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Your questions on the Caps; our answers

Your questions on the Caps; our answers

Hey, it’s Friday!

That means a special edition of our Friday six-pack, where we answer your best Capitals questions of the week.

RELATED: TEN OFFSEASON QUESTIONS FACING THE CAPITALS

Let’s get started:

Would they really consider trading Ovi at some point?  — @mrmikesvoice

No. At least not this offseason.

Two summers ago, on July 1, 2014, Alex Ovechkin’s no-trade clause kicked in. It states that Ovechkin can give the Capitals 10 teams he will NOT accept a trade to and Ovechkin has the right to alter that list every September.

That means there are 19 teams the Caps COULD trade Ovechkin to, but why would they? Even at 30 years old the guy is the best pure goal-scorer in the game. He’s led the NHL in goal-scoring in six of his last nine seasons and would be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer if he hung up his skates today and never played another game.

Truth is, Ovechkin is a better overall player right now than when he was scoring 65 goals. While he’ll never earn a Selke nomination, Ovechkin backchecks like crazy and is a physical force every time he steps on the ice.  That’s not to say the Capitals will never entertain the thought of trading Ovechkin. It just won’t be in this calendar year.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is committed to this current roster – 17 players are under contract for 2016-17 – and has made it clear it is on him to surround Ovechkin with players that can help him win a Stanley Cup.

If the Caps fail miserably in that attempt next season – and there’s nothing to suggest they will – then it might be time to flip the script. But unless something changes dramatically over the next five years the Capitals should be competitive enough to keep Ovechkin for the remainder of his contract, which expires at the end of the 2020-21 season.

 

Did benching No. 9 (Dmitry Orlov) & No. 88 (Nate Schmidt) after they made mistakes cause them to be nervous and less confident, and therefore underperform? — @charmcitygreg

That’s a great question and it’s one Washington Times sports editor @ZacBoyer asked Brian MacLellan when we met with him at Kettler earlier this week.

MacLellan’s response?

“Because we had some depth, because guys were pretty similar with their skill sets, I don’t think it hurts for a guy to go up (in the press box) and watch a game and then get thrown back in it.  Maybe it hurts their confidence, maybe it doesn’t. I guess it depends on the delivery from the coaches if it does or it doesn’t. It is what it is.”

As for me, I think there was some trepidation from Barry Trotz going into the playoffs regarding Orlov (11 playoff games, 1 assist, even, one penalty) and Schmidt (10 playoff games, 1 assist, minus-3, one penalty).

Remember, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup for seven playoff games (1 assist, minus-1, two penalties) mostly because Brooks Orpik sat out six playoff games (3 with concussion, 3 with suspension) and not because of the play of Orlov and Schmidt.

But to answer your question, Trotz was looking to win a single hockey game when he pulled Orlov for one game and Schmidt for two. And if Orlov and Schmidt can’t handle everything that goes along with that, they shouldn’t be in the NHL.

 

Will it sting more for the Capitals if the Penguins win it all or lose in this round or the next? — @DMVFanatics

I think it would sting more if the Penguins lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning because it would feel like the Caps are farther away from their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. If the Penguins go on to win the Cup, the Caps could take solace in the fact they were two overtime decisions away from winning their series against the Stanley Cup champs. Along those lines, here’s what happened to the team that has knocked the Caps out of the playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin era:

2008 (first round) – Flyers lost to Penguins in Conference Finals

2009 (second round) – Penguins beat Red Wings to win Stanley Cup

2010 (first round) – Canadiens lost to Flyers in Conference Finals

2011 (second round) – Lightning lost to Bruins in Conference Finals

2012 (second round) – Rangers lost to Devils in Conference Finals

2013 (first round) – Rangers lost to Bruins in Round 2

2014 – Missed playoffs

2015  (second round) – Rangers lost to Lightning in Conference Finals

So, the 2009 Penguins were the only team to go on to win the Stanley Cup after beating the Caps in the playoffs. In fact, in the last four springs, the team that knocked the Caps out of the playoffs lost in the next round.

 

Are they really considering Vadim or did you just throw it out there? — @u2hokie

I’m just throwing it out here, but why wouldn’t the Caps at least see what it would cost to sign Vadim Shipachyov, who would definitely go by the NHL nickname of “Shippy” or “Chippy.”

The Montreal Canadiens are reportedly interested in the 30-year-old center, who is leading all scorers in the World Championships after putting up 17 goals and 43 assists in 53 games for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.

Shipachyov isn’t very big (6-foot, 187 pounds), but he is considered one of the best passers in the game. In 395 regular season games in the KHL Shipachyov has 335 points, but he’s also a big-time player at crunch time. In addition to winning a gold medal in the 2014 Worlds and a silver medal in 2015, he helped lead SKA to the KHL’s Gagarin Cup with 13 goals and 24 assists in 32 playoff games over the past two seasons.

There have been conflicting reports over whether Shipachyov has another year left on his contract with SKA and whether he would honor that contract if pursued by a lucrative NHL offer. The Caps are one of the more Russian-friendly teams in the NHL with four Russians on their current roster (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Stan Galiev).

That could certainly help IF the Caps believe they can fill their hole at third-line center by reaching overseas, creating a possible third forward line of Marcus Johansson, Shipachyov and either Justin Williams or Tom Wilson.

But because of the north-south game that has been established by Barry Trotz, I’m not holding my breath.

 

Who do you see on current roster as bottom six for the Caps? — @Samb999

Justin Williams probably won’t like this, but to me, he’s the perfect third-line right wing for the Caps.

That means Marcus Johansson would be my second-line right wing on an all-Swede line with Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky (Yes, I’d start next season with Evgeny Kuznetsov between Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie). If all of that plays out, the Caps’ current roster would have a bottom six looking like:

Stan Galiev - Jay Beagle – Justin Williams

Daniel Winnik – Michael Latta – Tom Wilson

I’m not crazy about that, either, which is why the Caps need to improve their depth. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, the Caps sign Andrew Ladd and move him onto a third line with Beagle and Williams. That wouldn’t look too bad in the playoffs, would it? And that would give you a fourth line of Daniel Winnik, maybe Chandler Stephenson, and Tom Wilson. Of course, Wilson could change the entire forward depth chart if he can become an offensive threat next season, which will be his fourth in the NHL.

 

Tom Wilson as next Joel Ward??? Your opinion? Best two free agent 3-Line cars avail? Richards, Weber, Chimmer gone? — @jpwelchco

Tom Wilson is not Joel Ward, but with a few tweaks to his game he could be.

Let’s start this discussion by saying I like everything about Wilson and that his physicality can have a great impact on a playoff series. He just needs to bring more to his game than hits that straddle the border of legality.

If Wilson can dedicate his summer to learning how to stop in front of the net instead of taking long, loopy strides and peeling away. … If he can practice planting himself in front of the goal crease and deflecting thousands of point shots, then shoveling those loose pucks under and around goalies … then he will become the 20- or 25-goal scorer everyone wants him to be. If not, he will remain a first-round pick on a fourth line.

As for the best two free-agent centers that will be available on July 1, Steven Stamkos and Eric Staal are at the top. I’d take David Backes off the Blues’ hands, but don’t see them letting him go.

After that, no one blows me away. Jiri Hudler, 32, might intrigue me. He had 16 goals and 30 assists for the Flames and Panthers. Frans Nielsen, 31, had a 20-goal, 32-assist season with the Islanders, but they’d like to re-sign him. Sam Gagner, 26, isn’t bad, but he’s coming off an eight-goal, eight assist season.

I can’t see UFAs Mike Richards or Mike Weber coming back to Washington, although I think both will be in the NHL next season. Jason Chimera is a tough call. If he’s willing to accept a one-year deal I think he comes back. But if he’s seeking two years or more I think he signs elsewhere.   

 

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Capitals one win away from facing the Penguins ... again

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Capitals one win away from facing the Penguins ... again

The Washington Capitals are one win away from advancing to the second round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

If they do beat the Blue Jackets in Game 6 or Game 7, a familiar foe awaits them.

The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday with a 8-5 win in Game 6. They will play the winner of the Capitals-Columbus Blue Jackets series.

Because of course they will.

The Penguins have beaten the Capitals in the second round in each of the past two seasons. The series went six games in 2016 and seven in 2017.

Washington’s biggest rival has been a thorn in the side of the Caps throughout the team’s history. Washington and Pittsburgh have met in the postseason 10 times. Only once have the Caps come out victorious, in 1994.

Pittsburgh has won five Stanley Cups in their history and each time, they had to beat the Caps in the playoffs to do it.

The emergence of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin helped to reignite the Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry, but that too has been one sided. Crosby has won three Stanley Cups while Ovechkin has never advanced past the second round.

Before you despair, however, consider this. Coming into the season, no one knew what to expect from the Capitals. Expectations were low. Somehow, Washington managed to overcome the loss of several players in the offseason and managed to win the Metropolitan Division.

In a season in which the Caps have already defied expectations, perhaps this will be the year they finally get past Pittsburgh and advance to the conference final. Maybe? Please?

First things first, they still need one more win against Columbus. Game 6 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

MORE CAPITALS:
How the Caps stymied Artemi Panarin
Nick Backstrom's Game 5 heroics, explained
Capitals' PK unit the series difference-maker
John Tortorella makes Game 7 proclamation

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Stopping Panarin: How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

Stopping Panarin: How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

The Capitals boast a roster full of superstar forwards including players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not.

As a team, Columbus’ offensive output is more spread out among the team, except for one offensive focal point: Artemi Panarin.

Traded in the offseason to Columbus from the Chicago Blackhawks, Panarin has proven this season to be a star in his own right rather than just someone hanging on to the coattails of his former linemate in Chicago, Patrick Kane.

Defensively, shutting down Panarin was priority No. 1 for Barry Trotz and company heading into their best-of-seven first-round playoff series

“We went into the series knowing fully well how good of a player Panarin is,” the Capitals head coach told the media via a conference call on Sunday. “He's a leader for them. It's no different than what they would do with Kuznetsov, Backstrom or [Ovechkin]. It's got to be a team game.”

Initially, things did not go well for the Capitals, as Panarin tallied two goals and five assists in the first three games. In Game 4 and Game 5, however, he was held off the scoresheet and finished with a plus/minus rating of -3.

For the series as a whole, Washington has actually done a good job of shutting Panarin down. Four of his seven points came on power play opportunities, meaning the Caps limited Columbus’ top forward to only three even-strength points in five games.

Washington’s strategy coming into the series was to give Panarin a healthy dose of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. At 5-on-5 play, no two defensemen have been on the ice against Panarin anywhere near as much as the Orlov-Niskanen pairing. That’s been true all series. The offensive line Panarin has been matched against, however, has changed.

In Game 1, the Caps’ second line of Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie matched primarily against Panarin’s line. That changed in Game 2. Since then, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have been on Panarin duty.

There are several ways to approach matching lines against an opponent. Backstrom is one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL. It makes sense for Trotz to want him out against Columbus’ most dangerous line. The problem there, however, is that Trotz was taking his team’s second line and putting it in a primarily defensive role.

In Game 1, Backstrom was on the ice for seven defensive zone faceoffs, 12 in the neutral zone and only two in the offensive zone.

The Capitals have an edge over Columbus in offensive depth, but you mitigate that edge if you force Burakovsky, Backstrom and Oshie, three of your best offensive players, to focus on shutting down Panarin.

Let’s not forget, Washington scored only one 5-on-5 goal in Game 1 and it came from Devante Smith-Pelly. They needed the second line to produce offensively so Trotz switched tactics and go best on best, top line vs. top line in a possession driven match up.

The strategy here is basically to make the opposing team's best players exhaust themselves on defense.

You can tell this strategy was effective, and not just because Panarin's offensive dried up. In Game 4, when the Blue Jackets could more easily dictate the matchups, Columbus placed Panarin away from the Caps’ top line, whether intentional or not.

Kuznetsov logged 7:27 of 5-on-5 icetime against Panarin in Game 4. Wilson (6:52), Oshie (6:46), Ovechkin (6:42) and Backstrom (6:01) all got a few cracks at Panarin, but nothing major. Those minutes are far more even than in Game 5 in Washington in which Ovechkin matched against Panarin for 12:45. Kuznetsov (12:42) and Wilson (12:30) also got plenty of opportunities against Panarin as opposed to Chandler Stephenson (2:10), Oshie (2:10) and Backstrom (2:01).

This is a match up the Caps want and the Blue Jackets are trying to get away from.

Trotz was asked about defending Panarin on Sunday.

“There's no one shadowing anybody,” Trotz said. “You know you want to take time and space from top players in this league, and if you do and you take away as many options as possible, you have a chance to limit their damage that they can do to you."

At a glance, this statement seems to contradict itself. You are going to take time and space away from Panarin, but you’re not going to shadow him? But in truth, this is exactly what the Caps are doing.

When the Caps’ top line matches against Panarin, if they continue attack and maintain possession in the offensive zone, that limits the time Panarin gets on the attack.

This will become more difficult on Monday, however, as the series shifts back to Columbus for Game 6. As the Blue Jackets get the second line change, just as in Game 4, you should expect to see Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella try to get his top line away from the Caps’ to avoid that matchup.

Shutting down Columbus’ power play and matching Panarin against both Ovechkin’s line and the Orlov-Niskanen pairing have been the keys to shutting him down. The Caps will need more of the same on Monday to finish off the series.

MORE CAPITALS vs. BLUE JACKETS:
How Nick Backstrom saved the Capitals in Game 5
Burakovsky done for first-round, but how much longer?
Capitals' penalty kill the biggest difference maker