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The Capitals have a top line problem without Tom Wilson

The Capitals have a top line problem without Tom Wilson

If you thought Tom Wilson was nothing more than a mindless goon who added nothing but fists to the top line and who was riding the coattails of Alex Ovechkin to a career season, Game 4 proved otherwise.

With Wilson serving a three-game suspension, Devante Smith-Pelly skated in his spot on the right wing of the top line Thursday alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin. The top line struggled immensely as neither Smith-Pelly nor Ovechkin managed any shots on goal at five on five play. For the game, Ovechkin had only two shot attempts, both misses.

The top line was outscored 1-0 and outshot 12-8.

Smith-Pelly will no doubt be the subject of criticism in the wake of this game and, by default, Barry Trotz for putting that line together and keeping it together.

Clearly, the chemistry wasn’t there and Smith-Pelly had a rough night. But at some point, a team needs its best players to perform like its best players. Playing with Smith-Pelly should not simply absolve Ovechkin from what was a bad game. If all it took was one linemate to completely erase him offensively, then Ovechkin is not the dynamic, play-making goal scorer that we all know him to be.

Ovechkin had a bad game. It happens.

The question now is what to do going forward. Who do you put on the top line?

I can hear the screams for Jakub Vrana or Shane Gersich, but there’s a problem with plugging either player there and no, I'm not simly referring to the fact that they are left shots.

Ovechkin's line is going to play against either Sidney Crosby’s line or Evgeni Malkin’s. Yes, Game 5 will be at home which means Trotz will have the second change, but he is not going to be able to get away from both Crosby and Malkin. Why? Because they play on the top two lines for Pittsburgh, and if you try to match up your top line against an opponent’s third or fourth line, then they are going to play third or fourth line minutes. You cannot allow your opponent to dictate how much ice time your best offensive players get.

Regardless of who Trotz wants to match Ovechkin up against, his line is still going to playing opposite a very offensively dangerous Penguins line and defensive play is not the strong suit of either Ovechkin or Kuznetsov. That means the Caps needs someone who can play the right side and play well in the defensive zone on the right wing to balance it out.

This is where the loss of Wilson really hurts because there are not many players who fit this bill. Vrana is not strong enough defensively and Gersich has four games of NHL experience to his name. It would be unreasonable to think either player can handle both the offensive responsibilities of playing with Ovechkin and the defensive responsibilities of shutting down either Crosby or Malkin.

No coach wants the entire lineup disrupted by the loss of one player, but the best option Trotz has is to switch up the second line of Chandler Stephenson, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie and mix it with the top.

All three players are capable of strong defensive play. By moving that line, Trotz has a few options:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Vrana
Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Oshie
Stephenson – Backstrom – Vrana

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie
Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Connolly

You get the point.

The top line did not get the job done on Thursday, but fixing it is not as simple as plugging in just anyone at right wing. It's not just a matter of clicking offensively, it's also about playing well enough in the defensive zone so as not to get outscored.

If the Caps’ top line gets outscored by Pittsburgh’s, then ultimately it’s not helping the team win.


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'I look so damn good': Beninati, Laughlin humbled, thrilled by their bobbleheads

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'I look so damn good': Beninati, Laughlin humbled, thrilled by their bobbleheads

The legendary duo of Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin will soon be immortalized with their very own bobblehead on Saturday as part of a giveaway for a blood drive being held at MedStarCapitals Iceplex. You can get a good sense of the personalities of the two from their reaction when they first heard about the bobblehead.

"I think it's incredible, I'm totally flattered by it," Beninati said.

"About time," Locker said. "Everyone else has one, I figured I've got longevity here. I thought I would've had one sooner."

"Just kidding," he quickly added.

It's that sense of humor and contrasting personalities that has endeared the duo to Capitals fans for so long. Beninati and Laughlin have been paired together on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals game broadcast since 1994.

Because of their place within the Caps community, it is perhaps no surprise to see them get the notable honor of a bobblehead. Despite the initial jokes, both broadcasters were incredibly honored when approached with the idea.

"It's cool that we were asked to have one," Laughlin said. "I think it's very cool if you get a bobblehead. I thought all the players had got one so I thought maybe someway in the years to come we might have a chance to get one."

Both have enjoyed the process as well.

"The cool thing is I've seen it change from like a clay formation to an early mockup to, ok let's put some paint on it," Beninati said. "I had no idea that these things change so radically from the original first blush look to the finished product."

Both Beninati and Laughlin were shown various iterations of the bobblehead and offered their critiques. The bobblehead was then updated each time leading to the final product which will be given out to participants at Saturday's blood drive.

"It's very tough to get realistic," Laughlin said. "It's a mold, they're doing different things, we went back and forth, I said well I hold my mic in this hand so they changed that, I'm sure Joe had a lot of changes to his."

Beninati indeed had a few suggestions, but not just for his own visage.

While both were thrilled with how the bobblehead began to develop, Beninati could not help but notice just how...young Laughlin looked.

"I was the one who was critiquing his side of the bobblehead the whole time," Beninati said. The biggest question he had: "What are you doing with Locker's hair?"

"It's probably me when I played back in the playing days, but I like it," Laughlin said.

There's a lot of brown hair on that bobblehead which...may not be the most accurate depiction of Laughlin's current look.

"He's laughing because it's Locker minus 30 years which is what he will lord over me and continue to razz me about for the rest of time," Beninati said. "He'll look at it and he'll just start laughing and that's enough, that's what he does."

"I think I look so damn good, so young, way better than Joe B. and that's why I want a single of myself," Laughlin said. "I'm going to cut mine in half."

Regardless of how many years it may have shaved off of Laughlin, it's all in good fun and for a great cause.

The blood drive will be held on Saturday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the time of writing, every appointment for whole blood, double red cell and platelet donations was full.

"We've been blessed for a long, long time.," Beninati said. "The fans have treated us very, very well. Most importantly, I'm hoping that the blood drive is extremely successful. It's something obviously that's needed."


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Carlson cannot be stopped, Ovechkin gets out the blowtorch and Siegenthaler impresses

Carlson cannot be stopped, Ovechkin gets out the blowtorch and Siegenthaler impresses

The legend of John Carlson is growing as he added two goals to his already incredible season on Wednesday in a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

Just give Carlson the Norris already

Sometimes it can be hard to recognize or understand the magnitude of a player's performance over the course of the season. If you don't recognize yet that we are seeing a special season from Carlson, then you need to get on board.

With 11 goals and 31 assists in 30 games, Carlson is statistically off to one of the best starts by a defenseman ever. More on those numbers below.

It's not just his offensive play, Carlson has been very good defensively. That narrative that he is only good offensively and is a defensive liability in his own end is ludicrous.

At this point, you can start engraving Carlson's name into the Norris Trophy now. He is playing well in his own end and he is having one of the best seasons ever for a defenseman offensively. There's no debate.

Hagelin's real return

Hagelin returned from injury for Tuesday's game against San Jose, but you could not see the real impact of his return until Wednesday. The Caps did not take a single penalty against the Sharks, but took three against the Kings. Penalty killing is where Hagelin's game really excels and that was evident in this game as he led the team with 3:55 of shorthanded ice time and was a major factor in the Caps stifling the power play.

Don't forget about Siegenthaler

Carlson is going to steal all the headlines, but Jonas Siegenthaler put together one heck of a game and was named the second star. He recorded a game-high four blocked shots, but his real highlight came in the second period as he defended a 2-on-1 by the Kings.

The responsibility of a defenseman on a 2-on-1 is to defend the pass. Siegenthaler got into the passing lane and timed his slide exactly right, getting down on the ice at just the right time to block the puck. It was exceptionally well played and prevented Los Angeles from even getting a shot off.

Turn off the blowtorch, Ovi!

During a stoppage in play, Alex Ovechkin was on the bench taking a blowtorch to his helmet. He then handed the still lit blowtorch off to head equipment manager Brock Myles.

Come on, man. Turn off the blowtorch before you hand it off.

Turning point

Carlson's second goal of the game first period proved to be the game-winner and established that this was going to be his and the Caps' night.

Play of the game

Carlson's 100th career goal was a pretty one and very fitting. The defenseman who does it all did it all on this play, getting the steal in the defensive zone, taking it himself down the ice and firing the wrister to beat Jonathan Quick on the far post.

Stat of the game

It's Carlson's world, we're all just living in it.

Quote of the game

Ovechkin has spent much of his career leaving his teammates speechless. Now Carlson has done it to him.

"I don't know what to say right now; he's the hottest guy out there. You can see two highlight-reel goals again. He's good."

Fan predictions

This was pretty darn close.

The Caps are now 4-0-1 this season on the second leg of a back-to-back.

Well, you got the two for Carlson right.

I love this bit. Keep trying guys.