Mike Weber

The Caps’ window has one more year, then all bets are off

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What should the Washington Capitals do now?

It’s a popular question today, for obvious reasons. Last night, the Caps fell painfully short of their postseason expectations, falling in the second round to Pittsburgh.

But if what Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in February is to be believed, don’t expect massive changes to the roster.

“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at.”

Looking at their payroll, the Caps don’t have many expiring contracts. Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson, and Dmitry Orlov are pending restricted free agents, while Jason Chimera, Mike Richards, and Mike Weber are unrestricted.

So there’s a bit of work for MacLellan to do this offseason, but nothing too drastic.

It’s the following summer that the tough decisions will need to be made. That’s when Evgeny Kuznetsov will need a big, new deal, and also when T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Karl Alzner can become UFAs.

Now, this is not to say that MacLellan won’t try to tinker this summer. There are some who feel he should try and upgrade the blue line, that the Penguins exposed it with their speed. But then, even if the defense could stand to be improved, that’s no easy task, as it’s probably easier to list the teams that won’t be trying to upgrade their blue line this summer.

The real improvement may have to come from within. Kuznetsov, for instance, had a great regular season, but just two points in 12 playoff games. Andre Burakovsky is still only 21; he has room to grow. Wilson, 22, wasn’t drafted in the first round to be a career fourth-liner; do the Caps still expect more from him? On the back end, Orlov, 24, probably has the most upside.

So, the Caps window hasn’t closed yet. If they can get past this latest disappointment, they should be back for another legitimate shot next year.

After that, though, all bets are off.

Chorney to replace Orpik, who’s ‘doing better’

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Brooks Orpik didn’t skate today and he won’t play tonight in Philadelphia, but he’s “doing better.”

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz provided that update this morning, two days after the veteran defenseman was shaken up on a hit by the Flyers’ Ryan White.

“We’ll see where he is tomorrow,” Trotz said of Orpik, per the Washington Post. “I don’t predict anything, but I know he’s feeling better. I saw him last night, and I saw him this morning. The trainers are working with him, and hopefully, he’s back soon.”

Orpik will be replaced by Taylor Chorney, the 28-year-old who appeared 55 times for Washington in the regular season.

The Caps can sweep the Flyers with a victory, and they intend to do just that.

“When you have a chance to close out a team in the playoffs, you need to step on their throat and end it,” d-man Mike Weber told CSN Washington.

“You can’t give them any breath, any life.”

Cautious Capitals don’t want to rush Carlson back from injury

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) John Carlson didn’t feel right when he returned to the Washington Capitals’ lineup on Jan. 27 after a 12-game absence. A lower-body injury was still nagging him, yet the team’s top defenseman wanted to play.

When Carlson was ineffective, he and the Capitals opted for a procedure to fix the problem. After being out almost two months, Carlson said he’s “pretty darn close” to being ready to play again.

Carlson could return as early as Friday when NHL-leading Washington visits the New Jersey Devils. This time, there was an abundance of caution and a willingness to make sure Carlson is fully healthy before he steps back onto the ice for game action.

“You don’t want to rush him back,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “You could tell there was still something wrong the last time he came back. Hopefully he’s 100 percent healthy when he gets back and he can play his game because he’s a top defenseman in this league when he’s going.”

The Capitals have cruised along in Carlson’s absence, clinching the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference and moving to the verge of capturing up the Presidents’ Trophy, which comes with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Getting Carlson back into form is one of the final pieces to the puzzle for the Capitals as they prepare for the postseason. Matt Niskanen, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik and the rest of the defensemen have been good, but Carlson makes the entire group better.

“I think Carly has the ability to be a game-breaker-type player,” Alzner said. “Just having him in the lineup I think allows us to have a little but more freedom for all the guys to utilize their minutes more effectively. You don’t have to pace yourself at all because Carly’s in there playing between 20 and 26 minutes of hard minutes.”

Carlson tried to play hard minutes in 13 games from Jan. 27 through Feb. 24. Something wasn’t totally right that time, but the 26-year-old is confident in his skating now and figures things will be better after the procedure and extra rest.

“I don’t think I’ll have to play any different than I did at the beginning of the year,” Carlson said last week. “That’s a big thing is I had to kind of change what I was doing out there because I was limited in certain areas. I don’t think there’ll be any of that this time around. It’s exciting.”

It’s exciting for the Capitals to think about what they can do with Carlson healthy. The top two pairings of Carlson, Oprik, Alzner and Niskanen are solid, and coach Barry Trotz can rotate Dmitry Orlov, newly-acquired Mike Weber, Taylor Chorney and Nate Schmidt as the Nos. 5 and 6 defensemen.

With Carlson missing time – and before that, Orpik – those defensemen have gotten some extra ice time but also been rotated in and out of the lineup.

“I think they’ve handled it pretty well,” Trotz said of the rotation. “They understand the big picture, which is really important. To me that says everything. They trust our decisions in what we’re doing, they work hard and say, `Whenever you tap me, we’re ready to go.”‘

Carlson, who has six goals and 25 assists this season, wants that tap as soon as possible. While off the ice, he has tried to watch games to feel acclimated to the team despite his lengthy absence, but there’s no substitute for being back in games.

“There were some trying times where it seems like you’re never going to skate again, and then as soon as you get on the ice you get that excitement back,” Carlson said. “All of a sudden you have the energy that goes along with it. … It’s exciting to feel good on the ice again and get ready for the rest of the year.”

No hearing for Weber after boarding Rust

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Caps defenseman Mike Weber won’t face a disciplinary hearing for a boarding major on Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust during Sunday’s action, an NHL spokesman has confirmed.

Weber was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for the hit, which occurred with about 10 minutes remaining in Pittsburgh’s eventual 6-2 win. Rust wasn’t injured on the play.

Weber, acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline, has a relatively clean disciplinary record, which may have played into his favor.

The 28-year-old was playing in just his seventh game since getting dealt from the Sabres.

Crosby extends point streak to 12 games; Pens win sixth straight

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The Pittsburgh Penguins kept rolling on Sunday when they downed the Washington Capitals, 6-2. Sidney Crosby is a big reason why they’ve been so successful of late.

Despite getting off to such a slow start, Crosby is currently third in NHL scoring with 75 points. He’s only trailing ‘Hawks forward Patrick Kane and Stars forward Jamie Benn. On Sunday, Crosby extended his point streak to 12 games with his assist on Trevor Daley‘s first period goal. He picked another assist on Chris Kunitz‘s goal in the third frame.

The absence of Evgeni Malkin hasn’t slowed Crosby down either. The Pens are 5-0-0 since Malkin came out of the lineup and Crosby has 10 points during that span.

This game had a distinct playoff feel to it. There were nice goals, weird goals, big hits and some nastiness.

–Bryant Rust scored a nice goal (click here to watch).

Jason Chimera scored a weird goal (click here to watch).

Mike Weber was tossed for boarding Rust (click here to watch).

The win moves Pittsburgh into second place in the Metropolitan division, but it came at a price. The Penguins lost Brian Dumoulin to injury after he was flattened by Alex Ovechkin.

The Pens have won six games in a row.

Every hockey fan should cross their fingers and hope these two teams meet at some point this postseason.