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Barry Trotz gives Mike Richards a playoff promotion

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Barry Trotz gives Mike Richards a playoff promotion

If Tuesday’s practice is any indication, the Capitals will go with a different look on their checking line when they meet the Flyers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Mike Richards, who began his career as a Flyer, practiced on a third line with left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Marcus Johansson on Tuesday, leaving a fourth line of center Jay Beagle between Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson.

“It gives us some flexibility, especially when we go into Philadelphia, to get away from some matchups, maybe,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of his newly constructed checking line. “Maybe the top lines nullify each other and you’re depth has to get it done for you. If we’re going to be successful in any series you’re going to need production from all four of your lines.”

While Chimera matched his career high with 20 goals and Johansson netted 17 goals and fell one point shy of his career high of 47 points, Richards managed only two goals and three assists in 39 games this season, with a minus-2 rating.

However, he and Chimera have carved reputations as players who raise their level of play in the post-season. In his 11-year career Richards has played in more playoff games than anyone on the Capitals roster (124) and has averaged more points in the playoffs (0.70 per game) than he has in the regular season (0.65). Chimera averages 0.39 in the regular season and 0.47 in the playoffs.

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“I’m excited to see him play in the playoffs,” Chimera said of Richards. “He’s one of those guys that gets it done. He always brings out the physicality. Guys like him and (Justin Williams) always seem like the bigger the game the bigger they play. It’s a different dynamic for sure.”

While Williams has earned the reputation as Mr. Game 7 (he has seven goals and seven assists and is a perfect 7-0 in career Game 7s), Richards is also 7-0 in career Game 7s and is the only player in NHL history who has played a role with two different teams that have come back from an 0-3 series deficit to win a series (2010 with the Flyers, 2014 with the Kings).

“There’s no doubt this is the most fun time of the year,” Richards said. “You could feel the energy in the dressing room this morning and even right now. It’s a special time and it’s the best part about playing hockey.”

Richards and Williams, each of whom began their NHL careers in Philadelphia, have combined to play in 239 playoff games. The entire Flyers roster has combined to play in 326 playoff games.

“He has the ability to slow things down when everything gets hectic,” Trotz said. “In the playoffs he’s been a player who finds a way to affect the game in a positive way. It’s the same with Justin Williams.”

Richards last experienced playoff hockey in Washington in 2008 when the Flyers won an intense and emotional series in overtime of Game 7 in Verizon Center. He said he has little recollection of that series but expects a real hornets’ nest when the Caps visit Philadelphia for Game 3 Monday night.     

“You get chills every time with Lauren (Hart) singing God Bless America with Kate Smith,” he said. “I’d say it’s better than Chicago, but Chicago’s pretty cool, too. It’s a great place to play hockey, just with the atmosphere and how intense everybody is. It’s just a loud building. It’s fun.”

Richards said he was saddened by the news of Flyers owner Ed Snider passing on Monday, calling him a “great, great man.”

“You can’t help but be sad for the whole Snider family,” he said. “To see such a passionate man, a man who did so much for me, to be gone.” 

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

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The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.

RELATED: KEMPNY GETS QUICK PROMOTION TO THE TOP-FOUR

Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”

MORE CAPITALS: TRADE TO CAPS POTENTIALLY OFFERS JERABEK WHAT HE NEVER GOT IN MONTREAL

When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

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Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”

RELATED: THE TRADE TO WASHINGTON OFFERS JERABEK THE CHANCE HE NEVER SEEMED TO GET IN MONTREAL

“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”

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