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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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Dmitry Orlov and the Capitals don't have a deal, but have been talking often

Dmitry Orlov and the Capitals don't have a deal, but have been talking often

Specifics on the contract negotiations between the Capitals and defenseman Dmitry Orlov have been hard to come by, but a source confirmed to CSN on Thursday that the team and the player’s agent are communicating on a regular basis. 

Orlov, a restricted free agent who turned 25 last week, is the only player that's expected to be on the opening night roster who doesn’t have a contract. 

Orlov did not file for arbitration, and neither did the Caps—typically a sign that both sides believe that a compromise is within reach. Why an extension hasn’t been hammered out yet, though, remains unclear.

Orlov’s agent, Mark Gandler, declined to comment on the negotiations or a timeline for reaching a deal. 

Last season, Orlov’s salary was $2.25 million and his contract carried a cap hit of $2 million. With Karl Alzner entering the final year of a deal that averages $2.8 million annually, it would be difficult for the Capitals to justify paying Orlov, who averaged five fewer minutes per game than Alzner, more than that.  

The Caps currently have $3.45 million in cap space available, according to GeneralFanager.com.     

Orlov played in all 82 regular season games last season, skating 16 minutes per and registering eight goals and 29 points. However, the high risk-high reward blueliner was benched in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh series for a miscue that led to a goal and was scratched for Game 2 of the six-game second round matchup.   

RELATED: GRADING THE LARS ELLER MOVE 

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Trading for Lars Eller

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Trading for Lars Eller

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: Trading for Lars Eller

Throughout the playoff series against Pittsburgh, one thing was abundantly clear: the Caps needed more scoring depth in the bottom six.

The Caps have the skill to match any team in the NHL on the top two lines, but it was the Penguins’ third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel that truly tipped the scales in their favor.

No other team had that kind of scoring depth.

In their never-ending quest for the Stanley Cup, the Caps needed more offense from their bottom two lines.

RELATED: GRADING THE SIGNING OF BRETT CONNOLLY

Jay Beagle played well last season and though he wants to play on the third line, he’s a better option on the fourth. If given the choice between an average third line center or a great fourth line center, the choice is clear. Strengthen the fourth line and bring in someone who can bolster the third.

Brian MacLellan did just that by trading for Lars Eller.

Eller’s time in Montreal got off to a rocky start as he was traded from St. Louis to the Canadiens in the deal that sent hero netminder (and Capitals' playoff nemesis) Jaroslav Halak out of Montreal. He then had to deal with a constantly changing offensive lineup that at times saw him frequently matched with different linemates.

There were even times he moved from center to wing.

Despite flashes of brilliance, Eller has tallied 30 points only once in his career and has never scored more than 16 goals in a season. Yet, his offensive production is still better than that of Beagle and it should go up with a better offensive lineup and the stability he should get in Washington. He is also a very good possession player and managed to maintain solid possession numbers in Montreal despite shuffling through linemates.

Grade: B+

Eller’s highlights and stats seem to tell two different stories.

When you watch him, he looks like a 20 goal scorer. It’s surprising that he hasn’t had more offensive production given his talent, but that may have a lot to do with the instability of Montreal’s lineup.

Washington will be different. Eller was brought in to be the third line center and, barring injury, that’s exactly what he will be. The lines will shuffle now and again with the normal ups and downs of an 82 game season, but he will see more stability in Washington than he ever had in Montreal. He will certainly not be asked to play wing any time soon.

Eller is an offensive threat with fantastic stick-handling abilities. He drives possession and has good positioning even without the puck on his stick. He checks off every box on the Caps’ wish list but two: speed and cost.

It would not be fair to call Eller slow, but no one would say that Eller has blazing speed either. Heading into the offseason, the Caps wanted to get faster in response to the speed they saw from Pittsburgh. Eller does not make them a faster team.

That’s not the end of the world. The Caps are clearly a better team offensively with Eller on the third line and Beagle on the fourth. What really bumps this grade down, however, is what it cost to get him.

Two second-round draft picks is high for a player you’re planning on plugging into the third line. Montreal didn’t help matters by trading for Andrew Shaw on the very same day for the exact same cost, two second-round draft picks.

As good as Eller is and as good as he will be with the Caps, Shaw is better and younger. Eller’s cost seemed high initially and that was confirmed by the fact that the same price netted Montreal and even better return.

No one will care about those draft picks if Eller proves to be the key piece in a Capitals Cup run, but that loss will sting the next two years come draft time.

RELATED: CSN MID-ATLANTIC NAMES NEW CAPITALS INSIDER

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Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

Grading the Caps' offseason moves: Signing Brett Connolly

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 Brett Connolly

The Caps entered free agency with very few needs, but one need they did have was for a right wing for the fourth line who could cycle in and out of the lineup.

While teams threw their money around as free agency began, the Caps were very quiet, looking for need and potential. They found it in the form of Brett Connolly.

Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Connolly was a the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft. Despite some good early play in his professional career, he was soon overshadowed by the Lightning’s impressive crop of young talent. Injuries further hampered him in Tampa and eventually in Boston.

RELATED: WAS TRADING FOR LARS ELLER THE RIGHT MOVE?

Despite his struggles, the Caps see the same potential in him that led him to be drafted so high.

“He's got good size, he skates well, he's got good hands, he shoots the puck well, he just hasn't seemed to put it together yet consistently,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan sees more from Tom Wilson going forward which will mean a promotion from the fourth line to the third. That leaves a spot open on the fourth which Connolly will presumably fill. The Caps, however, are prepared to let his play determine that.

“He could play anywhere,” MacLellan said. “I mean it's up to him. We told him, you've got to come in and you've got to earn it. You've got to show the coaches. You've got to gain some respect and we'll see where you fit in. I mean he could play third line, fourth line, it's up to him.”

Grade: A

Whenever a team decides to walk away from a player player, it’s important to replace him with something better. Otherwise, what was the point? The Caps chose not to re-sign Michael Latta, but instead brought in a player with a much higher ceiling in Connolly.

This move is low-risk, high-reward. Seriously, where is the downside here? Connolly is signed for one year at $850,000. Despite his struggles, he is only 24 and when healthy has demonstrated he still has plenty of skill. If he does play well, he becomes a restricted agent at the end of the season and the Caps can easily retain his rights.

If he continues to fail to live up to that potential, it’s not as if the Caps will have a major hole on their top line. The Caps can plug in Stanislav Galiev or any of the several prospects waiting for their shot at the NHL and not miss a beat. Then they can cut Connolly loose at the end of the season.

Let’s be realistic here. Sometimes when fans see where a player was drafted, it’s easy to begin thinking that he will suddenly emerge as that top-tier player. It’s doubtful that Connolly is going to suddenly emerge as a top line winger, but he has the potential to become a solid player.

If he doesn’t, well it was worth a shot.