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Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

Who is the Caps' MVP at the bye week?

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they give their picks for MVP.

El-Bashir’s MVP: G.M. Brian MacLellan

There are several qualified candidates from which to choose. There’s Nicklas Backstrom, who’s fourth in the NHL in points. There’s Braden Holtby, who’s in the Vezina Trophy conversation again. And there’s T.J. Oshie, who carried the Caps’ offense early on.

But my pick for MVP is Brian MacLellan, who recognized his team’s biggest weakness after last year’s playoff ouster and did something about it. He traded for third line center Lars Eller and signed Boston Bruins castoff Brett Connolly to a one-year contract in the span of a few days last summer. 

The Caps hoped Eller and Connolly could provide a jolt to a bottom-six forward group was that was badly outplayed in the second round loss to the Penguins. Now, as the regular season enters its stretch run, that hope has turned into reality. 

Eller has anchored the third line, produced 10 goals and, prior to the bye, was deployed on the power play as a replacement for an injured Andre Burakovsky. Connolly, meanwhile, is up to 12 goals despite missing 14 games as a healthy scratch. Both Eller and Connolly struggled initially to fit in, but they now looked like fully integrated pieces on the NHL’s best team.

If the Caps go on to claim the franchise’s first Cup, Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Holtby will, no doubt, be the headliners. But the team’s supporting cast, led by Eller and Connolly, is going to play a big role, too. 

And that supporting cast wouldn’t have been in place without MacLellan’s decisiveness during the offseason.

RELATED: Burakovsky skates in cast before practice

Regan's MVP: Nicklas Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin is the Caps' best player, but a reasonable argument could be made to say that Backstrom is actually the team's most important player. That has certainly been true this season.

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 61. That's nine more points than the second-place Alex Ovechkin. He is also fourth in the NHL, trailing Connor McDavid by only six points.

But it's not just about stats. What sets Backstrom apart is his consistency.

Ovechkin went seven straights games without a goal from the end of November to the start of December, Evgeny Kuznetsov was sleep walking unitl January, T.J. Oshie was the MVP before he suffered an injury against Detroit in November, Marcus Johansson could not stop scoring in the team's Western Canada road trip but went through a lengthy dry spell afterward.

All the while, Backstrom was there, quietly producing just like he always does. The longest the veteran center has gone without a point this season is three games. That's it.

And even when he's not scoring, Backstrom remains incredibly important because of how he can limit the other team's offense. As great as he is offensively, he may be just as good defensively. That's a rare combination.

Seriously, Backstrom may be the most underappreciated player in the NHL, but not by me. He's the team MVP and in my mind, it's not close.

MORE CAPITALS: Sanford, Vrana rejoin the Caps

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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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