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Prospect Report: Vrana returns, gets suspended

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Prospect Report: Vrana returns, gets suspended

Hershey update: 22-13-3-6, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-0-1-1

Jakub Vrana made his long-awaited return last week. A wrist injury sidelined him since Oct. 25, but he looked as if he had not lost a step at all.

Though he did not register a point, he generated several opportunities. He was stoned on a breakaway chance by Lehigh Valley goalie Anthony Stolarz on Monday and had a goal waved off on Wednesday for kicking the puck into the net.

Unfortunately, the week ended on a low-note as Vrana's only contribution to the score sheet for the week was a double-minor high sticking penalty in Wednesday's game against Albany when Vrana hit Pierre-Luc Letourneau-LeBlond. An article in the Times Union says of the incident that "Vrana appeared to slash Letourneau-LeBlond on the hand and then cross-check him to the face before skating to the bench."

It's a penalty that will cost Vrana as the AHL announced Friday that he had been suspended for two games.

Madison Bowey continues to impress at the AHL level. Check out the highlights from Monday's game against Lehigh Valley:

Bowey shows great vision on his assist as he is able to find the open Mike Moore even as he is being pressured. More importantly, he is able to make the backhanded cross-ice pass to get Moore the puck through traffic. That's not an easy thing to do. It's a play he can't afford to miss because if that pass is picked off it's an easy breakaway in the other direction for the Phantoms. Bowey, however, is able to draw two players to him and still make the pass to the open Moore who rifles the shot for the goal.

Bowey later shows off his offensive instincts with a goal of his own later in the game. After sending the puck to the corner and behind the net, Bowey follows up the pass and skates to the slot to receive the pass and fire home the easy goal. If you watch the play, Bowey carries the puck past teammate Scott Gomez before he dumps the puck low. He knows Gomez is behind him and the blue line is covered so he is not leaving his team vulnerable by stepping into the play. He could have switched back with Gomez after dumping the puck, but then no one would be in the slot for the quick pass. Bowey may be a young player, but he showed veteran instincts on that goal.

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Other prospect notes:

Stars & Sticks is releasing updates on the top Caps prospects. Check out the updates on Shane Gersich who could be a potential steal in the fifth round where he was drafted, Zach Sanford who has top-six potential and Vitek Vanecek who has a tough hill to climb.

For what it's worth, the analysis is very much in-line with my feelings on these three players. Though a bit optimistic in places, the updates are otherwise right on the money.

Gersich has played well in his first collegiate season, but he has a very long way to go before he is NHL ready. Given his size and talent level, he will likely need four years of college to develop. I think he has a bright AHL future, but I'm skeptical as to whether he can be a consisten NHL player. Sanford is someone to keep an eye on. He is enjoying a tremendous year at Boston College and has already surpassed his point total from last season. I think there is definite potential for him to develop into a second or third line center in the NHL.

Vanecek has talent, but he still needs to work on his instincts and positioning. For example, check out the highlights from Saturday's game:

Watch the first goal Vanecek allows and look at where he is in the crease. It takes the opposing forward awhile to corral the puck before he turns around and shoots. Instead of stepping to the front of the crease to challenge him, however, Vanecek has shrunk back in the crease. The shot goes five-hole so positioning was not why he ultimately gave up the goal, he needed to react quicker to protect down low, but he needs to be more aggressive in those situations.

Vanecek was not responsible for the second goal he gave up, it was a great cross-ice pass to the open player, but look how slow Vanecek is to react. He should go post to post, but he does not even complete the slide to cover the far post off the pass. If he immediately stretches the pad to cover the post, he has a chance to make the save.

That's the kind of play Vanecek has shown he can make. He has the talent and reflexes to make that save, but not the instincts. That's something he can work on and develop, but he needs to do it sooner rather than later or he will fall behind the highly touted Ilya Samsonov who is currently competing in the KHL.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Tic-Tac-Toe

The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.


Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.


A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

The Capitals are going to be a bit shorthanded when they take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in Denver (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington Plus). Friday’s game will be exactly one year to the date since the Caps last played in Colorado, a 6-2 loss just two days after a 6-3 loss in Nashville. Those two games were the low point of the entire 2017-18 season forcing the Caps to rally in their return home.

Here are three things to watch as the Caps hope for a better result this year in Denver:

Injury adjustments

Prior to Friday’s morning skate, the team announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby will all be out due to upper-body injuries. Holtby suffered an injury the morning of Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg while both Kuznetsov and Oshie were injured off of questionable hits from the Jets during the game.

There is at least some good news as defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, is back in.

With all the injuries and the players coming and going, here’s a look at what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

Obviously a very different look offensively than what we have seen to this point.

Injuries are never good, but the silver lining is seeing who steps up when they are presented with an opportunity. Burakovsky is someone who desperately needs to break out and he is playing on a second line with a lot of skill. Boyd moving up to the third line is a player to watch as well.

Ilya Samsonov will be the backup goalie

With Holtby out, Pheonix Copley will make his third consecutive start. But the Caps won’t be using an emergency backup this time as the team has recalled star prospect Samsonov from the Hershey Bears and he was on the ice Friday morning in Denver. In a corresponding move, Jonas Siegenthaler was reassigned to Hershey, but that may be just a paper move and he will most likely stay with the team for the remainder of the road trip.

In eight appearances in Hershey this season, Samsonov has registered a 3.73 GAA and .875 save percentage. Those are not great numbers by any means, but both he and the team have improved drastically since the start of the season.

It is, of course, unlikely that Samsonov will play, but there is at least a chance of Samsonov getting into his first NHL game.

Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche

Ironically enough, Colorado will have two goalies with more Capitals experience than the Caps will on Friday with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.

On Friday, it will be Grubauer who gets the nod against his former team and the team in which he helped win a Stanley Cup last season.

“Looking down, yeah it’s going to be weird seeing guys on the other end, but then once the puck drops it’s all about business,” Grubauer told reporters on Friday.

Grubauer has had a rough start with his new team, posting a 3.55 GAA and .893 save percentage, but despite that he also has managed a 3-1-1 record. That's a stark contrast to his start last year in which he posted incredible numbers but struggled to get into the win column early in the season.

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