It’s Friday and that means it’s time for our Friday six-pack of Capitals questions. Great ones this week. Let’s get started:
Caps appear to be on way to #1 or 2 seed. What potential wild card match up would be worst for Caps? - @DCsportsFan85_
I can’t believe I’m saying this two weeks before the NHL All-Star break, but with a 12-point lead on the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers and a 16-point lead on the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, it looks like the Caps are going to secure home ice through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs and maybe all the way through the end of June. If the season ended today, the top-seeded Caps (69 points) would face the eighth-seeded Bruins (47 points) in Round 1. If Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara are healthy, that would be a fun, physical matchup. But Braden Holtby and the Caps have owned the Bruins lately with five straight wins, three by shutout. Including the 2012 playoffs, when the Caps eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games, Holtby is 13-3-2 against the Bruins. Boston, however, is just one of eight teams scrambling for those last two wild card spots. The Canadiens (49 points), Lightning (48), Bruins (47), Hurricanes (47), Devils (47), Penguins (46), Senators (46) and Flyers (45) all are within four points of each other. Of those eight teams, Carey Price and the Canadiens are the ones most likely to give the Caps trouble in Round 1, but I don’t think the Habs will fall to No. 8. I would absolutely love to see the Penguins finish with the eighth seed, setting up the first playoff matchup between the Caps and Pens since 2009 when Pittsburgh prevailed in seven games. To be truthful, the only team in the East that should scare Caps fans is the Florida Panthers, who dominated the Caps in a 4-1 setback on Dec. 10.
when the Capitals lineup is 100% healthy with Orpik, Carly, Beags back.. Where does Mike Richards fit in? - @i_bern_em
I don’t think we’ll see Brooks Orpik and John Carlson (lower body injuries) together in the same game until after the NHL All-Star break, which would be Feb. 2 at home against the Florida Panthers. Carlson is definitely closer than Orpik but the Caps could hold him out of the lineup until after the break to be sure he’s healthy. Jay Beagle (left hand fracture) is looking at a return date sometime in mid-February. Barry Trotz said today Mike Richards could be in the lineup Saturday night in Buffalo and will start on the fourth line. I see Richards getting fourth line/penalty kill duties at the start and if he looks good, we could see him replace Marcus Johansson at third-line center. But with Andre Burakovsky skating really well on a second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams, it’s hard to justify dropping Burakovsky down to a fourth line again. The Caps have been very fortunate with their top six forwards staying in good health this season, but anything can happen between now and mid-February when Beagle returns. If the Caps look like this when Beagle returns, it’s a pretty solid lineup:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle/Mike Richards – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich - Beagle/Richards – Andre Burakovsky
Much talk about Caps strong locker room, who gets the credit Trotz for leading the way or MacLellan for getting the players - @Terpinyc
I think it starts with Barry Trotz. From the day he was hired in the summer of 2014 Trotz has complied a checklist of things to accomplish and his team has checked each item. Careless and selfish penalties? Eliminated. Better goals-against? Lowest in the NHL (2.09). Better penalty kill? Fourth in the NHL (85 percent). Cleaner breakouts? Much. Pack mentality? Evident. Third-period clamp downs? 23-0-1 when leading after two. Trotz took it one step further this season when he set a goal of going the entire season without back-to-back losses. It’s happened once this season and they managed to get a point out of one of them, making them the only NHL team that hasn’t suffered consecutive regulation losses. So, yes, Trotz deserves a lot of credit for how far the Caps have come in the past 18 months. Having said that, Brian MacLellan has identified needs and addressed them. He had to overpay to get Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen through free agency but the Caps instantly improved their blue line. He made his team faster and more dangerous offensively with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, but also made smart summer moves by signing veteran defensemen Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness, who have stepped in seamlessly due to injuries to Orpik and Carlson. MacLellan also locked up Braden Holtby to a long-term contract and kept the fire burning under Marcus Johansson with a one-year, “show me” extension. The fact the Caps are where they are today – compared to where they were following the 2013-014 season – is a credit to both Trotz and MacLellan – and Ted Leonsis’ willingness to hire them.
if JoJo and Orlov re-sign for another season are they still RFA or will entry in the UFA zone anyway? - @GianluT67
Based on an arbitrator’s ruling, Marcus Johansson and the Capitals agreed on a one-year, $3.75 million contract last summer. He will enter this summer in the exact same position as a restriucted free agent. However, Johansson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017. That could play a role in the contract length the Capitals offer Johansson this summer. Through 40 games Johansson is having a strong season with 10 goals and 16 assists, putting him on pace to finish with the same number of goals and five more assists than last season. With that in mind, $4 million would seem like a reasonable number for a one-year deal. As for Orlov, he holds his restricted status until the summer of 2019. He’s in the final year of a two-year, $4 million contract that pays him $2.25 million this season. I could see the Caps offering him a two-year deal in the $5 million to $5.5 million range.
Where do you see Richards fitting in the lineup and what should we realistically expect from him production wise? – Bryan Adams (Facebook)
Trotz said today Richards will start on the fourth line and that would limit his offensive production. But I would not be surprised to see Richards find his way onto a very gritty line with Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson and that’s a line that could do some serious damage in the playoffs. If his offseason strength program pays off and he’s a little quicker than he was a year ago, Richards is an offensive upgrade over Beagle. If Richards plays in 35 games for the Caps I think four or five goals and eight or nine assists is a reasonable expectation. But it’s in the playoffs where Richards can be most effective in a checking line role, which is where I think he’ll end up.
Do you think Burakovsky's finally arrived so-to-speak, in terms of production? @mpfCaps
With four assists in his last two games I think he’s definitely getting there. But if you ask Barry Trotz or Burakovsky, both will tell you he began playing better about three weeks ago, even though his numbers may not reflect it. “He went through a phase where he didn’t have much pop,” Trotz said. "I don’t know if that’s feeling disengaged or feeling sorry for himself or just not in tune. I don’t know exactly what he was going through, but even when he was on the fourth line you could tell he was coming. You could tell in practice and you could tell in his game. He had more bite in his game, more pop, more juice. Last night he was moving and he was very, very dangerous. Where he’s gotten really good is he’s got a little more strength to his game and that’s pretty taxing on guys that are defending.”