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Prospect report: Does Zach Sanford or Jakub Vrana replace Andre Burakovsky?

Prospect report: Does Zach Sanford or Jakub Vrana replace Andre Burakovsky?

Hershey update: 25-14-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-1-1-0

It was a weekend Zach Sanford is not likely to forget. Not only did he score the game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, his first NHL goal, he also scored twice for Hershey against Bridgeport the very next day.

Sanford was recalled by the Caps earlier in the week but was not expected to play. An injury to Andre Burakovsky, however, got Sanford into the lineup on Saturday. With Washington starting their bye wee, Sanford was sent back down to Hershey following Saturday's game.

With Burakovsky expected to be out until March, the Caps will likely call up a player to replace him in the lineup as well as a rotating player to scratch for road games. Sanford and Jakub Vrana are the most likely candidates to replace Burakovsky. I assumed it would be Vrana considering the similar skill set of the two players. The Caps could plug Vrana into the third line without having to change too much in terms of the line’s makeup.

Vrana, however, had a tough day on Friday.

In overtime against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Vrana gave up a turnover that ended up costing the Bears the game. Vrana pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and tried to turn it up ice himself with his teammates headed to the bench for a line change, Vrana has the puck poked away to another Penguins player who passes up ice to set up a breakaway goal. Vrana has to be aware that there is nothing but open ice behind him with his teammates headed to the bench. He can’t get overly aggressive with the puck in such a critical moment..

You can see the play here.

The turnover earned Vrana a seat in the press box on Saturday.

Via Capitals Outsider, Hershey head coach Troy Mann described Vrana’s play of late as “inconsistent, especially without the puck” since his return from a four-week stint with the Caps.

Is this a huge cause for concern? Not really. When players are on the verge of moving up to the NHL full-time, their play often becomes inconsistent. Sometimes players lose focus after their first prolonged taste of the big leagues when they go back down to the AHL. Friday’s bad game likely will have no bearing on whether Barry Trotz decides to call up him or Sanford for the next few weeks.

Riley Barber made his triumphant return to the lineup over the weekend after a 35-game absence. Barber played Saturday and Sunday and scored three goals in those two games.

Christian Thomas is a newcomer to the Caps’ organization this season and currently leads the Bears in goals with 17. In a feature on Thomas published by Penn Live, Thomas talks about the grind of the AHL and how tough it is to make it to the big league. Coach Mann also provides some interesting notes on Thomas saying, “He's a dynamic scorer at the AHL level. He's got an NHL shot, a great release. When he's moving his feet he has some real good quickness to him from a skating perspective.”

Defenseman Darren Dietz is also in his first season with the Bears. In an article for the Lebanon Daily News, Dietz talks at length about his AHL career. Here’s what he has to say about signing with Washington:

“The end of last season my contract expired and I became an unrestricted free agent. On July 1 I made the decision to sign with Washington and Hershey to come here. There were some other options available but I didn’t waste any time jumping on this opportunity to be involved with this organization.

“To be brutally honest, it was getting the opportunity to win and be in a playoff situation because I hadn’t been in the playoffs as a pro so that made the decision an easy one. The group here, and the long run they made last year, I knew it was something good here and I wanted to be part of it. I had played in Giant Center a couple times with either Hamilton or St. John’s and I remember it was not a fun place to play.

You can read the full article here.

RELATED: Bye week grades: Special teams

Other prospect notes:

Both Ilya Samsonov and Damien Riat walked away champions over the week after playing in small international tournaments for their respective nations.

Samsanov played in the third and final game for Team Russia in the Sweden Hockey Games tournament, helping lead Russia to a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic to clinch the tournament. You can watch the highlights here in Russian.

Samsonov said in an interview that his focus right now is to play for the national team and finish his KHL contract, but he did give a subtle nod to the Caps (as translated by RMNB):

“Everyone dreams about playing in the NHL, but for right now I’ve got a lot of work to do to find a roster spot [on the National Team], and I still have to finish my contract. ... The guys and I sometimes play soccer or hockey video games. I play as Washington, but just because there’s no Magnitogorsk [in the game].”

Riat scored two goals in two games to help lead Switzerland to a win in the Slovakia Cup. Switzerland opened the tournament with a 4-2 win over Belarus on Friday and won in the final 4-3 against host Slovakia on Saturday. You can see the highlights of Saturday’s game here in German.

Coincidentally enough, Rait opened the scoring in both games with a goal in the second minute.

Tim McGauley scored two goals in South Carolina’s game on Feb. 9 to lead the Stingrays to the 5-4 win over Reading. It was the first two-goal game of his professional career.

In the WHL, Connor Hobbs recorded two goals and three assists in four games for the Regina Pats. Lucas Johansen scored one goal and three assists in three games for the Kelowna Rockets, earning third-star honors on Saturday. Beck Malenstyn of the Calgary Hitmen was named the second star of the game on Sunday after scoring a goal in his team’s overtime loss.

In the college ranks, Brian Pinho enjoyed a big game against UConn on Friday, scoring a goal and two assists in the win. You can see the highlights here:

Defenseman Chase Priskie scored in Quinnipiac’s 4-2 loss to Clarkson on Friday. He was also featured in the Bobcats Weekly video as the “Bobcat of the Week.” In the video, he talks about his role on the team’s power play and team chemistry. You can also see a few highlights of Priskie as well as a super enthusiastic anchor.

MORE CAPITALS: 5 things to know about Tom Gilbert

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Prediction recap: Braden Holtby stifles Arizona

Prediction recap: Braden Holtby stifles Arizona

The Caps found themselves in a tight game in the third period, but a three-goal flurry led to the 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Here’s a recap of the three bold predictions for the game.

1. Washington will not lead after the first period - Wrong

If you came late and saw the score was 1-1, you may have thought the Caps were looking ahead and got off to a bad start against a non-playoff team. That’s not what happened. The first period was arguably the Caps’ best of the night. It certainly was the most dominant. The game may have been won with a quick flurry in the third, but the Caps got off to a great start and lead Arizona 1-0 after the first 20 minutes.

RELATED: Capitals set a new franchise record Saturday night

2. Braden Holtby will allow one goal or fewer - Correct

Arizona had three shots on goal in the first period. Three. That’s not going to get it done against Holtby. The Coyotes made him work for it in the second and third period and finished with 29 shots on goal for the game, but if you spot Holtby a free first period, it’s going to be hard to beat him enough times to get the win.

3. Both teams will combine for fewer than five power plays – Wrong

This game wasn’t any more physical than I anticipated, but it was faster. That led to a lot of stick penalties. Both teams gave up a combined total of eight power plays on Saturday and all of them except Tom Wilson’s double-minor for roughing were stick penalties.

2017 Results: How does the saying go, one out of three ain’t bad? That’s definitely how that saying goes, right?

Correct: 37
Wrong: 66.6
Push: 3

MORE CAPITALS: Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

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Capitals set a new franchise record for home wins on Saturday night

Capitals set a new franchise record for home wins on Saturday night

With a 4-1 over the Coyotes on Saturday night, the Capitals established a new team record for home wins in a season by collecting their 31st victory on F Street.

They had won 30 games at home twice previously—in 1985-86 and 2009-10.

The 31 wins on home ice are also the most in the NHL this season. The Penguins are second with 29.

RELATED: Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

Braden Holtby says consistency in their approach has been the key.

“I think we’ve felt comfortable at home all year,” the goalie said. “We’ve been able to prepare and play consistently and not get too carried away trying to impress people. We’ve stuck to our game throughout the year. And it showed. And that’s good. That’s what we want do: make sure Verizon Center is a tough place to come into and play.”

Holtby also tipped his cap to the fans. Saturday’s game marked the 355th consecutive sellout.

“Obviously the fans help,” Holtby said. “Tonight they were awesome. [They had] a lot of energy for a Capitals against Arizona game that’s not exactly a big rivalry. They brought us a lot more energy than we would have had otherwise.”

Saturday’s win also helped the Caps maintain their three-point lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, which guarantees home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.   

“Home ice is everything in the playoffs,” said winger Daniel Winnik, who scored two third period goals against the Coyotes. “You see teams that have won it, they do exceptional on home ice. We have a lot of confidence in this building and that’s gotta carry over into the playoffs.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz recognizes ‘greatness’ of Ovechkin's accomplishments