It’s Friday, Nov. 20, which means we have 34 shopping days until Christmas. It also means it’s time for our Friday six-pack of questions, where we answer your questions on the Capitals. Let’s go:
@ChuckGormleyCSN Why is it so hard for the Caps to get net presence consistently? No matter the year or the coach will they do it.
— Doc (@Mindspanker2002) November 20, 2015
Ah, yes. From Barry Trotz’s lips to his players’ ears. With the departures of Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, the 2015-16 Capitals are more of a perimeter team this year than they were last year and that’s something Trotz would like to see change. Net presence was a big topic of discussion following the Caps’ 1-0 loss in Detroit last week, when Alex Ovechkin fired 15 shots and goaltender Petr Mrazek gobbled up every one. “I think he saw just about every one of them,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “We need to create a lot more havoc around the net, which equals a lot of goals in this league.” In their 3-2 loss to the Stars Thursday night I noticed Ovechkin spending way more time in front of the net than in previous games and it resulted in his record-breaking goal. The third and fourth lines have also done a better job of swarming the net, although I’d like to see Tom Wilson plant himself in the crease more often, instead of swinging around the back of the net and out the other side. Earlier this season Marcus Johansson showed a much greater determination around the net than he has lately. To me, it’s really about a willingness to drive into areas that will result in bruised ribs and slashed legs, but results in penalties drawn and ugly deflections. The Caps could use a few more of those.
@ChuckGormleyCSN do you see the Caps re-signing RFAs Mojo and Orlov?
— Джанлука тоньино (@GianluT67) November 19, 2015
Great question and I don’t think we’ll know the answer until June. Marcus Johansson agreed to a one-year, $3.75 million contract last summer, which I like to call a “Show Me” contract. Through 18 games this season Johansson, 25, has three goals (one on the power play) and five assists. That puts him on pace for 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points, well off the career-high 20 goals and 47 points Johansson put up last season. Teams rarely walk away from RFAs but if they are not convinced they’ll be productive players they will trade them either before the trade deadline or in the summer. If Johansson can prove himself as a top-six forward – something he still needs to do – the Caps will extend him. If not, they may look to make a move. Orlov’s situation is a little less clear because he missed all of last season with a wrist fracture. In 18 games this season, Orlov has no goals, five assists and is a plus-1 as the Caps’ No. 5/6 defenseman. He’s literally been hit and miss this season, having good and bad stretches in the course of a game. Orlov is one of those players who has the talent to be a top-four defenseman but needs to develop better decision-making to be trusted in that role. Orlov, 24, has a smaller body of work than Johansson but I believe there would be strong interest in him from other NHL teams if the Caps made him available. Both scenarios are worth watching as this season unfolds, but I’d be stunned if the Caps re-up either player before the end of the season.
@ChuckGormleyCSN what place do you think ovechkin will finish with most goals in the league?
— 12-4-1 (@capzrok) November 19, 2015
Another great question. Right now, Ovechkin is tied with Darryl Sittler for 48th on the NHL’s all-time goals list with 484. Since Ovechkin just turned 30 in September and since he has six years (including this season) remaining on his contract, let’s first project how many goals he’ll have at the end of his deal with the Caps. I see no slow in Ovi’s game, so even though he’s on pace for 43 goals this season, I’m marking him down for an average of 51 goals in each of his next three seasons. That would put him at 628 goals heading into the final three years of his contract at age 33. Let’s say Ovi’s production dips to an average of 35 goals in the final three years of his contract (ages 33-35). That would leave him at 733 goals at the end of his 16-year career with the Capitals. That would place him fourth on the NHL’s all-time list, behind Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801) and Brett Hull (741). It’s worth mentioning that Jaromir Jagr is fifth on that all-time list with 729 goals and at 43 he’s not finished yet. The question then becomes: At age 36, does Ovechkin continue with his NHL career and begin his pursuit of guys like Hull, Howe and Gretzky? Or does he tip his cap to Caps fans and finish his playing career in Russia, something he says he’d consider doing? In my opinion that answer will rest on what happens between now and the 2020-21 season. If Ovechkin has won a Stanley Cup or two or four, I think he skates off into the sunset. If not, and the Caps look like they have a team that can contend, Ovechkin could stick around and give himself a chance to be the league’s all-time goal king. Either way, I think he makes it into the 700-goal club, now occupied by Mike Gartner, Phil Esposito, Jagr, Marcel Dionne, Hull, Howe and Gretzky.
@ChuckGormleyCSN which player has been the biggest surprise thus far?
— Ronnie (@MNMDkid) November 19, 2015
I’ll give you a few answers to that question. In a good way, I’ll go with Justin Williams and Karl Alzner. When the Caps signed Williams, I thought he’d be a great addition because of his excellent hockey sense and awareness, But I did not expect 14 points in his first 18 games. Williams has been a welcome addition to the power play and has adapted very well to killing penalties, something he was not asked to do very often in L.A. Alzner has also surprised me with his willingness and ability to jump into the offensive zone and make plays close to the net. Alzner is on pace for a career-high 23 assists and 28 points and I wouldn’t be surprised if he exceeds both of those totals with the amount of offensive chances he’s creating. On the flip side, I’ve been surprised in a bad way by Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson. Burakovsky thrives on scoring goals and since he’s struggled in that department (2 goals, 4 assists, minus-3, 23 shots) he’s been guilty of double clutching on shots and drifting at times in the defensive zone. Burakovsky and Wilson (no goals, four assists, 23 penalty minutes, 19 shots) should be battling like crazy for that second-line right wing spot and so far neither has grabbed it.
@ChuckGormleyCSN how would a PP work with 8 in the slot, 77 paroling the Ovi spot down to the goal line opposite 90, 74 & 19 as usual
— Lucas Heatherington (@StanleyCaps) November 20, 2015
I actually love this idea, Lucas. Adam Oates and Blaine Forsythe deserve credit for the power-play formation the Caps have been using for the past three-plus seasons, with Ovechkin firing away from the left circle. Because of their success, the Caps have been hesitant to stray from that formula. But in a playoff series, I guarantee a coach will run the risk of shadowing Ovechkin all over the ice, forcing the Caps to beat his team 4-on-3 with Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson and John Carlson. Those are four pretty good offensive options. But I like the idea of switching things up by moving Ovechkin, a right shot, into the slot and Oshie, another right shot, into Ovi’s spot in the left circle, while keeping the other three players where they normally position themselves. Oshie has just two power-play goals and, more shockingly, Ovechkin has just one. Ovechkin is a bigger presence in front of the net, is impossible to move out of the slot and would be a major distraction for goaltenders. Oshie is adept at crashing the net and is skilled enough to get off one-timers. The biggest downside to your suggestion is taking away what many believe is Ovechkin’s greatest attribute – his windmill one-timer. But like you mention, he could still rifle off shots from the “diamond” area if Johansson and Backstrom can get him the puck there. So, yes, I’d give it a try.
@ChuckGormleyCSN Do you see Michael Latta possibly turning into a Matt Hendricks-type player? Small, but tough as nails?
— Michael Fleetwood (@Mpfcaps)
He’s definitely getting the chance. Barry Trotz has repeatedly stated his desire for the Caps to have a gritty, in-your-face fourth line and Latta epitomizes that. Since returning to the lineup in Philly on Nov. 12, Latta has one goal on five shots and has been averaging a little more than 11 minutes a game. He’s also been dynamite on faceoffs, winning 56.3 percent of his draws, and, like Hendricks, he’s willing to drop the gloves. The only knocks on Latta are his ability to finish (no goals last season) and his overall speed.Trotz has liked his fourth line of Latta, Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson enough to put them out after every opponent’s goal and lately they’ve responded. The biggest differences between Latta and Henricks is that Hendricks regularly killed penalties and had a wicked shootout move and, unless we haven’t seen it yet, Latta hasn’t and doesn’t.
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