Capitals

Johnson grapples with lineup decisions

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Johnson grapples with lineup decisions

PITTSBURGH -- When he arrived in Viera, Fla., for spring training, Davey Johnson had a clear idea what his starting lineup would look like, and had no reason to believe it would change on a daily basis.

But then various members of the Nationals roster started dropping like flies, and so the veteran manager found himself early this morning scribbling out various combinations that might provide some spark to his struggling offense.

"Believe me, I had four or five lineups I was going through last night at 1:30 in the morning," he said. "And I'm taking any kind of input, even from writers. I'm all for it."

Johnson was kidding about taking advice from writers (we hope) but he did proceed to detail the challenges of putting together a starting lineup that takes all sorts of things into consideration: What gives his team its best chance to win that day, what's best in the long-term, what's best for slumping players, what's best for untested rookies.

Above all else, Johnson tries to abide by this mantra: Don't put players in a position where they fear the result of every single at-bat could affect their status.

"One thing you don't want to do is audition players," the manager said. "You have a good game? I'll hit you fifth. You have a bad game? I'll hit you ninth. I'm not an audition manager. I judge talent, and I put them where I think they should be, and I expect them to perform at that level."

That line of reasoning explains in part why a struggling player like Danny Espinosa (who enters tonight's game with a .186 average, two RBI and an NL-leading 37 strikeouts) remains in the heart of the Nationals' lineup, batting sixth tonight against the Pirates.

Johnson did admit concern about Espinosa, particularly his recent penchant to swing at breaking balls well out of the strike zone. But he also continues to preach the importance of showing confidence in young players still trying to establish themselves in the big leagues.

"I've had a lot of conversations with Danny," Johnson said. "I think he's an unbelievable talent, and if anybody could break one of my records, I said he'd be one of them. And I've explained I have higher expectations of you than probably you do. And he said: 'No, that's not true.' So I know he has the confidence. I know he has the ability. It's really just a matter of time."

Johnson did make one concession tonight, giving rookie Tyler Moore only his second chance to start in the nine games since the first basemanoutfielder was promoted from Class AAA Syracuse.

Moore, who over the last two-plus seasons hit 69 home runs in the minors, started in left field for his big-league debut April 29 in Los Angeles but since then has only come off the bench as a sporadic pinch-hitter or late replacement at first base.

How difficult has that been for a player used to starting on a nightly basis?

"I wouldn't say difficult," Moore said. "It's been a blast being up here. I definitely understand what my role is and what Davey wants to do. And the guys who have been playing have been doing great for us. It's definitely an adjustment, but I see why I'm sitting on the bench."

And where will Moore be tomorrow? With right-hander Kevin Correia starting for the Pirates, will he be back on the bench with Roger Bernadina in left field?

"The proof will be in the pudding," Johnson said. "I'm waiting for two or three of guys to play up to their capabilities. Obviously Espinosa, Bernadina, Xavier Nady. And Tyler Moore is kind of down on the list. These guys need to stand up. And if Tyler has a pretty good game, we'll take it from there."

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Penalties doom Caps in 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers

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Penalties doom Caps in 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers

Christian Djoos scored his second goal of the season, but it wasn’t enough for the turnover and penalty prone Caps, who surrendered the game’s first three goals and fell, 4-1, to the Panthers at Capital One Arena.

Two of Florida's goals came on the power play as the Caps formed a single file line to the penalty box. In fact, they were assessed six minors in the opening 33 minutes of the game—the second in two nights for both clubs.

My three stars of the game.

1-Vincent Trocheck

The 24-year-old second line center finished with a goal and an assist to help the Panthers earn just their third win in their last 14 visits to Washington. Trocheck’s second period strike—on a 5-on-3 power play with Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom both in the box—put Florida ahead 3-0.  

2-Christian Djoos

The rookie Dman potted his second goal of the season at 15:23 of the middle frame with the type of nice, patient move you’d expect from a veteran. He walked the puck off the wall through the circle and into the slot before sniping a shot past Reimer’s glove. Djoos—who was saluted by the fans with a ‘Djoooooooooos’—is the only Caps’ blue liner to score this season.

3-James Reimer

Although the Caps didn’t have many Grade-A opportunities, they did make Reimer put in a full day’s work. The 29-year-old stopped 41 shots, including all 13 he faced in a frantic third period as Washington pushed to pull closer. Reimer, who will assume No. 1 duties while starter Roberto Luongo recovers from a hand injury suffered Friday, came into the night with a .880 save percentage and a 4.12 goals against average. 

 Do you agree? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

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JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

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USA TODAY Sports

JJ vs. the fans: Can the Caps' defense keep it going?

It’s a busy hockey weekend for the Caps. After a 4-3 win in Detroit on Friday, Washington returns to Capital One Arena for the quick turnaround against the Florida Panthers (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Let’s get bold and make some predictions!

RELATED: HOW DID OVECHKIN GET SO WIDE OPEN IN OVERTIME?

Fan predictions:

Let’s simplify this one to say Alex Ovechkin will score at least twice. A very bold prediction even for a player already with 10 goals in just eight games.

The Capitals’ defense is a concern, but the past two games give hope that perhaps the team has turned things around. After holding Toronto to only one goal plus an empty-netter, they followed that up with a fairly solid effort allowing three goals to the Red Wings on the road in Detroit. With this game in Washington, the Caps will get the second line change, but they also will be going up against a Florida team scoring 3.33 goals per game, tied for ninth in the NHL.

Yes, Lisa. Yes it is. Love it.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-PANTHERS

JJ’s predictions:

The Caps will score at least two power play goals

The Panthers are dead last in the league on the penalty kill with a paltry 68-percent. Penalties matter a lot in today’s NHL with referees calling penalties for…pretty much anything. The Caps will get their opportunities and they will make them count.

There will be a fight

Roberto Luongo was injured in Friday’s game, the Panthers are on the road playing the second leg of a back-to-back and have won only two of their first six games. Tempers will flare at some point Saturday. Whether it is because someone gets too close to goalie James Reimer, there’s a hit they don’t like or they are just plain grumpy, someone on Florida is going to want to drop the gloves and will find a willing partner in red.

Philipp Grubauer will log a save percentage of over .900

Grubauer established himself as one of the top backup netminders in the league and a possible budding starter with a dominant 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage last season. In two games this season, Grubauer has posted save percentages of .900 and .784. He will look a lot more like last season’s Grubauer against Florida.

Season results:

Fans
Correct: 0
Wrong: 5
Push: 1

JJ
Correct: 2
Wrong: 4
Push: 0

Want to see your tweet among the fan predictions for the next game? Tweet your prediction to @JJReganNBCS every game day! Remember, we don’t just want to know who will win or the score, we want to see specifics. Be bold!