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Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Capitals' 2017-18 Division Preview: Breaking down the rest of the Metro

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

2016-17 Results: 36-31-15 (87 points). Seventh in division, 12th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Justin Williams, F Josh Jooris, G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Marcus Kruger

Notable departures: F Jay McClement, G Eddie Lack

2017-18 Hurricanes analysis and prediction: Carolina is arguably the most improved team this offseason and also return a stong, young core. The most important move was the trade for goalie Scott Darling. The Hurricanes were ranked 26th in team save percentage last season. If Darling can provide consistency in net, that will be a huge boost. Carolina finished last season eight points out of the playoffs. Even with some questions on offense, they can easily make up that gap with the improvements they made. 

Team: New Jersey Devils

2016-17 Results: 28-40-17 (70 points). Eighth in division, 16th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Nico Hischier, F Brian Boyle, F Marcus Johansson

Notable departures: F Michael Cammalleri, D Mirco Mueller, D Jon Merrill

2017-18 Devils analysis and prediction: After years of looking like they had no direction, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for New Jersey. The Devils improved tremendously on offense with Nico Hischier, the top overall draft pick, and Marcus Johansson. Did they do enough to end their five-year playoff drought? Probably not, but they did take a big step in the right direction.

Team: New York Islanders

2016-17 Results: 41-29-12 (94 points). Fifth in division, 9th in conference. Did not reach the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Jordan Eberle

Notable departures: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Travis Hamonic, F Ryan Strome

2017-18 Islanders analysis and prediction: After firing Jack Capuano midseason, the Islanders went 24-12 under Doug Weight. They then proceeded to do little to help him in the offseason. Jordan Eberle is a solid addition and their three-goalie headache is now solved thanks to J.F. Berube going to Vegas. But this is a team that did not make the playoffs last year and did very little to improve, banking instead on their prospects being able to contribute enough to get them over the edge. To go with the concerns on the ice, there is also a major concern off of it as they will have to deal with the headache of John Tavares nearing free agency without an extension. The noise surrounding Tavares' status will only get louder as the season goes on. Can they compete for a playoff spot? Sure, but they will ultimately be watching the postseason from home.

More Metro Division previews:

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Jakub Vrana is really trying to not let the pressure get to him

Jakub Vrana is really trying to not let the pressure get to him

There is perhaps no one on the Capitals roster with more on the line in training camp than Jakub Vrana.

Depending on how he performs, Vrana could climb into the team’s top-six or he could fail to make the roster at all and potentially be sent back down to Hershey in the AHL.

RELATED: WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME FEATURES A LOOK AT AN OVECHKIN-KUZNETSOV LINE

For a 21-year-old, it normally would not be an issue if he had to go back to the minors to further develop. As a first-round pick with questions about his focus in the AHL, as well as a clear hole in the top-six, there is a lot of pressure on Vrana's shoulders to prove he’s ready for the big leagues and he knows it.

“If you would think about [the pressure], you would probably kill yourself so I just try to don't think about it,” Vrana said to CSN after Wednesday’s morning skate. 

Vrana will make his preseason debut Wednesday in Montreal. In what could be a preview of the regular season lineup, Vrana will skate on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Barry Trotz stressed that it was important for the player not to read into anything in terms of who he plays with and where, but it is clear there will be a lot on the line for Vrana in Montreal.

“If he plays really well, it doesn't matter who he plays with, he'll make the hockey team,” Trotz said. “If he doesn't play well, then he won't have a chance to make the hockey team.”

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME

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Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov team up for preseason game in Montreal

Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov team up for preseason game in Montreal

Two nights after opening the preseason with a loss in New Jersey, the Capitals will make a day trip to Montreal on Wednesday for Game 2 of the exhibition season.

And they’ll ice a completely new group of players.

Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz will have them line up:

Forwards
Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana
Simpson-Stephenson-Smith-Pelly
Connolly-Pilon-Wilson
Sill-Albert-Peluso

Defense
Orpik-Hobbs
Jokipakka-Bowey
Siegenthaler-Williams

Goalies
Grubauer
Copley

RELATED: HOW TO WATCH WEDNESDAY'S PRESEASON GAME

A few notes and observations from the skate:

  • The Caps made the first roster move of the preseason Wednesday morning, returning 2014 seventh rounder Kevin Elgestal to HC Vita Hasten. On Monday night in New Jersey, Elgestal got pickpocketed by Devils first overall pick Nico Hischier on Hischier’s nifty goal.
  • Coach Barry Trotz said the first significant round of cuts is coming Thursday, followed by another round over the weekend. The roster currently stands at 39 forwards, 18 defensemen and 7 goalies.
  • The stakes are high Wednesday night for a handful of players who are battling for spots. Among them: Vrana, Smith-Pelly, Peluso up front and Bowey on the backend. Vrana’s getting a look on the top line, Smith-Pelly is coming off his best day of practice on Tuesday, Peluso has looked good so far and Bowey needs a strong showing in the preseason to lock down a spot.
  • Trotz on Peluso, who is vying for the right wing spot on the fourth line: “He’s got pretty good hands for a man that’s known for other qualities. He’s a student of the game, works on his game. I like what he’s done in camp. We’ll see how he does tonight.”
  • Stephenson, a prospect who’s appeared in 13 games for the Caps the past two seasons, is the only player who will have appeared in both of the first two exhibition games. Stephenson can play center and wing. He’s also got to clear waivers in order to be sent to the minors. “He’s got a skillset that is NHL ready,” Trotz said. “Now it’s just can he showcase and be very consistent. If he does and has production, I think his chances are very good.” 
  • After taking a pair of faceoff penalties Monday night, Trotz said the coaches reviewed some video with the centers. There was also discussion about slashing fouls after the Caps were whistled for three infractions in Newark. “Players are really smart, and they will adjust,” Trotz said.

 

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