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Ovechkin scores; Caps get 1st win, top Sabres 3-2

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Ovechkin scores; Caps get 1st win, top Sabres 3-2

WASHINGTON (AP) Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season Sunday, and the Washington Capitals became the last NHL team to get a win, beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2.

After a fruitless first week, Ovechkin found the net with a one-timer from the left circle on a power play with 14:49 remaining in the game. Then came the familiar celebration that had been missing thus far in this shortened season: the former two-time league MVP unleashing a downward fist pump with left knee bent, then collecting a row of high-fives as he skated along the Capitals bench.

Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, John Erskine also scored, and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for the Capitals, who had opened with four consecutive losses for the first time since the 1993-94 season. The sluggish start led players and new coach Adam Oates to openly question the team's work ethic.

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps sign Zach Sanford

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Caps sign Zach Sanford

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Signing Zach Sanford

Every year at development camp there is always one or two players who stand out. This year, it was Zach Sanford. Not only was his physical prowess on display, (6-foot-4, 191 pounds), but his skill was as well. He looked comfortable with and without the puck and was miles ahead of most of the other prospects in terms of development.

Even so, it was a bit surprising to hear the Caps were pushing to sign him to an entry level contract. He still had two years of eligibility at Boston College and the Caps' roster is loaded. Why push for him to sign just to spend the season in the AHL?

The reason why the Caps did it most likely has something to do with Jimmy Vesey.

RELATED: CAN CAPS RELY ON JOE CANNATA AS THEIR NO. 3 GOALIE?

Vesey was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2012. By staying in college for four years without signing with Nashville, he will become a free agent on Aug. 15 and looks set to test the market. The same thing may be playing out between Washington and Thomas DiPauli, the Caps' fourth round pick from 2012 who remains unsigned. This type of thing is rare and it certainly seemed to catch Nashville off guard, but it did serve as a reminder to teams: sign your prospects before they have the chance to leave.

Sanford was drafted in 2013 out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. The rules for players drafted out of junior leagues are similar to those drafted out of college. Full disclosure, I do not speak legalese, but based on my understanding of the collective bargaining agreement that sets the rules for signing players, by playing one year in juniors after getting drafted, Sanford could have become a free agent in August of 2017. It does not technically matter that he will have played only three years of college, all that matters is that it will have been four years after he was drafted.

So what does that mean for him this season? The Caps are set at center with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. Plus, Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky can play if need be. Barring injury then, Sanford will spend the season in Hershey.

Brian MacLellan has hinted at trying to keep room under the salary cap open for prospects to cycle in and get some NHL experience throughout the season. Sanford will have to adjust from playing in the NCAA to the AHL, which is quite a jump, but don't be surprised if Sanford gets his first taste of the NHL later in the 2016-17 season.

Grade: Incomplete

Vesey may have changed the game when it comes to prospects. Teams need to get these guys signed when they can or risk losing them. The Caps may well lose DiPauli and they didn't want the same thing to happen to Sanford.

This gets an incomplete, however, until we see what position Sanford plays this season. He played wing and center in college. Considering his size, he could be a good power forward and someone the Caps are tempted to call up to plug into the bottom six, but I absolutely do not want to see this unless it is at center. You can never have enough centers and it would be better for the team in the long-term to commit to developing him as a center rather than rushing him as a wing.

Granted, I am not a scout. If the Caps have determined he has no NHL future as a center, then they should ignore this and develop him as a wing. That's not what I saw at development camp, however.

If Sanford spends the season in Hershey as a center, then this move is a solid A. If the Caps try to rush him into their lineup as a winger this year, however, that would be a mistake. Patience is a virtue.

MORE CAPITALS: DID CAPS MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION WITH CHIMERA AND LATTA?

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: MacLellan signs a No. 3 goalie

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: MacLellan signs a No. 3 goalie

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Signing Joe Cannata as the No. 3 goalie

The Caps made a number of minor league moves in the offseason and while I won't go into each and every one of them, the signing of Joe Cannata deserves some discussion considering he will be the guy the team calls up in case of injury to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer.

What do you get the guy who has everything? That's how the offseason felt a bit for the Capitals who had very few offseason needs. With the departure of goalies Justin Peters and Dan Ellis, however, the Caps found themselves in serious need of a No. 3 goalie.

First, an explanation. When many fans heard the team was looking for a goalie, their reaction was why? They have Holtby, Grubauer and 2015 first-round pick Ilya Samsonov, right? Problem solved.

Not so much.

RELATED: DID CAPS MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION WITH CHIMERA AND LATTA?

Samsonov is under contract with the KHL for the next two years. Should the Caps find themselves in need of a goalie this year, Samsonov would not be available to them. Even if he was, a 19-year-old with no NHL experience would not be their first choice. As for their other prospects, Adam Carlson will head to ECHL South Carolina this year while Vitek Vanecek will get the bump from the ECHL to AHL Hershey. That still leaves one opening in the AHL.

Enter Joe Cannata.

What exactly does a team look for in a third goalie? Someone who would be comfortable spending the entire season in the AHL, but who can be called up to the NHL on a short-term basis. Someone who can sit on the bench and enter an NHL game in relief if the need arises. If Holtby suffers a minor tweak and is out for two weeks, for example, then Cannata will be called up to serve as Grubauer's back up.

What we are not talking about is someone who can replace Holtby or Grubauer in case of long-term injury. At that point, the Caps would almost certainly bring in someone via trade. Goalies capable of playing in the NHL long term don't sign deals to play in the AHL.

Cannata, 26, has 88 games of AHL experience, including 40 games last season in Utica, where he went 20-13-6 with two shutouts, a 2.52 goals-against average (GAA) and a .909 save percentage.

"He'll be the third goalie, work with Vanecek in the American League," general manager Brian MacLellan said at development camp. "[Goalie coach Mitch Korn] and [associate goalie coach Scott Murray] will try and develop both those guys to get to the next level."

Last year, the Caps went with experience by signing Ellis, a veteran journeyman goalie with over 200 games of NHL experience. He did well over the course of the season with a 2.38 GAA and .908 save percentage, but he ran out of gas in the playoffs, getting torched in his only two games with a 4.80 GAA and .843 save percentage.

Cannata, on the other hand, has no NHL experience. Clearly, the Caps have decided to go younger with a goalie tandem of Cannata and Vanecek.

At 26, there's certainly higher upside to Cannata than there was for Ellis. He continues to improve his game and could ultimately develop into a solid AHL starter or even an NHL backup, but I have to wonder at this point just how much confidence Barry Trotz would have in him if he needed to call him up in October or November.

Grade: B

If everything goes according to plan, this will be the last Caps fans think about Cannata this season. Holtby and Grubauer will again be the Caps' top two netminders and Cannata will spend the entire year in the AHL where he has shown he can be successful. What we are talking about here is a goalie who can be successful in Hershey and who the Caps would be comfortable comfortable with for a short-term call up. Cannata checks that first box, but otherwise seems like a curious choice.

With no NHL experience, it's hard to imagine Trotz having that much faith in him. Granted, it doesn't take much experience to sit on the bench, but there are plenty of free agents available with some NHL experience that perhaps would have been a better fit. I'm not a scout and I can't tell you what they see in Cannata, but clearly they saw something that told them it was worth the risk.

Cannata's upside is a plus, but I'm not sure Hershey is better off this year with Cannata and Vanecek than last year with Peters and Ellis and I'm not sure just how much faith Trotz will have in Cannata even in the short-term.

MORE CAPITALS: TIM KAINE ONCE WENT TO CAPS GAME WITH MC HAMMER

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Letting Chimera and Latta go

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Letting Chimera and Latta go

The quest for the Stanley Cup doesn't begin on the ice, but during the offseason as general managers build their teams for the upcoming campaign. The Caps have made a number of moves this summer to try to make their team better and get over the playoff hump.

Let's break down and grade each move the team made this offseason to help figure out whether it was the right move for the team.

Today's move: Letting go of Jason Chimera and Michael Latta

It's always sad to see players go, especially one that has been with the team as long as Jason Chimera, but knowing when to walk away is part of the business.

After some struggles in his first season with Barry Trotz, Chimera thrived in the second year, tying a career high in goals with 20. His 40 points in 2015-16 were the second-highest of his career. But at 37 years old, how much could the Caps reasonably expect to get from him next season?

Selling high seems to be a lost art in professional sports. Contracts are supposed to be based on what you believe a player will do, not what he did. Chances are Chimera, a player who's biggest asset is his speed, is not going to hit 40 points again.

RELATED: REPORT: VEGAS SEEKS PERMISSION TO SPEAK WITH CAPS' ASSISTANT GM

Let's also consider what his role would next season. After trading for Lars Eller, the Caps are set at center on all four lines. That means someone, either Marcus Johansson or Andre Burakovsky, is moving to the third line and bumping Chimera down to the fourth where Daniel Winnik is already set to play. Is Chimera a better fit than Winnik? You could argue that, but Winnik is already under contract and Chimera is not.

Chimera's career year would also mean paying him at least $2 million, money the team no longer had thanks to the Eller deal.

"With the trade for Eller and our RFA guys, Johansson and Orlov, we weren't going to be able get to that two range or above two range," general manager Brian MacLellan said to the media. "You get attached to Chimera, he's been a good player for us, a fun guy to have around, good personality so it's disappointing to see him go, but sometimes you've just got to move on."

The decision to walk away from Michael Latta came early in the offseason when the Caps chose not to offer him a qualifying offer thus making him a free agent.

Latta is a fourth-line player who can play center or wing. With Jay Beagle and Mike Richards playing center, Latta became primarily a wing in the 2015-16 season. He was ultimately bumped out of the lineup as Tom Wilson moved down to right wing on the fourth line and did not appear in a single playoff game in 2016.

Richards is gone, but the trade for Eller will push Beagle to fourth line center. That leaves right wing on the fourth line as the only spot for Latta. Wilson will likely move up to the third line this season, but with the signing of Brett Connolly, the Caps still don't have room for Latta in the lineup. The team could have kept him as a 13th forward to cycle in and out of the lineup, but that appears to be the role Stanislav Galiev will fill again this season.

Grade: A-

With a roster as talented as the Caps, you could tell there was going to be a cap squeeze heading into the offseason. The writing was on the wall for Latta when he did not make an appearance in the playoffs. The only thing the Caps are thinking about now is winning in the postseason and if they don't feel Latta helps them there, it makes perfect sense to move on. If Connolly can remain healthy, his upside is much higher than Latta's.

Chimera ultimately played his way out of Washington with his fantastic season. The Caps could not afford to re-sign him at a price anywhere close to what he would have gotten on the market, as his new two-year, $4.5 million deal shows.

The only thing that bumps this down from an A to an A- is losing Chimera's speed. Speed is becoming more and more valuable in the NHL, as the Pittsburgh Penguins showed, and the Caps just lost their fastest player. This was the only option, however, after the team traded for Winnik at the trade deadline. There's just not room for both. If you think Winnik's cap hit is too high for a fourth line player ($2.25 million) they would have had the exact same problem if they re-signed Chimera.

It's sad to see Chimera, a true locker room personality, and brobean Latta leave, but MacLellan didn't really have any choice.

MORE CAPITALS: WILL JOHANSSON BE TAKEN IN THE EXPANSION DRAFT?