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Key Caps questions: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

Key Caps questions: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

Tarik: Orlov’s goal every year should be producing 40 or more points.

Two seasons ago, the Russian defenseman established a career-high for assists with 27 and ended up with 33 points. Last season, Orlov scored a career-best 10 goals and finished with 31 points.

Orlov’s goal output, in fact, made him just the fifth Caps defenseman since 2000 to hit double digits, joining Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman.

What does that tell us? It tells us that 12 goals and 28 assists in 2018-19 shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Orly.

The area where I could see Orlov making the biggest jump next season is in the goal department.

He possesses a blisteringly hard shot. And, last winter, two things became apparent to me: No. 1, Orlov had started shooting to score rather than just put the puck on net and No. 2, he was beginning to do a much better job of walking the blue line, finding open lanes and delivering that big shot on net with more accuracy. Consider: he mustered 125 shots on goal each of the last two seasons but last season saw his goal total jump from six to double digits for the first time.

At 27-years old, Orlov still has a lot of runway in front of him. I think he’s going to continue to improve at both ends of the rink, particularly in the D-zone, where NHL defensemen often hit their prime around his age.

I’m a little less bullish on Orlov’s offensive upside for one reason: I think he’d need to skate on the first unit power play to really increase his goal and assist totals. And the point job, of course, is locked down by Carlson, and rightfully so.

The bottom line: I could see Orlov, who hasn’t missed a game in three-plus seasons, hitting 40 points. But I’m having a tough time seeing him amass much more without a bigger role on the PP. Last season, for example, Carlson racked up 32 points with the man advantage, while Orlov had four.

JJ:  Getting more time on the power play would certainly help Orlov, but I believe the issue that holds him back the most is his offensive instincts.

Last season, Orlov produced 10 goals and 31 points. His partner, Matt Niskanen, produced seven goals and 29 points. I think it's fair to label Niskanen as a two-way defenseman, but when you compare the skillsets of both players, there is no reason why Orlov and Niskanen's offensive point totals should be that close. Orlov's offensive ceiling is much, much higher.

So why did they produce at essentially the same rate?

Orlov has a great, great shot and is an incredibly skilled stick-handler, but he lacks the same offensive instincts of the opportunistic Niskanen who always seems to know the best time to creep up into the offensive zone. You just don't see Orlov score many goals like this.

Orlov does score some pretty amazing, highlight reel goals, but if he is not scoring off a great individual play or with his blistering shot, he's not scoring. He is not as effective at reading play in the offensive zone.

Though he does not play on the first unit of the power play, Orlov still got over 95 minutes of power play time last season and he registered a measly four assists. Even if you're not playing with the top unit, you are still getting time on a man-advantage. There's still more room to work with and a player with Orlov's skill should be able to muster more than four points.. But, for a player playing the blue line on the power play, Orlov is expected to be one of the quarterbacks of that unit and he just does not see the game the same way Niskanen or John Carlson do.

Another issue facing Orlov is his role. He and Niskanen used to be the Caps' top defensive pairing in almost every situation. The addition of Michal Kempny gives Washington a bonafide top-four. Orlov and Niskanen are the go-to in shutdown situations, but if you need offense, your first choice is going to be putting Carlson's pairing on the ice, not Orlov.

At 27, Orlov is really entering the prime of his career. If he hopes to take the next step offensively, it's now or never. He has tallied 29, 33 and 31 points in the past three season, so he is hovering around the same level of production. His skill set indicates he should be producing more. It's certainly possible he takes the next step, but I see 35 as much more realistic than 40.

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Key Caps questions: Will this be a breakout year for Andre Burakovsky?

Key Caps questions: Will this be a breakout year for Andre Burakovsky?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will we see the long-awaited breakout season from Andre Burakovsky this year?

Tarik: There’s no denying Andre Burakovsky’s ability. The quick release on his shot is world class. He effortlessly speeds past opponents with his smooth skating stride. He routinely undresses would-be defenders with his puck-dangling skills.

The 23-year-old’s feel for the game—the all-important where-to-be and when-to-be-there—is improving, too.

But there are still a couple of things that must change—and soon—if he wants to realize his full potential as a perennial 25-goal scorer in the NHL. One is within his control. The other, unfortunately, is not.

Let’s start with the former: mental toughness.

One persistent complaint about Burakovsky four years into his NHL career has been that he’s prone to protracted droughts, 15-20 game slumps where he goes without a goal. Indeed, it’s darn tough to hit 20-25 goals if you go a quarter of the season without one.

In May, Burakovsky acknowledged that he planned to resume working with a sports psychologist in an effort to skate with a clearer head and more easily move past failed plays (like misfired shots and turnovers) rather than stewing about them, a problem that often negatively impacts his performance for the rest of the game.

Will it work? Unclear. But we know this much: the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that you’ve got one.

The second area that Burakovsky must address is health. This is the one that’s not in his control, at least not entirely. In each of the last couple of years, he’s missed large swaths of games with significant hand injuries. In 2016-17, he was limited to 64 games. Last regular season, he played in only 56. In the playoffs, he missed the final four games vs. Columbus.

Burakovsky has chalked the injuries up to freakishly bad luck. However, he’s also wondered out loud if he needs to wear gloves that provide more protection.

So, is this the year that Burakovsky puts it all together and finally tops 20 goals? If he makes significant strides in the areas of consistency and availability, I'm inclined to say yes.

JJ: Recency bias makes you automatically want to answer this question with an emphatic YES!!! after watching him put up two goals against Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Those two goals, however, were the first two points of the playoffs for him after playing in eight games.

The main two issues for Burakovsky, as Tarik correctly identified, are his mental state and his health.  Since Tarik went at length about each issue, I am not going to rehash them so let's focus on another major factor: coaching.

The way Barry Trotz handled Burakovsky's inconsistencies was by benching him and, to his credit, Burakovsky seemed to respond. Just two games prior to Burakovsky's Game 7 heroics in Tampa, he was a healthy scratch for Game 5. The season prior, Trotz scratched Burakovsky for three straight games after a 26-game goal drought and Burakovsky responded with a goal and an assist in his first game back.

While benching Burakovsky has had the desired effect in the past, that does not seem like it will be Todd Reirden's style. He is much more of a player's coach. We have seen what he can do to a defenseman's career through the personal relationships he develops with players, I have to assume he will try a similar tactic with Burakovsky. Will Reirden prove to be as effective at developing the team's forwards as he has with the defensemen? The Caps better hope so.

As effective as benching Burakovsky seemed to be, those decisions were reactive. The main goal is to prevent those slumps in the first place. The fact that Burakovsky has never eclipsed the 20-goal mark in his career is staggering considering his talent level. Reirden needs to make him a more consistent player.

Obviously getting his mind right and staying healthy are the two most important factors when it comes to a breakout for Burakovsky, but the way Reirden has been able to reach players makes me hopeful he can do the same in this situation.

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Key Caps questions: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Capitals?

Key Caps questions: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Capitals?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the team?

Tarik: Jay Beagle’s absence will be felt in a number of areas. Among the most obvious ones:

  • On draws, where he boasted the fourth best faceoff win percentage (58.5) in the NHL last season. When the Caps absolutely needed to win a D-zone draw in recent years, Beags was the guy and he often delivered.
  • On the penalty kill, where he accrued more shorthanded ice time per game than any other Caps’ forward by nearly 45 seconds. The coaches’ trusted Beagle to win draws, make the right read and, when necessary, eat a point blast. It’s not a glorious job, but it’s one Beagle embraced.
  • Off the ice, where his folksy charm made him extremely popular among his teammates, fans and the media. Beagle is a self-made man, having taken the circuitous route to a full-time NHL job, and his work ethic is contagious.

All that said, letting him walk was absolutely the decision that had to be made when you factor in the big raises due to John Carlson, Tom Wilson and Michal Kempny and the smaller salary bumps required for Devante Smith-Pelly, Madison Bowey and Travis Boyd.

Beagle, who turns 33 in October, ended up signing in Vancouver, where he’ll earn $3 million per over the next four years. That math simply wasn’t doable in Washington given the team’s star-laden lineup and the fourth line role he plays.

To overcome Beagle’s loss, the Caps’ centers, as a collective, will need to step up their efficiency in the faceoff circle as there likely won’t be a go-to in critical situations next season. Meanwhile, Wilson, Lars Eller, Chandler Stephenson and others will need to fill the void on the penalty kill.

My prediction? Losing Beags is going to hurt a bit, particularly early on as the bottom-six and penalty kill roles get sorted out. But, by midseason, a younger, cheaper, more offensive-minded option (think: Boyd, Stephenson or Nic Dowd) will be making his mark as the fourth line pivot.

JJ: Beagle may be a fourth line center, but one aspect of his game in which he was among the best in the league was the face-off. Tarik quoted the stats above, but he finished fourth in the NHL winning 58.5-percent of the draws he took. The Caps are going to miss that aspect of his game dearly.

Lars Eller (49.3) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (44.2) both finished with win percentages below .500. Backstrom had a winning percentage, but with only 51.2-percent, there's no clear go-to guy on the face-off anymore.

When you go back and watch last season, Beagle was taking almost every critical draw. He would even start 3-on-3 overtime and quickly make his way to the bench after winning possession.

Face-offs are a critical aspect of the game and if the Caps cannot get possession of the puck at critical moments, that is going to cost them some points this season.

From a personal level, Beagle was a joy in the locker room for both teammates and media alike. For several years now you always hear the players talk about how much they love playing with this team, how much the players enjoy being around one another. Beagle was a big part of that.

Beagle was not shy on breakdown day about his desire to stay in Washington, but when you see what he ultimately signed for in Vancouver there's no question the Caps made the right move in letting him go. The Caps have only about $1 million left under the cap ceiling. Had Washington kept Beagle, one would assume the team would not have signed Nic Dowd. If you add Dowd's $650k back to the cap, that's still less than $2 million of cap space to work with. Beagle's new deal is worth $3 million per year.

Who would you be willing to lose to keep Beagle? That's a really tough question to answer.

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