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Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Prospect report: WIth Zach Sanford gone, Caps must rely on Hershey for depth

Hershey update: 28-17-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 2-1-0-0

You can officially scratch Zach Sanford off the Capitals prospect list.

Sanford was shipped to St. Louis as part of the trade package that landed the Capitals Kevin Shattenkirk. While that may be good news for the Caps, it is also bad news for the Hershey Bears who now stand to lose two key forwards.

Wait, two?

Before the Shattenkirk trade, the Capitals looked set on carrying Sanford and Jakub Vrana as forward depth for the playoffs. With Sanford now gone, that will mean more time over the last stretch of the season for Vrana in the NHL. Even when Andre Burakovsky returns from injury, the Caps may still choose to keep Vrana around to keep him practicing with the team. I would expect to see him with the Caps for most if not all of the remainder of the regular season and for the team to keep cycling through other Hershey forwards in search of who may be the best fit in case of multiple postseason injuries. Forwards like Riley Barber.

Barber had a busy week. With the injury to T.J. Oshie, the forward prospect was recalled from Hershey and played in the first three NHL games of his career. He registered two shots on goal against the Edmonton Oilers. Following Saturday’s game in Nashville, Barber was sent down to the AHL where he earned an assist in Sunday’s loss to Bridgeport. He was then recalled again for the Caps' game in New York on Tuesday and returned to the AHL prior to the NHL’s trade deadline on Wednesday.

Barber spoke with the blog Russian Machine Never Breaks about what is was like to achieve his dream and finally make it to the NHL. You can read it here.

Although Barber’s ultimate goal is to earn a spot on the NHL roster rather than just play in three games as a callup, the fact that he has made it this far as a sixth-round draft pick is a remarkable success.

One player who seemed likely to earn a call-up this season was Nathan Walker. A late-season hand injury, however, has put that on hold.

Walker is currently considered week-to-week. As the season goes on, the goal for these Hershey call-ups becomes less about giving players experience and more about getting ready for the playoffs so the clock may be ticking for Walker to make his debut this season.

Fox Sports wrote a feature on the young Aussie with some glowing words from head coach Barry Trotz who believes Walker will get called up either this year or next.

Another part of the Shattenkirk trade that affects the Bears directly is Pheonix Copley. Washington also acquired the goalie and former Bear as part of the deal. Washington needed to grab a third goalie not just for their sake, but for Hershey’s.

Joe Canata was signed to be Washington’s No. 3 this season and to play in tandem in the AHL with Vitek Vanecek. That plan has not worked and the goaltending has been an issue for the Bears. Vanecek is as much to blame for that as Canata. After a hot start, Vanecek has struggled and has a 2.69 GAA and .905 save percentage for the season.

The addition of Copley is not a sign that the team has given up on Vanecek by any means. After all, the team elected to keep him and trade away Canta. But at only 21 years old, Vanecek remains very much a work in progress.

Stanislav Galiev stayed hot with two goals Friday against Hartford. He now has 17 goals and 28 points in 36 games for the Bears this season. Many have wondered why he has not been recalled at some point this season, but with several up and coming prospects within the organization, it certainly appears as if the team is ready to move on. That point was further emphasized prior to the trade deadline as Isabelle Khurshudyan reported the Capitals were shopping him.

General manager Brian MacLellan stated after the trade for Shattenkirk that the St. Louis Blues “insisted” on Sanford being part of the deal. I have to wonder if one of Washington’s first proposals included Galiev instead.

As well as Galiev has played of late, no one had a better week than defenseman Christian Djoos who recorded five points in Hershey’s three games. He is now riding a five-game point streak for the third time this season and is now tied for fourth among AHL defensemen with 38 points.

Travis Boyd reached a milestone with the Bears over the weekend. Boyd’s goal Friday was his 100th career AHL point. He is currently second on the team in points with 45.

In other Bears news, the Capitals signed defenseman Colby Williams to a two-year entry-level contract on Thursday. The team also signed free agent forward Mason Mitchell to a two-year, entry-level contract. He will join the Bears on a tryout agreement.

Washington’s 2016 first round pick, Lucas Johansen, was signed to a three-year entry-level contract as well. He is currently playing with the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL, but is expected to play for Hershey next season.

You can see more details on the signings here.

RELATED: Trotz wants Caps to make sure they're in playoff mode

Other prospect notes:

Ilya Samsonov’s KHL team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, won its first round series against Kunlun Red Star 4-1 with a dominant 8-2 win on Thursday. After starting Game 1, Samsonov appeared in only one other game when he came on in relief in Game 4, stopping all 11 shots in faced in his team’s only loss of the series.

Two Caps prospects squared off over the weekend as Shane Gersich and North Dakota took on Steven Spinner’s Nebraska-Omaha team. The teams split the two games with one win apiece, but Spinner won the head-to-head matchup with two goals in Friday’s game, both scored within two minutes apart.

It was a rare down week for Gersich as he was held off the scoresheet completely in both of North Dakota’s games. That, however, should not take away from the monster season he is having.

“Shane Gersich came into our program two years ago as a first-year freshman and had a pretty good impact in the national championship game scoring a goal on the fourth line,” said head coach Brad Berry. “He came in this year and wanted more. He got stronger, he’s very fast, his skating ability is one of his best assets as far as skating, and he’s on that top line with Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser, and he’s been the guy that consistently does things over and over again. He’s been consistent in his work habits, and he’s been consistently showing up on the score sheet. It’s no coincidence the success he’s had.”

Gersich leads North Dakota in points with 34 (19 goals, 15 assists).

Brian Pinho and Chase Priskie also lead their respective teams in points. Pinho is currently on a point-per-game pace with 34 points in 34 games for Providence. At Quinnipiac, Priskie finished the regular season tied for the team lead in points with 25, despite the fact that he is a defenseman.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk's Twitter handle is one big poop joke

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Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

Ovechkin-less Caps win in Montreal in return from the All-Star break

With Alex Ovechkin serving a one-game suspension, the Capitals still were able to pull out a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday in the team's return from the all-star break.

The power play contributed a goal despite the loss of Ovechkin and Braden Holby played well late in the game to preserve the win.

Here is how Washington won.

The power play

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had the 30th ranked power play since Dec. 1 striking at only 14.1-percent. With no Ovechkin, it seemed unlikely that the power play would be able to suddenly find success against Montreal. Yet, the power play looked much improved with crisp puck movement that kept the Canadiens guessing. The puck movement was much quicker and more deliberate than the power play had shown of late which has looked far too slow and indecisive.
Washington cashed in with a goal from Tom Wilson as Jakub Vrana fed him from behind the net and he beat the defense to the slot.

Petry’s second goal

Jeff Petry opened the scoring with a goal for Montreal in the first period. Wilson tied the game at 1, but Petry scored again early in the second period...for the Caps.

Brendan Leipsic tipped the puck behind the net and Lars Eller grabbed it and tried to stuff it. He couldn't. Travis Boyd then tipped the puck in front of the net where Petry was trying to cover the back door to help out netminder Cary Price. Instead of helping, however, he ended up kicking the puck into his own net giving him one goal for each team and giving the Caps the 2-1 lead.

Kuznetsov on his butt

All-star defenseman Shea Weber had the puck in Montreal's defensive zone and was pressured by Evgeny Kuznetsov. In terms of a forecheck matchup, you would have to give the edge to Weber in that situation and nine times out of 10, you'd be right. This time, however, Weber lost the puck behind him with Kuznetsov pressuring. Weber turned and knocked over Kuznetsov to try to get to the puck. On his butt, Kuznetsov still managed to get a stick to the puck, passed it to T.J. Oshie who dropped it off to Jakub Vrana. Vrana netted it for his 23rd goal of the season, but the play was all started by the great forecheck by Kuznetsov.

Holtby's third period

When Holtby is feeling it, he is hard to beat. Protecting the Caps' lead, Holtby was strong in the final frame with 14 saves on 15 shots. The save of the night came when Joel Armia tried to tip a puck past Holtby and succeeded. The puck hit the post and Armia raised his arms to celebrate. Holtby, however, plucked the puck out of the air with the glove before it could cross the line which was confirmed by review.

Holtby had plenty of struggles heading into the all-star break, but was strong in the team's return with 31 saves.

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A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

A response game for Holtby, a butt pass and some power for the power play

The Capitals made sure the one-game suspension to Alex Ovechkin did not cost them with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Better power play

Even without Alex Ovechkin, the power play looked much improved. The most noticeable improvement was the puck movement.

One of the issues on the power play has been slow and indecisive puck movement. The Caps were much quicker with their passes on Monday and kept the puck constantly moving which kept Montreal guessing.

Washington's power play has focused largely on position over movement which is fine and was productive for several years years. Lately, however, if the passes the players want aren't open, they freeze up with the puck, hold onto it too long, then try to force passes through covered passing lanes. On Monday, each time a player took a pass, the puck was off their stick shortly after. They already knew where the puck was going when they got the puck and quickly moved it not allowing the penalty kill to get set.

The key now will be continuing that puck movement when Ovechkin returns.

A good night for Holtby

If you're going to get all over Braden Holtby for every bad game, you have to give him credit when he has a good one. Holtby allowed only two goals on Monday. The first was a 3-on-2 with Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie playing defense and Orlov misplayed it allowing Jeff Petry wide open in front of the net. The second came as Dale Weiss was also left alone in front of the net. Holtby played it awkwardly coming out to challenge Weiss, but did not extend the pads to try to force Weiss wide and gave him too much room. Still, the defense left him out to dry in both situations.

Otherwise, it was a very strong game.

Holtby made 14 saves in the third period alone and 31 saves overall for a .939 save percentage on the night. It is the first time in eight games he has managed a save percentage over .900.

Turning point

Montreal took a 1-0 lead off a Jeff Petry goal and the Canadiens were all over the Caps to start. Then Washington earned a power play opportunity and, well, it was awful with Ovechkin, surely it would be terrible without him. Instead, Wilson scored to tie the game and the power play looked much improved. Suddenly, the Caps were back in the game.

Play of the game

This is great forecheck work by Evgeny Kuznetsov on one of the best defensemen in the game, Shea Weber. He forced a turnover then made the pass from his butt to set up the goal.

Stat of the game

Lars Eller loves playing against Montreal. He recorded one assist and was one of the Caps' best players on Monday.

Quote of the game

Holtby has had struggles in the past, but he always seems to rebound at some point and return to his dominant self. Todd Reirden called Monday's game a "response" performance for the netminder after his best performance in several weeks.


Fan predictions

Close. The Caps rebounded from a 1-0 deficit and ended up winning 4-2.

Saw a lot of predictions for two goals for Richard Panik who played in Ovechkin's spot on the top line. Panik had two shots on goal, but no points in 12:35 of even-strength ice time.

No goals for John Carlson, but Holtby did have a strong game and the Caps had a two-goal win.

Bold.

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