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Possible defensive options for Capitals through PTOs

Possible defensive options for Capitals through PTOs

Assuming the Capitals go with seven defensemen next season, they have some holes to fill.

As of now, they have only five defensemen under contract from last season: Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney. That leaves two spots open for prospects, including a top-four role alongside Carlson.

The Caps have plenty of candidates in the system who will compete for those spots including Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Tyler Lewington, Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, among others.

But what if they aren’t ready?


The team is banking on the hope that not one, but two players with little to no NHL experience will be able to step up and take an NHL spot. While teams groom their prospects to eventually step into the NHL roster, sometimes those players just don’t pan out or at least need more time to develop. Washington is not looking at this season as a complete rebuild. Re-signing T.J. Oshie and keeping the core intact is evidence of that. This is a team that still has its sights set on the playoffs. The Caps cannot afford, therefore, to have two spots on their blue line influx through the entire campaign.

One option, if there is some concern over the defensive depth, is to offer a veteran a professional tryout (PTO). PTOs are a way for teams to bring in players with no long-term commitment. You bring a player in for camp and, if he doesn’t work out, you simply release him.

If the Caps want more competition on defense or are worried about relying too much on unproven prospects, they could bring in a veteran on a PTO. There are a few options for Washington if they choose to go that route:

Roman Polak (31 years old), R
2016-17 season: 75 games, 4 goals, 7 assists with the Toronto Maple Leafs

Fedor Tyutin (34 years old), L
2016-17 season: 69 games, 1 goal, 12 assists with the Colorado Avalanche

Cody Franson (30 years old), R
2016-17 season: 68 games, 3 goals, 16 assists with the Buffalo Sabres

Mark Stuart (33 years old), L
2016-17 season: 42 games, 2 goals, 2 assists with the Winnipeg Jets

If your reaction to these options is to turn your nose in disgust, well, guess what? You’re not going to find a Brent Burns or a Shea Weber available in early September. There’s a reason why these players are still looking for contracts.

There are a few younger options such as Jyrki Jokipakka (26) and Cody Goloubef (27), but the Caps have plenty of untested youth. That’s what their prospects are. If Washington goes the PTO route, it will almost certainly be for a steady veteran.

Both Polak and Franson are physical, shutdown players with good size, but Polak may soon be off the market.

Tyutin spent last season with the dreadful Colorado Avalanche on a one-year $2 million deal. The fact that he could not earn a second look from a team that bad for a price that low is a bad sign for what he may have left to offer. But, that’s why you give him a PTO.

Stuart is an intriguing option because of his leadership. He has never been a remarkable defenseman, but he did spend time as an alternate captain for the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets ultimately chose to buy him out of the last year of his contract which carried a cap hit of about $2.6 million.

But the biggest problem regarding any PTO defenseman the team brings in is figuring out just where that player would fit in the lineup. The Caps need someone to play alongside Carlson on the second pair and Orpik on the third. An Orpik-Polak pair, for example, is one that would struggle to transition out of its own zone. It’s not an ideal pairing. You could potentially bump one of those players up to the second pair with Carlson where they would be a better fit in terms on contrasting styles, but then the Caps are relying on a PTO defenseman to earn a top-four role. Not ideal.

But what do the Caps have to lose? A PTO offers a no-risk insurance policy in case the prospects just aren’t ready to step up. Considering how many questions there are surrounding the team’s defense this year, it won’t be surprising to see Washington go the PTO route just as a precaution.


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Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers


Caps' rookie defensemen make rookie mistakes against Panthers

Rookie players make rookie mistakes. It happens. When it does, you hope it doesn’t cost the team too much, you learn from it and then you move on.

When you have two rookie defensemen in your lineup, however, those rookie mistakes can turn very, very costly. That was evident in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Less than two minutes into the game, Christian Djoos chased after a puck behind his own net while under pressure from two Florida forecheckers. He attempted a backhanded pass that hit off the back of the net and was collected by Jarred McCann who set up Connor Brickley for the easy goal.

“Not the best start, obviously,” Djoos said after the game. “Not a good play.”


It looks like Djoos tried to chip the puck past the forecheckers into the middle, probably to Lars Eller who was trailing the play. That puck needs to be along the boards. When you try to clear up the middle while under pressure, you risk giving up the puck in a very dangerous area of the ice which is exactly what happened.

With two players on his tail, Djoos should have fired that puck along the boards, preferably with his forehand which is much stronger than the backhand. He may not have had enough time to go to the forehand given the pressure, but that puck still needs to go along the boards with as much power behind it as possible. If it’s a turnover, fine, at least it is in the corner or along the perimeter rather than directly behind the net. If it’s icing, fine. Icing is better than a goal.

But Djoos wasn’t the only player guilty of having a rookie moment. Madison Bowey's inexperience was on display late in the first period as he tried to defend Florida forward Vincent Trochek.

Trocheck skated the puck into the Caps’ defensive zone. Bowey forced him to the outside which is the right way to play it, but he couldn’t rub him out along the boards. Instead, Trocheck was able to shake Bowey off and turn the corner on him to get in alone on Philipp Grubauer prompting the desperation hook from Bowey.

When Bowey is able to force him to the boards, he needs to finish off Trocheck and snuff out the rush.

Florida would score on the resulting power play to take a 2-0 lead at the end of the first, a deficit the Capitals were not able to overcome.

The good news is that both Djoos and Bowery are going to continue to get better with every passing game. They are both young players at 23 and 22 respectively and mistakes are expected for players in their first NHL season. They will develop and improve which we already saw through Saturday's game.

Djoos scored the Capitals’ lone goal on the night and Bowey played strong defensively the rest of the way. The coaches seemed to reward their play as well with more minutes. Djoos played 3:02 in the first, 3:16 in the second and 6:06 in the third while Bowey played 4:04, 6:09 and 6:18.

“The young guys have been fine,” Barry Trotz told reporters. “They're going to make mistakes. They make the same mistakes some of the older guys are making.”


The question is do the Caps have enough time to wait for them to continue to develop this season or do they need to improve the defense now?

There’s no question having two rookies in the team's top six is not an ideal scenario. It is hard for the coaches to shelter them as they normally would like. It is also having a strain on the other veteran defensemen who are taking on a heavier workload as a result. The 37-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik played 16:56 through two periods and John Carlson finished the game with a season-high 29:48 on Saturday.

You can’t win a Stanley Cup in October and November, but you can lose it if you get buried too far in the standings. The Caps are 4-4-1 through nine games and have six games between now and when Matt Niskanen is eligible to return from LTIR, assuming he is ready at that point.

Can the defense as it’s currently constructed keep the Caps afloat until Niskanen’s return? Is it good enough with Niskanen in the lineup? Those are questions Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan are going to have to answer quickly.

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Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties are a problem, and the Caps know it

Penalties weren’t the main reason the Caps fell to the Panthers on Saturday night, but taking six minors, including four in the second period, sure didn’t help matters.

“Penalties have been a little bit of an ongoing thing,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the 4-1 defeat at Capital One Arena. “It took all the rhythm out. It forced a big portion of our bench to sit there, get cold. In the second period, it was back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and it just sort of took all of the momentum. And now you’re chasing the game big time.”

Evgenii Dadonov scored on the power play late in the first period to stake Florida to a 2-0 lead. Then Vincent Trocheck closed the door midway through the second, sniping a 5-on-3 shot over Philipp Grubauer to make it 3-0.


“We shot ourselves again in the foot a little bit with the penalties,” Grubauer said. “We got to move our feet. I wouldn’t call it lazy, I would call it being behind the play.”

Lars Eller was whistled for holding and tripping. Nicklas Backstrom doubled up, too, with interference and tripping infractions. Madison Bowey got called for hooking and Evgeny Kuznetsov was cited for high sticking. All of the penalties were assessed in the game’s first 33 minutes.

The impact of penalties, particularly when they’re taken so close to one another, cannot be disputed. In addition to the obvious advantage they give the other team, penalties also disrupt the flow of the game and the lines, while keeping goal scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov stapled to the bench. And they’re even harder to kill off on the second night of a back-to-back.    

“We took it to them and did all the right things 5 on 5 …but again all the penalties, it’s disrupting the flow of our team,” Eller said. “It’s hurting us a lot. I am guilty and other guys too. That’s a little thing that will make a big difference for us if we can improve on that.”


The veteran center added: “It’s an easy fix. It’s a question of being a little bit more smart, taking an extra step [instead of reaching with the stick]. That will improve our game a lot.”

In nine games this season, the Caps have been assessed more penalties than their opponent five times. They’ve only taken fewer penalties than an opponent once.

“We have to nip the penalties in the bud,” Trotz said. “We seem to stack ‘em up. You’ll take the odd one but when you start stacking them up it’s a recipe for disaster for us.”