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Barry Trotz limits top players' minutes with eye towards the playoffs

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Barry Trotz limits top players' minutes with eye towards the playoffs

For a team like the Washington Capitals, it’s no secret that the regular season does not mean all that much.

Since 2007, the Caps have won six division championships and two Presidents’ Trophies. Alex Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in the NHL six times and the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP three times. Braden Holtby is the defending Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie and tied Martin Brodeur’s record for most wins in a single season with 48 in 2015-16.

There’s just not that much left to accomplish.

When it comes to the playoffs, however, the Caps have not been able to find the same level of success. Changing that is the task of head coach Barry Trotz and that means approaching the regular season in a different way.

RELATED: Caps Fight Cancer day at Kettler inspires kids and players alike

One of the biggest changes Trotz is making this season is limiting the minutes of his top players to try and keep them fresh for a playoff push in the spring.

“The adjustments that everybody has to make...is that their minutes come down,” Trotz said to reporters after Thursday’s practice. “Some guys don't like it because they're used to being out lots and they're used to playing big minutes and they define themselves just in minutes. Where you had all those minutes over 90 games and then you start going into the hundred-game area, that's a lot of extra minutes and that's a lot of wear and tear on your body.

“By giving less minutes now, you maybe have a little more wind at the end of the year.”

Through 10 games, Ovechkin is averaging 18:25 of ice time per game, the lowest average of his career. Nicklas Backstrom is averaging 18:00 per game, the same average he saw in his rookie season. Matt Niskanen is averaging more than two minutes less than last season while Brooks Orpik is averaging nearly three minutes less.

Even Braden Holtby, the team’s workhorse in net, was given the night off in the two of the team’s first seven games.

While a few seconds or minutes may not sound like a lot, that certainly has an impact on the players who are used to getting a certain amount of time per game. For those players, playing fewer shifts takes some getting used to.

Said Trotz, “When you're just passing and say hey, yesterday it took you awhile to get going and guys will say I couldn't get into it because I'm used to going out a bit more, that's where you have to change a little bit and there's going to be an adjustment period.”

But does limiting the players’ ice time signal to the team that the regular season doesn’t matter? So far it has not had that effect as the Caps have jumped out to a 7-2-1 record. In fact, it may actually be better for the team as, in today’s NHL, the most successful teams are the ones with enough depth to consistently roll four lines.

Preparing the team for better playoff success without devaluing the regular season completely, however, is important. Teams that take too much of a relaxed attitude toward the regular season end up playing their way right out of a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Kings did just that in 2014-15 as they missed the playoffs despite winning the Stanley Cup the season before.

It’s a delicate balance, but one Trotz is acutely aware of.

Said Trotz, “Really the goal of our staff and for players is to make them as good as they can day in and day out. But also with our team, if we can play and keep everybody healthier a longer period and have more in the tank when we need it most, that's probably the most important.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz hints at lineup changes to get Chorney, Winnik back in

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

It would have been understandable if Travis Boyd struggled this past week. Something more important was on his mind.

Boyd spent the week in the hospital with his daughter, Hayden, who had been experiencing pain in her throat. He spent the enitre week in the hospital, not leaving until Hershey's game against Laval.

Boyd turned this trial into something incredible as he scored four goals Friday in Hershey's 6-3 win.

Boyd spoke about the ordeal with Zach Fisch of the Bears Radio Network (transcription via RMNB).

“It actually started after the game last Sunday against Rochester," he said. "I went straight from the rink to Urgent Care and then from Urgent Care to the ER. Never left the hospital until Friday morning. We had a successful surgery on Thursday night. Basically just a bad infection in her throat that had to be surgically removed. They had to surgically go in and kind of remove the bacteria and drain out the fluids. Everything went well. She’s doing well.”

Following the game, Boyd dedicated his performance to Hayden.

A four-goal game at the AHL level would have been an incredible accomplishment on its own. The fact that it came during such a trying time for him makes this a truly inspirational story.

You can watch highlights of the game including all four of Boyd's goals here:

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • In the Bears' game Friday against Laval, Riley Barber dropped the gloves with Markus Eisenchmid.  Barber was given an extra minor and game misconduct for instigating the fight in the final five minutes of the game. That penalty carries with it an automatic one-game suspension which Barber served Saturday. Here's a look at the fight.

  • Liam O'Brien had a pair of two-goal games over the week, scoring twice against Laval Friday and then two more against Toronto on Monday. Of his four goals, three of them were empty netters.
  • As the Capitals prepare for their Stadium Series game in Annapolis on March 3, Annapolis mayor Gavin Buckley—a native of Perth, Australia—made a plea to see Nathan Walker recalled for the game.  “I’ll have to put a quick shout out to the one Australian that’s playing for the Caps now, Nathan Walker. If you could just bring him up for this game, that’d be great. Because an Australian being in a hockey game is like a Jamaican bobsled team. It doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Brian Pinho was honored Friday in Providence College's Senior Night. He has served as captain of the team this season and as an assistant captain in his junior year. He spoke with The Cowl on what being a leader on the team means to him. "I think being a leader of this team is a great honor, but also a huge responsibility. I try to keep everything fun at the rink, while also bringing some intensity and competing hard every day.” You can read the full story here.
  • Goalie Adam Carlson, who was on loan to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, was reassigned to the Kansas City Mavericks also of the ECHL. He started two games for his new team and turned aside 42 of the 48 total shots he faced.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Panthers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals (34-19-7) take on the Panthers (26-25-6) Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Florida.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Panthers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Panthers
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Panthers game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Brooks Orpik

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-PANTHERS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.