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Trotz: Backstrom should be All-Star, Selke winner

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Trotz: Backstrom should be All-Star, Selke winner

If Barry Trotz looked a little taller than normal behind the podium at the Caps’ practice rink on Monday, it’s because he was up on a soap box extolling the virtues of Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who on Tuesday night is scheduled to play in his 600th NHL game when the Red Wings visit Verizon Center.

Why?

“Because no one talks about him,” Trotz said, acknowledging Backstrom as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. “A point-a-game guy in this league is pretty incredible.”

In 599 NHL games Backstrom has 154 goals and 440 assists for 594 points, including nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points in 22 games this season. And yet he’s never played in an NHL All-Star Game. This year’s midseason showcase will be in Nashville on Jan. 30.

“He should be in one very shortly – like Nashville would be a good place for him to start,” Trotz said. “He doesn’t get enough recognition on how good he is. I knew he was good, I just didn’t realize how good he was until I saw him a daily basis.”

Asked if playing in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin has kept Backstrom out of the public limelight, Trotz said the quiet way Backstrom plays might also play a factor.

“Personality wise, Alex has the gift of catching your eye,” Trotz said. “He’s a loud player. The big shot. Walking through people with some of his moves. The big hits. And there’s this quiet guy that plays with him that gets him the puck. He does all the little cool stuff.

“To me he’s a terrific player that doesn’t get enough recognition. He should be a Selke winner (as the NHL’s top two-way forward) one of these years but no one even mentions him, and he should play in an All-Star Game starting this year.

“I believe that. I know if 29 other coaches were standing where I’m standing they’d be saying the same thing.”

Other milestones: Caps right wing Justin Williams is one point shy of 600 in his NHL career. He has 599 points in 943 games. Braden Holtby is scheduled to play in his 200th NHL games, while defenseman Matt Niskanen is set to play in Game No. 599.  Meanwhile, Trotz is one win away from passing Bryan Murray (620) and moving into 10th place in all-time coaching victories.

MORE: Orpik leaves Caps practice; will be re-evaluated

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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