Welcome to our Friday Six-Pack of Capitals questions. Let’s get started:
with bura playing better and better on the 2nd line and beagle returning, do you see the caps trading mojo? - @CapsPuckSkins
I get your point and if you had asked me this question three months ago I might have said yes. Now, absolutely not. Marcus Johansson has become one of the most versatile and valuable forwards on the Caps. Even Barry Trotz admits that he was reluctant to put Johansson at third-line center but can’t ignore the chemistry that has developed between Johansson, Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson – a chemistry that clearly was not there when Mike Richards was in that spot during Johansson’s four-game absence due to injury. Johansson has one goal and three assists in the five games since returning to the lineup and his 14 goals and 34 points put him on pace for 21 goals and 52 points, both career highs despite missing seven games (five to injury, two to suspension). The big question for me is what Johansson’s contract value will be when he and the Caps return to the bargaining table this summer. He’s making $3.75 million now and that number will increase if Johansson has a productive post-season. But to answer your question, Mojo is going nowhere.
do you expect the Caps to make any moves at the deadline or are they set? - @Matt89Baker
Great question, Matt. Jill Sorenson (@JillCSN) and I discuss this topic at length in our next Capitals Central show Sunday night on CSN. I’ve seen teams that have tried to load up at the trade deadline (Peter Forsberg in Nashville, Ryan Miller in St. Louis, Jarome Iginla in Pittsburgh) without much success and others (the Kings with Jeff Carter in 2012 and again with Marian Gaborik in 2014) who have won Stanley Cups. I think the Caps are interested in a veteran defenseman like Dan Hamhuis, but with a projected $1.1 million of cap space at the Feb. 29 trade deadline, Hamhuis ($4.5 million) might be too steep a price, especially if it means pushing Dmitry Orlov out of the top six. I could see the Caps trading for a depth defenseman with experience, much like last season when they acquired Tim Gleason from the Hurricanes. Maybe a right-handed defenseman like pending UFA Roman Polak of the Leafs (29 years old, $2.75 million) or lefty Mike Weber of the Sabres (28 years old, $1.6 million) or rigthy Kevan Miller of the Bruins (28 years old, $800,000). The Caps could also think outside the box. With 49 of a possible 50 players on their roster they could sign a player as a free agent. Would they consider signing 36-year-old Scott Gomez ($575,000) and carrying him as a fourth-line depth player? Gomez has four goals and 17 assists and is a plus-11 in 13 games with the AHL Hershey Bears. How would a Caps fourth line of Mike Richards, Jay Beagle and Scott Gomez look?
Who has Trotz seen as most improved from last year's team? Any pleasant surprises? - @bri18va
I haven’t asked Barry Trotz this question but I can take a few guesses on who he might consider. Nate Schmidt would be at the top of my list. He came into this season as a big question mark and was a healthy scratch for five of the Caps’ first eight games, with Trotz saying,”I think our defense can be a little bit tighter” at the time. Since returning to the lineup Schmidt has established himself as a reliable, puck-carrying defenseman who can log big minutes if necessary. In 51 games he has two goals, 11 assists and is a plus-13 while averaging 19:09. Dmitry Orlov also has to be on Trotz’s list when you consider he missed every game last season following wrist surgery and has played in every game this season and has five goals, 16 assists and is a plus-12 while averaging 15:12 of ice time. Orlov has cut down his risk factor and has steadily increased his offensive production, finding nice chemistry with Evgeny Kuznetsov when they are on the ice together. At 36, Jason Chimera (16 goals, 15 assists) has definitely been a pleasant surprise and did anyone really think Kuznetsov would be fifth in the NHL in scoring with 58 points through 56 games? And I’m leaving out Karl Alzner, who has quietly improved his game to a level where he could land a spot on Canada’s World Cup of Hockey team, and Matt Niskanen, who was a minute-muncher during Brooks Orpik’s absence and was good on the power play while John Carlson was sidelined.
Caps look ready for a deep playoff push. Other than #70, who can the caps least afford to lose to a LT injury in playoffs? - @Terpinyc
I’d like to say otherwise, but if the Caps don’t have Alex Ovechkin they don’t have much of a chance in the playoffs. Even though they are more balanced this season with seven players on pace for 20 or more goals (Ovechkin, Justin Williams, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson) Ovechkin is still the straw that stirs the Caps. In the two games he’s missed this season – one for oversleeping and the other for missing the NHL All-Star Game – the Caps are 0-2-0 and have been outscored 10-2. I’d probably throw Kuznetsov into that group of players the Caps can least afford to lose, along with Holtby. That’s why injuries play such a big part of teams surviving four rounds of the playoffs.
how do you feel oshie has performed this year? Had good start but production slowing. Is below career pace in certain areas. are his year to date contributions acceptable considering he has primarily played with 8 and 19? @OV3CHK1NG
When I see T.J. Oshie’s incredible skills at practice I’m astonished that he’s only scored 20 goals once in his first seven seasons in the NHL. Matched with Ovechkin and Backstrom for most of this season, Oshie is on pace for a career-high 23 goals, but his 49-point pace would be his fourth-best total. There are times, especially on the power play, where Oshie is alone in the slot and either fires it into the goalie’s chest or misses the mark. That said, I love his bulldog work ethic on that top line (although on Saturday we’ll see Andre Burakovsky with Backstrom and Oshie) and he’s done an admirable job killing penalties full-time for the first time in his career. Could the Caps use a little more production from Oshie? Yes, especially come playoff time when his career numbers drop from .69 points per game in the regular season to 0.30 in the playoffs.
what now with Chorney? He's a valuable asset. Who's number are better his or Orlov's? - @Caps218
The Caps’ willingness to sign Taylor Chorney to a two-year contract extension tells me they have faith in him being a sixth or seventh defenseman in the NHL. The question facing the Capitals’ coaching staff is which defensive pairs best suit them for a deep playoff run. Personally, I don’t think John Carlson has played at the level he showed before his injury. I’m not sure whether that’s because he’s still affected by the injury or if it has something to do with being partnered with Nate Schmidt. My guess is that the Caps would like to see how Carlson and Schmidt look together, along with Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov. If they like what they see, those are the pairings to start the playoffs. If they don’t, we could see Orpik reunited with Carlson and Schmidt reunited with Orlov. With five goals, 16 assists, 16 penalty minutes and a plus-12 rating in 15:12 of average ice time, I like everything Orlov gives you. But there is risk in his game and his leash with the coaching staff could be a short one in the playoffs if the D corps is healthy. I think the Caps’ coaching staff would like to see Chorney (0 goals, 5 assists, 17 PIM, plus-11, 12:52) as a seventh defenseman, but if their opponent gives Orlov troubles I would not be surprised to see them make a switch on that third pairing.