It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the March 20 edition below.
Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.
Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Michael M. writes: If the Caps play the Penguins in the first round, are you concerned if you’re the Caps or is it just a natural fan reaction to get a little weary of this potential first round matchup?
The mental roadblock that was the Penguins I think is gone after last season’s playoff win over their hated rivals. Having said that, would I like to see Washington draw Pittsburgh in the first round? Of course not. The playoffs are a grind and if the Caps win the division, you hope to get to the softest first round matchup you can. Playing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin does not fit the bill.
As great as this rivalry is, it is totally fair to be weary of the matchup. They have played in the playoffs in three straight years and it is only natural to want to see another team in the playoffs. But that’s the playoff system we have. For some reason the NHL does not think these matchups will ever get stale, ever, and insists on keeping this dumb divisional format.
Those odds were a bit dated and I believe most oddsmakers have the Caps much higher now after they have gone on a bit of a run. To answer your question though, I’m Han Solo when it comes to the odds. I put zero faith in them.
The job of the oddsmaker is not to rank who they believe is the most likely to win, it is to get you to spend money. If you’re a Carolina fan and you’re seeing Vegas put you among the favorites, you’re going to take that to mean your team is for real and you’re going to spend money. If you’re a Caps fan and you see the Caps dropping, you’re going to spend money thinking everyone is sleeping on the defending champs and you are getting quality odds. Several bookies had the Toronto Maple Leafs as the favorites at the start of the season. Did they think the Leafs were really the favorites? Probably not, but Leaf mania was taking over Toronto and some excited fans probably dropped more money than they should have as a result of seeing their favorite team as the favorites.
The Caps getting bad odds likely has a lot to do with the oddsmakers taking the repeat into account, it doesn’t happen all that often, and the fact that Washington is not going to play the New York Islanders in the first round. If there’s anyone that should feel slighted by Vegas, it’s New York. All those teams in the Metro getting some surprise love from Vegas were the teams that were likely to play the Islanders in Round 1.
Ben C. writes: Evgeny Kuznetsov has gotten quiet again and just isn’t playing at that elite level we’ve seen him play on. Is he going get himself together in time?
Todd Reirden switched Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom midway through Tuesday’s game and I wonder if it was because of concerns over Kuznetsov’s play.
We are getting close enough to the playoffs that it is fair to wonder just when Kuznetsov will up his game. It is not always easy to flip the switch and he needs to get his game going now and not just wait for the playoffs.
To be fair, Kuznetsov did score on Tuesday, but every game that passes and he does not look to be at the elite level he was in last year’s postseason, it is fair to wonder if he can get back to that level.
Nathan S. writes: Why do Caps give up so many goals at the start and end of periods? Is thus where inexperienced coaching especially Reed Cashman comes into play?
We’ve asked the players and they don’t know either. It was a problem again on Tuesday as the Devils scored with one second left in the first period. I thought Washington was taking control of the game in Tampa Bay on Saturday, but a goal at the start of the third period gave the Lightning a two-goal lead and really hurt the comeback attempt. This is a real issue and can be huge momentum swing in games.
The good news is that I have asked players about giving up early/late goals at some point every season I have been covering the team. Every team goes through streaks like this. Something as basic as early/late goals is important at every level of hockey, including the AHL where Cashman was coaching before this season, so I am not going to put this squarely on inexperienced coaching.
One way to possibly stop this is to put the third and fourth lines on to start and finish each period to try to combat this.
Benjamin C. writes: Do you think Carl Hagelin and Andre Burakovsky should switch lines? That way Burakovsky could get more chances and Hagelin already gets a lot of minutes from the PK. Also why not do a line with Nic Dowd at center, Burakovsky or Hagelin at left and Chandler Stephenson at right wing?
I was surprised to see Hagelin move up to the third line as quickly as he did, but I would not change the third and fourth lines at this point because both seem to be clicking. Considering how streaky a player Burakovsky is, I would absolutely avoid changing anything with him.
Apparently Reirden thought the same thing as you about a Burakovsky, Dowd, Stephenson line. Personally, I prefer Stephenson on the wing rather than at center.
Faceoffs are just one aspect of a player’s game. No one is going to stay in the lineup just because of faceoffs. Reirden is going to keep in the player he feels adds the most to the lineup.
I’ll give you a good example of what I mean. The Caps signed Wojtek Wolski in 2012 largely because he was good at the shootout. The problem was that he could not do much else. He ended up playing 27 games with nine points and that was his last season in the NHL.
Evidently it is going to take wanting to give Brooks Orpik a night off.
Djoos played Tuesday for the first time since Feb. 23 and he looked good. At this point, however, it seems like Reirden has locked in the defense for the playoffs with Djoos as the No. 7.
I can’t speak for the team, but if I was in charge I would try to bring him back. He completely transformed the team’s penalty kill and you would feel comfortable putting him in any of the four lines if you needed to, at least for a short time.
There are a few obstacles to a possible return, however. Hagelin is a UFA so he holds all the cards. He will be 31 at the start of next season and his best asset is his speed. Once he starts to decline, he will do so rapidly. Brian MacLellan prefers short-term deals for bottom-six players so a good performance in the playoffs is going to mean getting better offers from other teams. Plus, MacLellan also has to think about re-signing Jakub Vrana and Djoos who are both due significant raises and he has to make a decision on what to do with Brett Connolly as well. You have to figure out what your top seven will be on defense and if you need to look for a free agent or two.
It would be great if they could bring Hagelin back, but he is pretty far down on the list of priorities for the offseason.
Well, if the Caps are recalling anyone from the AHL, it’s going to be Devante Smith-Pelly. Sending him to the AHL was a shock. If you start recalling other forwards over him, then I have a hard time seeing him ever suiting up for the Caps again even if they need him to.
But more to your point, I do not get how the team has handled Dmitrij Jaskin this season. From my perspective I thought he played well whenever he got into the lineup. Clearly the coaches disagree. Not sending him to Hershey was about his salary as it is over $1 million and could not be completely buried like Smith-Pelly’s could, but if they had no intention of using him, then perhaps it would have made sense to try to trade or waive him.
As for Riley Barber, after Wednesday’s game there will only be eight remaining in the season. Giving a player fourth line minutes for eight games to see what he can do is really not enough time to say, yes, this player should be in the lineup over Smith-Pelly, Jaskin, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, etc. Barber has had a hell of a season and I would like to see what he can do, but an important thing to remember is that of his 58 points, 31 of those points have come on the power play. Barber will get zero time on the power play in Washington.
The time to experiment with Barber was way before now.
When the playoffs begin, I expect Smith-Pelly will be on the Caps’ roster regardless of whether Hershey is in the playoffs or not. Having said that, do I foresee any scenario where Smith-Pelly is in the lineup at the start of the playoffs? Not unless there are multiple injuries.
I know a lot of people are upset about Smith-Pelly, but let’s take away what he did in the playoffs. Has he really done enough to warrant an every day roster spot this season? Not really.
Having said that, if a player gets injured in the playoffs and Reirden has to put in either Smith-Pelly or Dmitrij Jaskin, I would still expect Smith-Pelly to get the nod over Jaskin.
Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
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