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3 things that went right for the 2018 Caps that went wrong in 2019

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3 things that went right for the 2018 Caps that went wrong in 2019

Friday was the anniversary of the Capitals Stanley Cup win. But on Saturday, Caps fans were left with the memory of 2018 and the knowledge that a new team will be crowned the champs this year after Washington’s first-round exit.

The 2018 Caps had an answer for everything the playoffs threw at them. The 2019 Caps…did not.

What exactly was the team able to do so well in 2018 that they were not in 2019? Let’s compare.

Depth scoring

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were both incredible in the playoffs. The problem for Washington was that the rest of the offense was not.

The Caps scored 20 goals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes and nine of them came from Ovechkin and Backstrom. Forget top-six vs. bottom-six, this is two players accounting for 45-percent of the team’s offense.

In 2018, Washington scored 86 goals in 24 games, good for 3.58 goals per game as opposed to the team’s 2.86 in 2019. Eighteen different players scored en route to the Stanley Cup compared to 10 in 2019. Granted, it is a smaller sample size and more games over time would presumably give you more goal scorers. But the reason why the offense was so effective was because it did not revolve entirely around those top players. In 2018, the team’s two leading goal-scorers were Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov who scored a combined 27 goals. That is just over 31-percent of the team’s offense.

A championship team needs depth scoring and the bottom-six has to be able to contribute at key moments. In 2019, however, the Caps were not just reliant on the top-six, they were reliant on their top two for offense. It does not matter how good Ovechkin and Backstrom are, they cannot be expected to carry half of the team’s offense by themselves.

A healthy blue line

Near the trade deadline or around the start of the playoffs, you always hear analysts say something along the lines of “you need seven or eight defensemen to make a deep run.” That’s because over the course of a grueling postseason, you are going to have injuries to deal with on the blue line. Most players cannot play through a broken jaw like Zdeno Chara.

For the Caps, the most significant injury to the defense happened before the playoffs even began as Michal Kempny suffered a serious knee injury and did not play at all in the 2019 postseason. Jonas Siegenthaler stepped in for Christian Djoos after three games and played well, but it was not enough.

Sure, the Caps had their injuries in 2018, but none of those were on defense. Washington’s playoff run lasted 24 games and five defensemen played in all 24. Jerabek played the first two but was replaced by Christian Djoos who played the remaining 22 games.

That means for 22 games in the playoffs, the Caps had the same six players on defense. That is absolutely incredible.

Everyone pitching in

This was something that really struck me when I rewatched the third period of Game 5 in the latest Capitals Talk podcast. Everyone and I mean everyone, had to contribute. There were no passengers in 2018.

Kuznetsov, who scored one goal in seven games in 2019, was a beast with 32 points. Ovechkin scored 15 goals. Lars Eller scored the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets—the goal that saved Washington’s season—and the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Vegas Golden Knights. Devante Smith-Pelly was a hero with seven goals. Andre Burakovsky’s two goals were in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brooks Orpik scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winning goal in franchise history. Matt Niskanen’s one goal tied the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3.

Heck, even Jakub Jerabek recorded an assist in just two games played.

Remember how the Caps were without both T.J. Oshie and Michal Kempny in 2019? Well, the 2018 team had personnel issues too. Nicklas Backstrom was dealing with a hand injury and Tom Wilson was suspended for three games. In Game 6 in Pittsburgh, Washington was without Backstrom, Wilson and Andre Burakovsky who was also injured. So what happened? Nathan Walker notched an assist in his only game of the playoffs to set up Alex Chiasson.

The Caps just did not get those kinds of key contributions from all over their lineup in 2019. There were far too many players who were essentially non-factors.

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Commentator Don Cherry fired after 'divisive remarks'

Commentator Don Cherry fired after 'divisive remarks'

Don Cherry has been fired from Sportsnet after making controversial comments about immigrants on-air Saturday evening.

Cherry, 85, criticized the decreasing amount of Canadians wearing poppies to honor fallen Canadian soldiers on Remembrance Day, singling out Toronto immigrants. 

“You people . . . you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” Cherry said on his show, Coach's Corner. “These guys paid for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada, these guys paid the biggest price.”

Sportsnet, the Canadian sports network, released a statement Monday announcing that Cherry would be stepping down.

Ron MacLean, Cherry's co-host, apologized Sunday on his own show, Hometown Hockey, for Cherry's comments.

“Don Cherry made remarks which were hurtful, discriminatory — which were flat out wrong," MacLean said.

Cherry, the host of Coach's Corner since 1982, has been a prominent hockey personality for decades.

He drew the ire of Caps fans last year when he called Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov a "jerk" for his bird-walk celebration.

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With Panik’s return, the Caps strip roster down to the bone and enter Monday’s game with no spare players

With Panik’s return, the Caps strip roster down to the bone and enter Monday’s game with no spare players

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Get out the bubble wrap, the Capitals need to keep their lineup healthy or they could be in trouble. Richard Panik will make his return to the lineup on Monday after spending 10 games on LTIR with an upper-body injury. His return will mean the Caps lose the cap benefit that comes with LTIR and will have to fit his $2.75 million cap hit under the ceiling. That has forced the team into tough moves to cut the roster down to make it cap compliant.

Travis Boyd was held off the ice for Monday’s morning skate as the team made sure it had a healthy lineup for Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Todd Reirden confirmed afterward that Boyd will be sent to Hershey. Because he was on the NHL roster for fewer than 30 days and 10 games, he does not have to go through waivers to be sent back to the AHL.

Tyler Lewington did have to pass through waivers and cleared Monday after being placed on Sunday. He was reassigned to Hershey as well.

While these moves were necessary for the team to get cap compliant, it also leaves the Caps in a bind. With Carl Hagelin still day-to-day with an upper-body injury, Washington now has no healthy spares on the roster.

None.

Zip.

Nada.

The Caps roster has just six defensemen and 12 healthy forwards, excluding Hagelin.

Have you ever gone to work feeling fine and had to leave before the end of the day because you suddenly got sick? If that happens to the Caps, or if someone twists an ankle walking to the rink or suffers some other sort of freak illness or injury, then Washington will be playing the Coyotes down a man on Monday.

This is not ideal, but the cap situation is what it is. For now, the Caps probably can get away with it until the end of the month. Once Hagelin returns it gives the team an extra forward. Of greater concern is the defense, but with the only road cames coming in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, easily drivable from Hershey, so long as there are no unforeseen injuries right before a game it should not hurt the team. On Nov. 30, however, the Caps travel to play the Detroit Red Wings then play three games in California. They have to have a seventh defenseman by that point.

The good news is that Lewington has a low cap hit at just $675,000, lower even than the league minimum. Perhaps the team can bank enough space by the end of the month to fit him back under the cap. If not, then general manager Brian MacLellan will have to get creative yet again and move a piece or two to fit in that seventh defenseman.

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