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Friday Six-Pack: Holtby slumping?


Friday Six-Pack: Holtby slumping?

It’s time for our Friday six-pack. Thanks for all the good questions this week. Let’s get started:

Holtby has not been as sharp lately, what do you attribute this to and do you see Gruby getting more starts? @MoCatFan

You’re right, Mike. In his last seven starts Braden Holtby has allowed three or more goals five times and has been pulled twice, losing each time. Since that Jan. 22 snowstorm wiped out two games and forced the Caps into two long breaks before and after the NHL All-Star Game, Holtby admits he hasn’t been himself.

“I feel it’s hard to come back from those (breaks),” Holtby told me. “I feel that rusty feeling. I hope there’s no more of those.”

When I asked Holtby how many games he’s like to play the rest of the way, he said, “Every one is fine. The way it is right now I want to keep improving, The last little bit has been inconsistent in terms of schedule and I don’t think I’ve handled it very well. My play hasn’t been as good as it should be. Hopefully, I can find a rhythm with games and practices. I’d like to play every day and I’ll take my ice time as it comes.”

To answer your question, the Caps have 23 games remaining and I see Holtby starting 17 or 18 of them. I would imagine he will play tonight against the Wild, Sunday in Chicago and Tuesday against the Penguins. Philipp Grubauer should get the game on Wednesday against Toronto, with Holtby and Grubauer splitting the back-to-backs against the Rangers (Holtby) and Boston (Grubauer) next Friday and Saturday.

Holtby should get at least two of the three games on the Caps’ California trip the second week in March, with Grubauer picking up two more games near the end of the month. The Caps finish up the season with a pair of back-to-backs a week apart, so those are two more starts for Grubauer.

The way I see it, Holtby will finish with roughly 66 or 67 starts, well below the 73 starts he had last season. That should give him just enough starts to catch Marty Brodeur’s record of 48 wins without wearing him out.

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Have teams figured out a specific key to stopping our PP and if so, what is it? Or are we not executing? -  @capscoach

Here’s my two cents on the Caps’ power play. The first unit could take a few pointers from the second. While the top unit often stays stationary and deliberate in its puck movement, with everything funneling toward Alex Ovechkin in the left circle, the second unit often has much more player movement and better puck rotation. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams like to dart in and out of their positions to create a little chaos in opposing defenses and the first unit could use some more of the same movement. This may sound crazy at this point in the season, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dmitry Orlov at the center point on the power play, along with Kuznetsov down low and Backstrom on the halfwall. Orlov has good chemistry with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov in 3-on-3 overtimes and he has excellent offensive instincts. The timing between John Carlson and Ovechkin just seems off and goaltenders are in position to stop Ovechkin before he even takes his one-timer. I think some subtle changes to personnel might result in more production. If Kuznetsov and Orlov move onto a top unit, the second unit could feature Marcus Johansson, Williams, Jason Chimera and Ovechkin, with Carlson or Matt Niskanen at center point.

With Mike Richards' legal picture clearing up, might the Capitals make a push to re-signing him this Summer? - @ Keith_Leonard

Both Barry Trotz and Brian MacLellan said the possession charge was weighing heavily on Richards and they feel he’ll be able to better concentrate on hockey now that his scheduled court appearances are a thing of the past. Richards’ true vindication would come in the form of a third Stanley Cup and Trotz will give Richards every opportunity to make that happen. Every time the name Mike Richards is brought up to Trotz he breaks into a big smile, which explains why MacLellan told me on Thursday how much Trotz loves him. As for next season, Richards would need to show his body is capable of handling the workload of another long playoff run. Considering he spent the first three months of the season working out with a personal trainer he should have plenty of energy to be an effective playoff player. Only then would the Caps even consider ere-signing Richards for another season. I still believe there are only a handful of teams that would be interested in Richards, but a strong playoff performance would definitely change that.

What are the options available on Laich other than trade? - @Karl_McDonnell

Brooks Laich is in the fifth year of a six-year, $27 million deal signed back in 2011. It carries a cap hit of $4.5 million next season. Caps GM Brian MacLellan addressed Laich’s situation on Thursday by saying he’s been a “soldier” for the Caps and that he appreciates his 12 years of loyalty to the organization. He also talked about the need to make “business decisions.” If the Caps traded Laich to, say, Toronto or Edmonton or Anaheim, they would likely ask for a draft pick as well and request the Caps take on half of his salary. Failing a trade, the Caps could create roster and salary space by placing Laich on waivers with the intent to send him to AHL Hershey. They could also do that with fourth-line center/winger Michael Latta, who likely would clear waivers.

With the emergence of Kuznetzov this season, How much time at 1C do you think he will see come playoff time?

This will sound like a coach, but in my opinion the Caps have two top-line centers and the time on ice proves it. Nicklas Backstrom averages 19:22 a game, but 1:02 of that is on the penalty kill. If you compare Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov at even strength, Kuznetsov actually averages more ice time (15:15) than Backstrom (15:09). Fans like to make the argument that wherever Alex Ovechkin plays, that’s the Caps top line. And I’m not about to argue that point with Ovechkin on the verge of his 40th goal. But to me, the Caps are difficult to beat because of their strength down the middle, where they can line up with Backsrtrom, Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson Jay Beagle and Mike Richards.

With the Caps doing so well. Do they start resting players or petal to the metal? - @just2muchfunfun

I doubt it. Team can carry as many players as they’d like after Monday’s trade deadline, but Barry Trotz does not like to carry more than one or two extra forwards and one or two extra defensemen. With Mike Weber and Taylor Chorney, they can now afford to rotate a defenseman in or out of the lineup for rest or because of poor play. Same goes for having two extra forwards. I could see Alex Ovechkin or Justin Williams or Nicklas Backstrom taking a game off down the stretch, especially in the back end of a back-to-back, like the final game of the season against Anaheim. Other than that, it’s pedal to the medal.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby in, Orlov may be out vs. Wild

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.


Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."


The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up in the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."