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Trotz already showing faith in Richards


Trotz already showing faith in Richards

Make no mistake about this: Barry Trotz had a big say in the Capitals’ pursuit and signing of center Mike Richards and we’re starting to see why.

In his first two games as a Capital, Richards has averaged 12:24 of ice time, has logged 6:16 in penalty-kill time, and has taken 31 faceoffs, winning 19 of them, including 14 of 20 in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers.

 “I probably went into the weekend thinking maybe (Richards would play) in that 7-to-8-minute range in the first game and maybe 10 at the high end in the second game,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

“Thirteen (minutes) is probably higher than I expected, but what you see is how competitive he is. You can skate all you want in practice and do all your battle drills. But when the game is happening there’s a fire that’s inside that young man that sort of makes him compete and he does a really good job.”

In his first two games Richards centered a fourth line with four different wingers. In Buffalo he played between Michael Latta and Zach Sill. On Sunday he centered a line with Brooks Laich and Stan Galiev.

Richards’ greatest value might be on the penalty kill, where he has not been on the ice for a power-play goal against.


“It’s probably like riding a bike for him,” Trotz said. “That and a high hockey IQ. His stick position is  outstanding. It’s always on the ice, which is key for any penalty killer and he’s terrific on draws. I think he’s going to be a real good upgrade in that area of our game.”

Richards, who has 28 career shorthanded goals, has spent his first two games with the Caps paired up with 21-year-old Tom Wilson on one of the Caps’ three PK pairs.

“He’s a real smart player,” Wilson said. “Obviously, he’s done it in the past. He’s got a bunch of shorthanded goals. You can just tell out there, even in practice, he’s just real smart. Even 5-on-3 he’s in all the right places, anticipating the right plays. If we can build up that chemistry that would be awesome.”

Before center Jay Beagle suffered a hand injury on Dec. 30,  Wilson was killing penalties alongside Beagle. Now he’s learning from a player once considered one of the game’s top two-way forwards.

“There’s still a tiny bit of rust, but you can tell he’s doing all the right things,” Wilson said, “and once he gets back into game mode he’s going to be a hell of a player, like he has been for a long time.”

Since Marcus Johansson (six points in six games) has fit in nicely on the Caps’ third line with wingers Jason Chimera and Wilson, Trotz said he’s likely to keep him there and work Richards into the lineup wherever he can.

“We’ll see,” Trotz said. “Jojo has done a good job. I think what you’ll see us do is flip flop people around. Once we get everybody healthy, then we’ll have some balance right through.”

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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