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Rangers hand Caps first regulation loss of the season

Rangers hand Caps first regulation loss of the season

The Caps fell for the first time in regulation this season, losing 4-2 to the New York Rangers on Saturday.

How it happened: The Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Rangers were able to respond with four unanswered goals including two by rookie Jimmy Vesey. The turning point came in the second period when Washington failed to score on a double-minor assessed to Mika Zibanejad after he caught T.J. Oshie with a high-stick. The Caps were winning 2-1 at the time of the penalty. By the end of the period, they trailed 3-2.

What it means: The loss is the Capitals' first regulation loss of the season. Despite the impressive 3-1-1 start, the Caps have now gone 1-1-1 against Metropolitan Division foes.

A tale of two periods: Coming into Saturday's game, the Capitals had scored first in each of their four contests this season. Saturday proved no different as the Caps jumped out to a 2-0 lead despite being outshot in the first period 13-10. In the second period, the Caps clamped down on the shots allowing only five...but the Rangers scored on three of those shots to take the 3-2 lead.

RELATED: WHAT THE CAPS COMMUNITY MEANS TO 2 SPECIAL FANS

A star in the making: Vesey made headlines in the summer by not signing with the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him, electing instead to wait until he became a free agent. The list of teams interested in signing the Hobey Baker winner as the top player in the college ranks was a long one. On Saturday, Vesey showed why with two goals. His first goal was a simple tap-in thanks to a great pass by Rick Nash. His second goal, however, came on a strong drive to the net, physically keeping Karl Alzner off the puck while neatly tucking the puck between the five-hole of Braden Holtby. That was a goal-scorer's goal and certainly did not look like a young rookie straight out of college.

A disturbing trend: For the second time in as many games, the Capitals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period only to watch that lead evaporate. On Thursday against the Florida Panthers, the Caps held a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period. They then were out-shot 14-4 in the second allowing the Panthers to tie the game at 2. On Saturday, Washington again jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see the Rangers tie it in the second period. This time, however, Washington was not able to recover and ended up taking the loss.

First of many? The third line looked like it was starting to gel in Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers and that continued on Saturday as Lars Eller recorded his first goal as a Cap. Brooks Orpik held the puck near the blue line and wristed a hopeful shot. Eller stood in the high-slot and got his stick down to deflect into the back of the net.

Favorite target: There's just something about the New York Rangers. With his first period goal, Ovehckin has now scored a goal in 10 of his last 11 games against the Blueshirts. In addition, Ovechkin has scored more goals (21) against Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist than against any other goalie in his career.

Look ahead: Time for the Caps to pack their bags as they skip town for a four-game road trip that will take them across western Canada, their second-longest road trip of the season. Their first game comes on Wednesday against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. The Caps will not return to Verizon Center until Nov. 3 when they host the Winnipeg Jets.

MORE CAPITALS: DEFLECTION GIVES ELLER HIS FIRST GOAL AS A CAP

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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