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Tom Wilson puts his butt on the line for the Caps

Tom Wilson puts his butt on the line for the Caps

It wasn’t ideal shot-blocking form, but Tom Wilson wasn’t worried about aesthetics when threw himself in front of a Michael Del Zotto slap shot in the second period of Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win against the Flyers.

The blast, taken from the top of circle, ended up striking Wilson on his backside—just to the side of the padding that protects the tailbone.

In other words, the location couldn't have been worse.

“It’s sore. It actually hit me right beside my pad, right on the tailbone,” he said before cracking: “I got a pretty funny mark there that the boys are enjoying.”

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Wilson, though, did not allow the discomfort to prevent him from producing one of his most effective performances of the season.

“Tom had a real terrific game,” Coach Barry Trotz said.

Although Wilson didn’t factor into either goal, he was all over the score sheet. The fourth line winger had two shots on goal, one of which skittered just inches from going into the net. He notched a game-high nine hits. He also drew a penalty and took one, too.

“I thought there was a little bit of sell job on the penalty,” Trotz said of Wilson’s roughing minor on Brandon Manning in the third period. “At the same time, I think the guys on the bench said, ‘Hey, Tom’s killed a lot of penalties [this season]. We didn’t deserve that one. Let’s get this killed.’”

Wilson also played an integral role in shutting down the Flyers’ top line of Jordan Weal-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds.

“Tom did a really good job of keeping that line in tow,” Trotz said. “He sorta set the tone. Simmonds and Giroux are emotional players. They are physical. They are in your face. They play hard. And Tom, [Jay Beagle] and [Daniel Winnik] had a real terrific game shutting that line down.”

But the defining moment of the night for Wilson was the blocked shot. For a couple of reasons: game situation and the price he paid for it.

The block—his only one of the night—came early in the second period of a scoreless game. The contest was chippy and physical and tight-checking and...teetering.

And that’s why Wilson found a way to get in front of the shot.

As he knelt on the ice in discomfort, several teammates came over and tapped him with their sticks as a way of saying, 'Thanks.' Right on the butt, of course.

Wilson did not miss a shift.

“The only happy part is that when it hits you, it’s not getting through you,” Wilson said. “But I think you’ve got to be a bit of psycho if you like taking the rubber and blocking those shots.”

He added: “But you pay the price, get in the way. A lot of this club will do that. That’s what makes us so good. We pay the price for the team and for [Braden Holtby] whenever we can we try to get in the way and turn that shot away.”

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How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

How do the Caps recover from the loss of Nate Schmidt?

All of Caps nation is reeling over the loss of Nate Schmidt to the expansion draft. A fan-favorite and budding top-four defenseman, his departure stings not just because of the loss of his personality, but because of the role he was expected to take next season.

Schmidt was ascending to a top-four role on the Caps next season, but that plan is in shambles and rebuilding the defense now becomes one of the team’s top priorities for the offseason.

Among the team’s current defensemen, there is no clear candidate to take Schmidt’s spot. Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson stand as the team’s top three. Behind them are Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney, neither of whom anyone could reasonably expect to take on a top-four role.

In a statement released on Tuesday, MacLellan said, “We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.”

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MacLellan is no doubt referring to Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos. Both players were expected to compete for a roster spot this season, but it was thought there would be room for only one on the third pairing. Now the Caps have two spots in the lineup open.

At the end of the season, the Caps had a choice of what direction they would go in next year. They could start over and rebuild or try to retool the team on the fly. Rather than start over they chose to retool, meaning they are still gunning for postseason success. A rebuilding team can afford two rookie defensemen in the lineup, but a team looking to make the playoffs and push for a deep run likely cannot. That is not a knock on either Bowey or Djoos both of whom have high ceilings and could develop into very good NHL players, there just seems to be a disconnect between the direction the team wants to go in next season and having to play both Bowey and Djoos regularly in the lineup.

If the Caps cannot replace Schmidt internally, what about externally?

With Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov all in need of new deals, the Caps are not expected to have much money to work with this summer and top-four defensemen don’t come cheap. Schmidt was at the end of his contract, but as a restricted free agent, the team could have signed him for much cheaper than any top-four defenseman they can find in free agency. Even if the Caps could make a splash in free agency, there is not a whole lot to work with among the players available.

Does this reopen the door for the team to re-sign Alzner? Washington is the only team he has ever known and he made clear at the end of the season that he is not looking forward to being a free agent. The Capitals, however, will likely not be able to afford what Alzner could get on the open market. He may be willing to take a discount to stay in Washington, but MacLellan must also consider the changing landscape of the NHL. The league is moving more towards speedy, puck-moving blueliners and farther away from stay at home defensemen like Alzner. Can the Caps really afford a top-six that includes both Alzner and Orpik in today’s NHL? Probably not.

So what are the Caps to do? The answer may come in the form of a trade.

Losing Schmidt means that Philipp Grubauer remains in the fold. His position in the team, however, has not changed. Braden Holtby remains the starter and prospect Ilya Samsonov is still seen as the team’s future starter. That makes Grubauer, a high-value asset, expendable.

Having a dependable backup is important, but a top-four defenseman is more so. One will play 20-30 games per season unless the starter suffers an injury, the other will be expected to have a major role every night.

When MacLellan spoke to reporters in May, it did not sound as if he was planning on making any major moves this offseason. The loss of Schmidt may now force his hand.

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MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

MacLellan releases statement on Schmidt, says Caps have prospects 'ready to make the jump'

Nate Schmidt is headed to Vegas and now the Caps are left to pick up the pieces and plug the hole they suddenly find in the top-four of their defense.

How do the Caps plan to plug that hole? General manager Brian MacLellan sounds pretty confident the team has internal candidates ready to step up.

RELATED: Vegas swipes Schmidt from Caps in expansion draft

MacLellan released the following statement on Tuesday:

We want to thank Nate for his contributions to our organization the past four seasons and wish him all the best in Vegas. We feel we have a young group of up-and-coming defensemen who will now have an opportunity in Washington and are ready to make the jump with our club.

Prospects Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos are expected to compete for spots on the Capitals' roster this season, but is either one of them ready to step into a top-four role right away? As confident as MacLellan may sound, he may have to look outside of the club in order to replace Schmidt next season.

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