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Special teams play big role in Capitals-Flyers playoff series

Special teams play big role in Capitals-Flyers playoff series

There's a perception that when the playoffs roll around in the NHL the referees put away their whistles and call fewer penalties. That was not the case in the first round matchup between the Capitals and Flyers as both teams had their fair share of power play opportunities.

Luckily for the Caps, both their power play and penalty kill was up to the task.

"The early couple of games were all special teams on both sides," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said.

The Capitals' power play stole the show in the first three games of the series as the Caps went an incredible 8 for 17 with the extra man including a Game 3 blitz of five power play goals.

But while the power play went cold in the second half of the series—the Caps failed to score in their final 10 attempts—the penalty kill remained consistently strong.

"I give their penalty kill a lot of credit," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "Their PK is a pressure PK. They're very disciplined, they're very much in sync together and they did a good job."

In the decisive Game 6 on Sunday, it was the penalty kill and not the power play that proved key.

Locked in a scoreless tie in the second period, Nicklas Backstrom was incorrectly assessed a double-minor for high sticking Ryan White even though replay showed White was actually struck by the stick of his own teammate, Chris VandeVelde.

"I was pretty shocked because my stick was down there but it happens," Backstrom said. "I mean you just got to suck it up."

Just five seconds into the penalty kill, Matt Niskanen was booked for hooking. That gave the Flyers a full two-minute two-man advantage. For a Philadelphia team that had struggled to generate any offense in the series, they were handed a golden opportunity to give goalie Michal Neuvirth another lead to protect. Yet, in the ensuing power play, Braden Holtby turned aside three shots and Jay Beagle blocked another as the the Caps were able to successfully kill off all three penalties.

"Those are big parts of the game," T.J. Oshie said. "When you're at a big disadvantage and you have guys out there blocking shots, Holts making great saves, guys playing it exactly how we wanted to play it, when you kill those off it gives you almost more momentum than a goal would."

"If we don't get through that, this building probably explodes," Trotz said. "We were able to get through that and to me, once we got through that I felt that we were going to find a way to win the hockey game."

It was those moments that quietly colored the series.

Imagine how different things could have been if Philadelphia had been able to score on any of their three power play opportunities they had in the first period of Game 1. Before their late-game meltdown in Game 3, the Flyers had five power plays in what was their first game back in Philadelphia since the passing of owner Ed Snider. Any power play goal would have sparked a lot of momentum from an emotional Wells Fargo Center, but the Flyers failed to score on any of their opportunities.

In fact, the Flyers managed only one power play goal in the series out of 24 chances and it came in Game 4. The Flyers would go on to win that game. In the other five games in which they did not score a power play goal Philadelphia's record was 1-4.

"It was a big difference maker for us in the series," Trotz said. "Early our power play was as well as our penalty kill and then as the series went on our penalty kill ended up being a difference maker for sure."

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

MORE OVECHKIN NEWS:

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

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Key Caps questions: What rookies will have an impact next season?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: What rookies will have an impact with the Caps next season?

In the team's push for the Stanley Cup the last few years, the Capitals brought in several veterans through free agency and trades to bolster the roster. As a result, there was not much room for the team's prospects. Last season, however, Washington took a very different approach.

Nine rookie players suited up for the Caps for at least one game in the regular season in 2017-18, the most the team has played since the 2013-14 season. Six rookies also played at least one game in the playoffs. Washington dressed zero rookies in the postseason in each of the two years prior. In fact, that is the most rookies Washington has used in a postseason in franchise history. 

To say the Caps won because they used their young prospects more so than before would be a gross oversimplification, but clearly there was value to adding cheap, young, talented players to the lineup.

But by returning virtually the same roster as last season, there will be little room for rookies to make a similar impact in 2018-19.

Here's a projected roster of the Caps' opening night lineup:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Nic Dowd/Travis Boyd - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby
Pheonix Copley

Barring injury, there's just not much room there for the young players to break in.

Of the players who still qualify as rookies, the ones to watch are Boyd, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Liam O'Brien, Riley Barber, Jonas Siegenthaler and Ilya Samsonov.

The most obvious answer to the question is Boyd. Jay Beagle's departure leaves a spot open at fourth line center and Boyd would be my pick for the most likely player to fill that role.

The addition of Nic Dowd means Boyd may be the only rookie forward to make the team on opening night. Barry Trotz usually kept only one extra forward and defenseman on the roster, but we do not know if Todd Reirden will have a similar outlook. If there is another spot open, Walker, Gerish, O'Brien and Barber will be in the running. I am not sure I see Walker becoming an every day NHL player, but I could see him coming on as a 14th guy since the Caps have a little bit of breathing room under the salary cap. The same does not go for Gersich who has a higher NHL ceiling. Even though he jumped right into the NHL last season, it is much more likely he goes to the AHL this year to take a large role in Hershey rather than to play scattered minutes in Washington.

O'Brien and Barber also make this list because the clock is ticking for them. Both are 24 and both have spent several years in the organization. They need a strong training camp to prove they belong in the NHL or they risk being viewed less as prospects and more as lifetime AHLers.

Like the offense, the defense also seems pretty set. Of the team's defensive prospects, Siegenthaler is probably the most NHL ready, but I have a hard time believing he will supplant any of the seven defensemen in training camp.

And that brings us to Samsonov.

Samsonov will make his North America debut this fall playing in Hershey. Brain MacLellan has been adamant that Samsonov will be starting in the AHL in order to adjust to the North American game. Just how quickly he can adjust, however, may determine if he earns a jump to the NHL at some point next season.

Samsonov is widely seen as Washington's future in net. While there is no reason to rush him, it is not hard to envision him supplanting Pheonix Copley as the backup should Copley struggle. But first, he has to play well in Hershey.

While the Caps look set throughout the roster, injuries always leave open the possibility for a player to get called up and play his way into a full-time role. As of now, however, it looks like there is not much room for the team's rookies this season, other than Boyd.

Other key Caps questions: