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6-pack: Will Capitals make a move at trade deadline?

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6-pack: Will Capitals make a move at trade deadline?

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?

MORE CAPITALS: WASHINGTON PROSPECT REPORT

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. 

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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