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Penn Quarter Q&A: Will the return of Andre Burakovsky provide a boost to the Caps?

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Penn Quarter Q&A: Will the return of Andre Burakovsky provide a boost to the Caps?

In this week's Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Q&A, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan talk about how much of a boost the Caps will get from the return of Andre Burakovsky, what they wan to see from the team before the playoffs, what to do about Nate Schmidt and of course there was a question about Vegas!

What's going on with the Caps? Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan are here to answer your questions in this week's Q&A!

Posted by CSN Mid-Atlantic on Friday, March 17, 2017

Want to have your question answered by our experts? Follow CSNCapitals on Twitter for details on next week's Q&A.

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Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

When the Blue Jackets visit Verizon Center on Thursday night, the Capitals will have the chance to accomplish a couple of things: they can open a little breathing room between themselves and Columbus and they can tie the franchise record for most home wins in a season.

“As I just said to the guys, games like tonight, if you’re a coach or a hockey player, that’s what you play for,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the morning skate, “to get games where there’s a lot of meaning. We’ve prepared all year for this, so let’s get at it.”

Entering Thursday’s games, the Caps had 102 points, the Penguins owned 101 and Jackets checked in with 100. So a win, obviously, would give the Caps a four-point edge on Sergei Bobrovsky and Co. with nine games remaining for both clubs.

Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus are 1-2-3 in the league standings, as well.

“It’s not that much distance,” defenseman Brooks Orpik cracked, asked about possibly opening a four-point advantage on the Jackets, who lost to the Maple Leafs, 5-2, on Wednesday night.

Orpik added: “But, yeah, it’s a little bit of distance against them. We know they played last night and had a pretty physical game against Toronto. So hopefully that works to our advantage. Hopefully we’re smart and make them go 200-feet for their chances tonight.”

RELATED: SHATTENKIRK STILL WAITING TO NET HIS FIRST GOAL

The game marks the fourth of five meetings between Washington and Columbus this season. The Caps won the last meeting, a win-streak-snapping 5-0 decision on F Street back on Jan. 5. The Jackets, however, won the first two meetings—a 2-1 overtime triumph on Nov. 15 and a controversial 3-2 win five days later.

The teams close out their season series in Columbus on April 2.

“Anytime you’re that close in the standings and you’re in the same division, it’s a big game and you can kinda distance yourself,” winger Tom Wilson said. “But they’re a good team. They’re going to be coming hard and they’ve beat us twice this year already, so that’s in our minds.”

To get two points, though, the Caps are going to need to solve Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL in goals against average (2.04), save percentage (.931) and wins (39).

“I think he’s a top 2 or top 3 goalie in the league, in my opinion,” Alex Ovechkin said of the fellow Russian. “When he’s on his game, it’s very hard to score. He controls the game well. He likes the big moments. He likes the pressure.”

Goals won’t come easily. And neither will a ‘W’. But if the Caps earn one, they’ll also tie the franchise record for wins in a season with their 30th. None of the wins have come in the shootout. The last time they won 30 games without the benefit of a shootout victory? Way back in 1985-86. Washington also won 30 games at Verizon Center in 2009-10, but that mark included four wins in the shootout.    

MORE CAPITALS: SUDDENLY, HERSHEY'S BLUE LINE IS STACKED

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Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Prospect report: Hershey is suddenly stacked on defense

Hershey update: 37-18-8-3, 3rd in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 4-0-0-0

Madison Bowey made an early return to the lineup on Friday in his first game since Dec. 28. Bowey suffered a lacerated tendon against Syracuse that day that was expected to keep him out of the lineup until April. On Friday, however, Bowey was back in for the Bears. He played in three of Hershey’s four games over the week and tallied one assist.

Fellow defensive prospect Christian Djoos remained red-hot with another outstanding performance. Djoos scored two goals and two assists in Friday’s win over Hartford including the game-winner in overtime.

Djoos recorded at least one point in each of Hershey’s four games over the week and now has three goals and 11 assists for the month of March.

On a team that already boasts Bowey and Jonas Siegenthaler within the organization, Djoos is often overlooked, but his recent play cannot be ignored. He has been absolutely fantastic. There is no question he has the skill to be an NHL player. If he bulks up, Djoos is someone who should see some time in the NHL next season.

Hampus Gustafsson, who was signed by the Caps on March 7 as a college free agent out of Merrimack College, made his professional debut on Friday as he suited up for the Bears. On Wednesday, in his third game, he recorded his first professional assist.

Speaking of defensive prospects, the Bears have added another to their roster. On Monday, the Capitals re-assigned Siegenthaler to Hershey. Siegenthaler’s season in the National League A in the Switzerland came to an end as his ZSC Lions were eliminated in the playoffs. The young blue liner recorded one goal and six assists in 34 games.

Hershey head coach Troy Mann said after Saturday’s game that Siegenthaler would practice with the team, but would not play in his first week.

Siegenthaler is a highly regarded prospect, but the one question mark he has is how he will adjust to the North American game. He played in six games for Hershey last season and his performance was underwhelming and a family issue over the summer also affected his play in Caps’ training camp. But, he was fantastic in the 2017 World Junior Championship so it’s hard to know just what to expect from him. The talent is there, but how will it translate to the AHL/NHL? I think the Caps are hoping to see a lot more improvement from him from last season’s performance. I also believe this summer’s development and training camp will be critical for his future within the organization.

Pheonix Copley continued to show why he has taken over as Hershey’s top netminder with three wins over the week, turning aside 88 of the 93 shots he faced.

With Philipp Grubauer a potential target for Vegas in the expansion draft and prospect Ilya Samsonov under contract in the KHL until 2018, Copley may compete to backup Braden Holtby next season. Isabelle Khurshudyan goes into more detail in her article in the Washington Post. You can read it here.

If Copley does play for the Caps next season, he will at least look the part with his sweet new mask.

https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=pheonix%20copley&src=typd

Though he may not be getting nearly as much playing time as he was before the Copley trade, Vitek Vanecek put together a solid month. In his four March appearances, Vanecek registered a 3-0-0 record, 2.18 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Other big performers from the week include Travis Boyd (one goal, six assists), Riley Barber (two goals, two assists), Stanislav Galiev (three assists) and Garrett Mitchell who scored two goals including his 100th career point.

Finally, while I focus the prospect report on younger players, I would be remiss if I did not note the outstanding performance of forward Paul Carey. Carey scored six goals and two assists in Hershey's four games over the week, including a four-goal performance on Saturday in the Bears' 6-4 win over Hartford.

With his monster performance, Carey is now tied with Christian Thomas for the team lead in goals with 24. Yes, he scored a full quarter of his goals for the season in just one week.

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Other prospect notes:

It’s March so it’s time for the real madness to begin. Shane Gersich’s North Dakota and Brian Pinho’s Providence both made the cut for the NCAA hockey tournament. North Dakota is a 3-seed in the West Region and will play No. 2 Boston University on Friday. Providence is a 4-seed in the East Region and will play No. 1 Harvard also on Friday.

Gersich saw his team fall in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff final to Minnesota Duluth on Saturday after upsetting Denver in the semifinal. North Dakota gave up the game-winning goal with less than a minute to go in a devastating 4-3 loss.

In some happier news, Gersich made the cut as one of the Top 100 NHL Prospects in the NCAA as ranked by SB Nation’s College Hockey blog.

Gersich came in at No. 43.

Gersich has always been a very smooth skater. This year, he’s added a little more muscle to his frame, making him much better at winning battles along the boards. He’s more of a shooter than a playmaker, and the extra bulk has made his shot more effective as well.

Gersich likely projects to play a scoring role at the pro level, so the big increase in scoring is a positive sign for his development.

You can see the full profile on Gersich and the rankings so far here.

Chase Priskie’s season is over after Quinnipiac fell 4-1 to Harvard in the ECAC Hockey Tournament Semifinals. He was named to the ECAC Hockey Third Team on Friday. Last season, he was named to the conference’s all-rookie team.

It’s also postseason time for the WHL. Each of Washington’s five WHL prospects will play in the playoffs.

Lucas Johansen and the Kelowna Rockets will face Garrett Pilon and the Kamloops Blazers in the first round starting on Friday. Kelowna and Kamloops finished 2nd and 3rd in the B.C. Division, respectively.

Dmitri Zaitsev will also be in the postseason as Moose Jaw finished 2nd in the East Division. They will play Swift Current in the first round.

The only Caps’ prospect whose playoff hopes had not yet been determined was Beck Malenstyn. The Calgary Hitmen were fighting for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into the weekend. Malenstyn came up big to lead the Hitmen into the postseason with a hat trick performance in his team’s 6-1 win over Kootenay on Friday. He was named the second star of the game, second to Kootenay’s goalie who allowed the six goals so go ahead and figure that one out.

For the season, Malenstyn scored 32 goals and 24 assists.

Calgary’s reward for making the playoffs is a first-round matchup with the Regina Pats. Regina finished with the top record in the WHL thanks in large part to the performance of defenseman Connor Hobbs.

On Saturday, Hobbs set a franchise record for goals scored by a defenseman with his 31st of the season.

Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post spoke to Hobbs about his impressive season.

Hobbs led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals and 85 points in 67 games. He was named the top defenseman in the Eastern Conference and named a first-team all-star.

“It’s an honour and it’s really cool to be talked about in those conversations,” said Hobbs. “I’m really proud and I’m so thankful I had the teammates I did this regular season to help me get to that point.”

Defenseman Cody Corbett, who was acquired by the Caps in the trade that sent Joe Cannata to the Colorado Avalanche, recorded an assist in each of his first two games with South Carolina in the ECHL.

Like Siegenthaler, Damien Riat saw his NLA team, Geneve-Servette, eliminated from the playoffs in a four-game sweep at the hands of EV Zug. For the season, he had seven goals and seven assists.

MORE CAPITALS: Shattenkirk still looking for first goal as a Cap after scoring change