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Is Stephenson ready for a shot with Capitals?

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Is Stephenson ready for a shot with Capitals?

From now until the start of rookie camp in early September Capitals coach Barry Trotz will be kicking around line combinations in his head, trying to figure out who complements each other best. But when he gets to the top-line center spot, there is a pause.

With Nicklas Backstrom’s offseason hip surgery threatening to delay his start to the regular season, Trotz already has begun some mental musical chairs.

“If we do nothing right now, we can put some people in the middle,” Trotz said. “T.J. (Oshie) has even played center. We can put (Andre) Burakovsky there. (Brooks) Laich could go there.

“We’ve got some options, but at the same time I know we’re not done looking. We don’t have a lot of (cap) room, that’s more of a thing for Mac (general manager Brian MacLellan). I’m probably looking internally more. Can a Chandler Stephenson come up and play in one of the roles? We’ll look internally in our own group first but if something is the right fit, I know Mac will go out and do an excellent job like he has and fill a hole if we have one.”

With the Capitals’ salary cap space of $11 million about to be eaten up by contracts for restricted free agents Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, the Caps’ options of signing a third-line center to replace unsigned free agent Eric Fehr appear limited.

Which brings us to Stephenson, a hard-working, versatile, 21-year-old center who grinded his way through his first pro season last year with the AHL Hershey Bears.

“You can’t help but be nervous,” Stephenson responded when told of Trotz’s comments at the conclusion of last week’s development camp. “It’s obviously a huge honor that he could see myself in a center spot. That’s unbelievable. I just have to take that in, try to be myself, and run with it.”

After netting a goal on his first shot as a pro, Stephenson went on to record seven goals and seven assists in 54 games for Bears coach Troy Mann, who used him as a fourth-line center between Liam O’Brien and Garrett Mitchell, as well as a penalty killer. Stephenson added one goal and four assists in 10 playoff games.

“Playing last year in Hershey gives me a lot of confidence and experience knowing what that’s like, how big the guys are and the speed,” Stephenson said.

MORE CAPITALS: ARBITRATION APPROACHING FOR HOLTBY AND JOHANSSON

Taken by the Capitals in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft (77th overall) Stephenson put up big numbers in his fourth and final year with the Regina Pats of the Western League, netting a career-high 30 goals and 89 points in 69 games.

He said adapting to a defensive role in his first season as a pro was not as significant as adapting to the hard-hitting style of play.

“You almost have to run with whatever position a coach gives you,” he said. “I had a lot of great veterans around me who helped guide me and show me the way. If I was having an off day or feeling down they were always there to pick me up.”

Stephenson’s development camp was his fourth with the Capitals and it ended with a two broken teeth and cuts to both lips, thanks to an accidental high stick by free-agent invitee Marcus Basara.

“I went wide and I didn’t see the stick and felt my head go back,” Stephenson said. “My front four (teeth) are already fake, so it will be interesting to see what Mom says. He apologized a whole bunch, but I said it’s not a big deal, they’re already fake. At least now I look the part.”

When training camp rolls around Stephenson is hoping to push centers Michael Latta and Zach Sill for ice time and a spot as a fourth-line center, even if it is a short-term stint that allows Backstrom more time to recover.

Trotz said he’s looking forward to the competition.

“I’ll do my ghost lineups so we know how many games each guy will play,” Trotz said. “When we break camp, what numbers do we want to get down to when Hershey starts? I’m trying to formulate some of those, but they’re hypothetical sometimes because there’s always a surprise every year.”

Last year, Liam O’Brien was that surprise. This fall, Stephenson is hoping it’s him.

 

 

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

The odds have never gone the way of the Washington Capitals.

After years of being the common pick to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup, this was most definitely not the year.

Yet, here we are with the Capitals as one of the final two teams standing.

For their upcoming Stanley Cup Final, the Caps are the underdogs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The opening line from OddsShark has the Golden Knights as -135 money line favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals were listed as +115 underdogs.

Vegas (the betting entity, not the team) has not exactly been the most reliable this year though. After all, the Golden Knights were 100/1 odds to win the whole thing. Now they are four games away.

In their past two series, Washington was not the favorites. The Capitals have not been favorites since the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For years in the Alex Ovechkin era, they have been the favorites to not only go on to play for the Stanley Cup but winning it.

In 2018 they started the season tied for the fifth best odds to win the Cup (14/1), one of their lowest opening marks in the past decade. For the full perspective, Washington was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and behind the Dallas Stars at the start of the season.

Without question this underdog role has fit them quite well, they shouldn’t want anything to change heading into the biggest postseason series in 20 years for Washington D.C.

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