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Friday Six-Pack - What intangibles make this team different?


Friday Six-Pack - What intangibles make this team different?

Lots of good questions for this week’s Friday six-pack. So let’s get to it:

most prez trophy winners get bounced in playoffs. What intangibles makes this team different this season. - @DonOveFan8

You are so right, Don. Since the Presidents’ Trophy first was awarded to the NHL team with the most points in the regular season in 1986, 11 of those 29 teams made it to the Stanley Cup final and just eight won the whole enchilada. That gives this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners a 28 percent chance to win the Cup. In fact, the only Presidents’ Trophy winner to go all the way in the past seven years was the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. In fact, the 2010 Caps were one of six Presidents’ Trophy winners to be bounced in the first round. The two significant differences between this Caps team and the one in 2010 is team defense and playoff experience. The 2009-10 Caps (121 points) ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against per game (2.77) and 25th on the penalty kill (78.8 percent). These Caps, who are on pace for 129 points, ranks second in the NHL is goals against (2.13) and sixth on the penalty kill (84.6). They are also a ridiculous 21-0-1 when leading after two periods. And then there are the additions of Justin Williams and Mike Richards, each of whom are 7-0 in career Game 7s. Since 1985, the Caps have lost 10 series in which they led either 2-0 or 3-1 and guys like Williams and Richards simply won’t let that happen. If healthy, this team has everything it takes to win it all.

When will GMBM talk to the league about the refs penalizing Wilson for being Wilson. It's gotten beyond ridiculous. - @FCF__

I am guessing you are referring to the unsportsmanlike penalty Tom Wilson took on Thursday night after he complained to the referee on his way to the Caps bench. Wilson finished a clean body check on one side of the ice and was knocked down in the crease by Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy. While Wilson was prone on the ice, Leddy gave him another jab in the back to keep him there. Wilson got up, yelled at the ref and was slapped with a ‘T.’ The Caps did a nice job killing the penalty, but the Caps were leading 2-1 at the time and the Isles could have tied it with a power-play goal. Barry Trotz was more angry with Wilson than he was with the call because the Caps need Wilson agitating others instead of getting too emotional with non-calls, even if he believes he’s being unfairly targeted. It shouldn’t happen, but NHL refs look closely at the league’s most physical players and Wilson is certainly in that category. Most of his body checks are clean and make a big sound and referees can’t skate around assuming every hit by Wilson is an illegal one. But he can control his emotions better when calls aren’t made and you better believe Trotz made that clear Thursday night.

When can we honestly see Orpik back on the ice at 100%? @ChrisKn65186770

The good news coming out of Barry Trotz’s presser Thursday night is that Brooks Orpik, sidelined since Nov. 10 with a lower body injury, is feeling better and is close to resuming skating. Orpik visited with a doctor in Boston earlier this week and has been told he is making progress. But it’s not until he pushes it on the ice in practice that the Caps will have a better idea if Orpik will be healthy enough to sustain a full season and playoff. They are giving Orpik extra time because they want him for a long playoff run. However, if Orpik is not 100 percent by the middle of February, the Caps will go hard after a top-four defenseman who can step in and play big minutes. We heard the rumblings about Dustin Byfuglien ($5.2 million cap hit) last weekend and that would make perfect sense if the Caps were forced to keep Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit on long-term injury. But for the Caps to make a deal for Byfuglien they would need to know Orpik would be shut down for the season and be able to come up with an attractive package to get him, which would include roster players and top prospects. Brian MacLellan said Thursday he does not plan on keeping Orpik on LTIR.

Assuming Richards gets a regular role, who is most likely out when Beags returns? Latta? Burk? Mojo looks good, trade him? @Terpinyc

All good questions. Barry Trotz said Thursday he sees Mike Richards starting out on the fourth line and working his way up if warranted. Marcus Johansson has looked really good on that third line, generating a lot of speed and a lot of offense with wingers Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. And with Andre Burakovsky finding his groove on a second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams I’d be hesitant to break up that unit. In the short term I see Trotz going with a fourth line of Brooks Laich, Richards and either Michael Latta or Stan Galiev. Of the players on the Caps’ current roster, I see Latta and Galiev as the players most likely to be affected by Richards’ arrival. Either one could be traded or placed on waivers, where I think both would stand a good chance of being claimed. As for Beagle, he will have plenty of leg strength when he returns to the lineup but his hand strength will be affected by the surgery and that could mean a lot more of Richards in the faceoff circle. I see Beagle and Richards equally dividing minutes on the third and fourth lines, along with penalty killing. Richards also could be worked into one of the power play units if needed.  

How about keeping Marcus at 3rd line center? - @pkcnelson

Yes, I like what Johansson is doing there. In fact, Johansson has really impressed me this season, especially lately. He’s creating offensively, he’s going into dirty areas for goals and he’s been delivering some pretty big body checks, something none of us had grown to expect. As a result, Johansson is on pace for a career-high 21 goals and 54 points. The Caps aren’t likely to trade a player with that kind of production, even if they’re not sure if they can afford to keep him in the offseason. Johansson is in the final year of a deal that pays him $3.75 million. He’ll be a restricted free agent again this summer and I would not be surprised if he and the Caps go to arbitration again. But that’s a long way off. Where Johansson winds up when Jay Beagle returns could depend on the productivity of Andre Burakovsky, who could nail down a big offensive role with a strong five weeks.

What will the cap situation look like when Orpik & Carlson return w/ Richards' signing. What does a pro-rated contract mean? @mpfCaps

A pro-rated contract is one in which a player is paid for the amount of games remaining in the regular season when he is signed. In the case of Mike Richards, a one-year, $1 million contract is pro-rated to roughly $500,000 since it comes at the midway point of the season. As for the Caps’ current contract situation, they now have 14 healthy forwards and seven healthy defensemen. Depending on Mike Richards’ conditioning, I would imagine Zach Sill will be sent back to Hershey after serving the second half of his two-game suspension on Saturday, giving the Caps 13 healthy forwards. And once John Carlson is cleared, possibly this weekend, we’re likely to see Ryan Stanton returned to Hershey. So … if all of that happens and my math his correct, the Caps would be roughly $450,000 over the cap when Carlson, Orpik and Beagle are on the roster. That would also give the Caps 14 heathy forwards, which is where a trade or AHL assignment for Latta or Galiev would come into play.

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."