a Russian hockey team. But it wasn't just any hockey team, it was CSKA Moscow, the government-run Red Army hockey team, the most storied hockey team in Russia. They had no idea what they were in for.

Barely three minutes into the movie produced by Gabe Polsky - whose 2014 documentary "Red Army" covered the four decades of dominance by the Russian national hockey team from the 1950s to the 1990s - and you are quickly caught up in a wild ride with Howard Baldwin and Tom Ruta, Pittsburgh's owners at the time, talking about how crazy the idea of getting involved with CSKA really was.

It's never really clear who had the idea and who approached them to form the partnership so you are left wondering why exactly the organization decided to take this gamble. Weirder still: The tangential involvement of celebrity investors like actor Michael J. Fox. 

Even if the movie initially feels rushed to start, however, you soon find out why: Because the real story is what happens when ownership sends eccentric lawyer Steven Warshaw to Russia to manage business there. That's when things get truly crazy.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a hockey team that never had to wonder where its resources would come from suddenly had to think about how to make money. Meanwhile, the American investors had no idea what they were stepping into. The Iron Curtain may have fallen, but what Russia was really like behind it was still largely a mystery to everyone. 

"I expected that the country would be somewhat functioning," Warshaw said. "It turned out I was wrong."

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A strip club in the arena, strippers on the ice, the Russian mob, bears, stolen money and even an alleged relationship with Disney all followed. Russia was a country in which there were few rules in the post-Cold War era and Warshaw and the Penguins found this out very quickly.

As the team grew in popularity, so did the interest of the Russian mob. Interestingly enough, the ownership group always expected their Russian counterparts to steal from them, but this only became a problem when they began stealing too much.

A plea for help from the Russian Army to combat the influence of the mob led to this telling quote from a Russian general: "I never had any problems with the criminals. If they paid on time then the arrangement worked.”

It wasn't until people involved with the team began to die that the ownership group realized they needed to end their partnership and get Warshaw out.

It's a story too crazy to be fiction and you'll have to see it to believe it.

Red Penguins will be available to stream via iTunes, Amazon and on demand on cable systems across the country on Aug. 4.

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