The Washington Capitals were back on home practice ice on Wednesday after defeating the Penguins and St. Louis Blues on the road. It was obvious they were in a good mood. There was lots of chatting, fun chirping, and big ol’ smiles.
There were a few changes to the lines. Alex Ovechkin did not participate in practice with the team, although he did skate some on his own before the gang arrived. He hung out and watched for a time from the player area. Coach Trotz wasn’t tipping his hand on Ovi playing against the Preds on Thursday. Ovechkin is four goals from a 50 goal season, but it is more important to have him strong for the playoffs.
Jay Beagle is still off with an upper-body injury and is listed as “day-to-day.” We aren’t holding our breath that he will return before the playoffs. So the Caps have brought up Travis Boyd from Hershey, just in case. Additionally, Madison Bowey was called up.
The Caps announced that they signed Brian Pinho (@bpins_26) to a two-year entry-level contract. He was on the ice today for the first time as a Capital. He participated in development camp and like Shane Gersich, must have made an impression on the coaches. He suited up, but we really didn’t see that much of him.
They began practice on the Arlington Rink and took much joy in hitting the glass instead of the net. We caught some video for you, including an adorable little fan who was searching for Ovechkin and happy to have pucks fly at them.
For now the Caps are sitting pretty and if they can keep players healthy, all is good for the playoffs. We’ll keep an eye on who is in and who is out…including those goalies. More about that to follow.
Andre Burkovsky was having some fun with Braden Holtby: A little Before and After snow.
On a bitter cold night in Ballston, Virginia, a few brave Capitals joined a group of ladies on the cold ice for some fun! It was time for the annual Hockey N Heels at Kettler Ice Plex. It’s a special evening hosted by the Scarlet Caps exclusively for their members. A limited number of tickets were offered to members at a cost of $80 ($70 for Capitals Season Ticket Holders).
It was a good day at Kettler today. Chandler Stephenson and Andre Burakovsky were back to skating with the team after each suffered varying degrees of injury. Not on the ice was TJ Oshie who was butt-kicked into the boards Monday night. Stephenson has been out for one game with an “upper body injury” and has been cleared to play on Wednesday, if needed. And, Madison Bowey was looking fine despite a nasty slash to the hand on Monday.
One of the Washington Capitals top pair defenseman, Matt Niskanen, was placed on long-term injury reserve with a week-to-week upper-body injury after taking a slash from New Jersey Devils forward Jimmy Hayes last night. This is a huge blow to the Caps’ blue line, as they are still trying to figure out their combinations. There is, however, a silver lining to most things and this potentially being one of them. As of this morning, the Caps have recalled Madison Bowey from the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He is scheduled to make his debut tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bowey played a very well, conservative game in the preseason and seemed to be a perfect fit for the Caps’ blue line. Unfortunately, he was sent to Hershey due to salary cap restrictions and fear of losing other defensemen to waivers. With Niskanen now ruled out with the injury, Bowey may be expected to step into a potential top 4 role. Being a right-handed shot really helps place him among the Caps. If he is not to play his debut tonight, John Carlson would be the only right-handed defenseman and that would prove to have difficulties with two other pairings with off side left-handed players. If so, the off side defensemen would have to be Christian Djoos and Taylor Chorney. Djoos because of his offensive prowess and Chorney because of his great poke checking abilities.
I have loved watching Bowey play since I seen him in Hershey before his long-term injury. He’s a very conservative, two-way defenseman that I believe would be a great fit on the third pair with Djoos or Brooks Orpik. If I were choose a defenseman to keep among all of the new players to stay, it would be a tough decision between Djoos and Bowey. I would love to keep both up in Washington, but cap salary and waivers is a thing. I hope Bowey stuns the hockey world in his debut tonight, as Djoos did, and in his games to come.
Now that we know Nate Schmidt won’t be on the Caps roster next season, we are left wondering what the defense might look like. Additionally, we can assume with a high degree of confidence, that Karl Alzner won’t be back either.We have read that he is exploring his options as well.
Who is left then?
Dmitry Orlov – still needs to sign a new agreement with the Capitals. Coach Trotz usually speaks positively about Dima and seems to have great hopes in his improving abilities. Orlov now has two full seasons in the NHL from which we can gather information. From a scoring perspective, he has increased his assists by six, although he had two fewer goals. In the past season, he ranks fifth in the league and second on the Caps roster with a plus 30, and 10th on the Caps with 33 points. He is also credited as the Caps player who most contributed to scoring opportunities, (defensive point shares/DPS). We see a lot of potential in the 26 year old (his birthday is Friday).
Brooks Orpik: There has certainly been a lot of discussion on social media over the pros and cons of Orpik, who turns 37 in September. Oprik loves a physical defensive play which can often send him to the box. Last season he spent 48 minutes in the box. He averaged 17.47 minutes on the ice per game—among the lowest time for defensemen on the team. He blocked 132 shots, second only to Karl Alzner. With 181 hits, he was more physical than any D-men—only Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin had more hits. He ended the year with a plus 32, highest on the team. He too ranks high on contributing to the scoring advantage, although many fans see him providing more opportunities to opponents. The Caps said there would be no buyouts, which likely means Brooks is here to stay. It just isn’t clear to us that he will continue as s a top defenseman, given his history of injury and his age. Read more on Orpik here.
Matt Niskanen: Another player fans love to hate. He joined the Caps in the 2014/15 season, like Oprik he came from Pittsburgh. Like a fine wine, his scoring just gets better every year. Should Orlvo return, it is likely that he will be paired with him once again. He surpassed Karl Alzner and John Carlson in defensive point shares, and as a whole for the season, had more time on ice then Carlson. He is under contract through the 2020 season and we don’t see him going anywhere. At 31, he still has a good career ahead of him.
John Carlson: John has been playing for the Caps since he was 20–he turns 28 in January. He missed a fair amount of the 2015/16 season with an injury and was out for some of the past season as well. Since his 2015 injury, he has not seemed to play as aggressively as he once did. Coach Trotz has tried some different pairing with him, returning to the best mix of John and Alzner. That, of course is off the table now. When he shoots, it is a power puck that flies. This past season he recorded 28 assists, sixth on the team and eighth in overall points (37). His plus/minus dropped to seven and his power play assists have stayed pretty static at 13. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He will really need to step it up this year if he wants to ensure a spot on the roster come 2018.
That brings us to some of the question marks we have about next season. Who will possibly fill in the holes left by Alzner and Schmidt? What if Orlov isn’t signed?
Taylor Chorney: Taylor didn’t see that much ice time last season, playing in only 18 regular season games and seven playoff games. He previously filled in when Carlson and Orpik were out with their injuries. Some have suggested that the coach team him with either Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos, should they become part of the NHL roster. He has one more year left on his contract, and hopefully, if given more ice time he will be able to fill the Schmidt gap. He has one more year on his contract.
Madison Bowey: Bowey has been with the Hershey Bears for two seasons. He has always been impressive during development camp and this could be his standout summer. He was out much of last season with a broken ankle but all indications are he is ready to go. A/GM Mahoney recently said that Bowey is one of two players ready for the NHL (Jakub Vrana was the other).GMBM is looking for some young blood to add to the line up and the 22 year old could fit the bill. He notched four points in the AHL playoffs, including scoring the game winning overtime goal in game five of the Atlantic Division finals. We are optimistic that he would be a compliment to the Caps blue line.
Christian Djoos: The Caps signed him to a two-year $1.3 million contract today. The first year will be a two-way followed by a one-way contract in the 2018 season. It’s a $650,000 cap hit for those of you calculating. The Caps like their Swedes!! That means he should be seeing some NHL time this season. If this isn’t his year to join the Caps, it could be a year of transitioning him into a slot for 2018 and beyond. He has demonstrated his skill at the AHL level and will have the chance to prove himself during camp. They will likely be looking at his speed and ability to protect the puck.
Aaron Ness: We’ve seen glimmers of Ness in the NHL–10 with the Caps. He has been with the Bears since the 2015 season with 44 points – 33 of those assists. He currently has one year left on his contract with a $612,500 cap hit. We are not big fans of Aaron and look forward to see how he does at camp. Don’t think he will be what the Caps need to fill the Alzner/Schmidt gap.
Kevin Shattenkirk: To keep Shatt would be costly for the Caps. When he came he had one year left on a 4 year / $17,000,000 contract with the St Louis Blues and a cap hit of $4,250,000. He only played 19 games and we ran hot and cold with his performance. It is unlikely the Caps will sign him. he ended with 14 points and even to game winning goals. But we saw nothing notable in the playoffs. Rumor has it the NY Rangers might be interested or he could ultimately end up in Vegas as part of a trade.
It is important that the Caps have a strong blue line presence that can give Braden Holtby added protection. Fan expectation is to have more aggressive scoring defensemen. As the management team gets about filling the gaps this summer, our hope is they will bring forward some new blood with the same desire to win that Schmidt and Alzner had. The Caps shouldn’t have far to look, although a trade isn’t out of the question either.
The Washington Capitals are looking at prospect options as they consider which players to sign to new contracts and which players to release. Jakub Vrana was called up for the first time at the end of November and played his first game in a red sweater December 1 against the NY Islanders. Although he didn’t score that game, he did manage to get off four good shots. Vrana would eventually play 21 games and recorded three goals and three assists; one each on a power play opportunity. He played his last game in a Caps jersey on March 16.
Varana got his start playing hockey in the Czech Republic, becoming part of the Sweden’s Linkoping’s team in the 2011 season. He would continue to play in the Czech World Junior hockey tournaments until he was picked by the Capitals in the first round of the draft in 2014. By April 2015 he was replanted to Hershey, Pennsylvania to play for the AHL Bears.
As a Bear, the left winger has proven himself in his first two full seasons (2015 and 2016) with 34 and 36 points respectively. This season he played only 49 games with the Bears because of the time spent with the Caps. Even with the shortened games played, he still ranked eighth on the team in points and fourth in goals scored, Coach Troy Mann commented at the end of the season that Vrana’s play was somewhat inconsistent, in large part because he went back and forth between Hershey and DC. He believes that with more consistency, his game will improve. It wasn’t clear though if that would be in DC or back in Hershey.
It has been widely reported that Vrana is on track to become part of the third or fourth line with the Capitals this summer. He would most likely fill the gap left should the Caps not sign Justin Williams. We question if Vrana is ready for the big show yet. We know that he has the potential to become part of the next generation of “young guns” for the Capitals, although that time may not be this season. The last thing the Caps need to do is add a player to the mix who isn’t prepared for the challenge and rigor of the NHL. At 21, Vrana has time to grow into the player we can come to see great things from.
With development camp around the corner we will have a chance to see Jakub up close and compare him to other prospects in the run for a spot with a red jersey. We’ll look more closely at players like:
Lucas Johansen, Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker, Riley Barber and Jonas Siegenthaler