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Capitals mailbag: Can Tom Wilson overcome his reputation among referees?

Capitals mailbag: Can Tom Wilson overcome his reputation among referees?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Dec. 5 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email

Please note some questions have been edited for clarity.

This is a very interesting question about the long-term effects of Wilson’s history. One day, this team will not have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Brooks Orpik. Can a team give the C to a player that they are constantly worrying about losing to a long-term suspension? The good news is that Ovechkin isn’t going anywhere for a few more years – his contract doesn’t expire until 2021 and he could very well be a Cap for life – and we will know if Wilson can play under the harsh microscope of the league by then. If not, we’re talking about what the future Wilson’s career will be and not just his leadership role on the team.

The answer to your question is yes, in time. If Wilson stays out of trouble for a long enough period of time then referees will not focus on him the way they do now. A good example of this is Ovechkin.

Wilson gets into trouble at times because he is bigger and faster than most players he hits and that used to get Ovechkin into trouble as well. From December 2009 to January 2012, a period of just over two years, Ovechkin was suspended three times for illegal hits. At the time, there were definitely some people who believed Ovechkin to be a dirty player, but that certainly is not his reputation today.

So yes, Wilson can overcome his reputation with time much like Ovechkin did if he continues to prove he brings more to the ice than just his fists and big hits. Those who follow the Caps closely already knew that he provides more than that, but not everyone around hockey thinks of Wilson as the first round draft pick with a high offensive upside.

Lisa writes: Does Brian MacLellan or to your knowledge general managers generally go to all 82 Caps games? Does he travel with the team? How often is he in Hershey? How often do MacLellan and Reirden talk?

The incredibly unsatisfying answer to your question is that it varies. General managers do often travel with teams, but not to every game and some general managers travel more than others. How much interaction general managers have with AHL affiliates varies as well. From what I have heard from people in Hershey, MacLellan rarely visits there while George McPhee made frequent trips. While people in Hershey view more trips there to be evidence of a greater commitment to the team, the fact is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Sure, Bears fans may have liked seeing McPhee around, but MacLellan just won a Stanley Cup so it’s hard to argue against the job he is doing as general manager.

The coach and general manager of a team are in constant contact with one another and it quickly becomes apparent when that communication begins to break down. The Adam Oates years were a very clear example of this.

The Martin Erat trade was a disaster, but it was made worse by the fact that Oates would only play him for less than 14 minutes a night. Those are bottom-six minutes. As horrific a trade as that was, Oates didn’t give him much of a chance to succeed. The following season, McPhee traded for forward Dustin Penner and again, Oates did not seem all that interested. In fact, he played Penner even less than he did Erat. Does McPhee still make either of those trades if he knew how little Oates valued those additions? Probably not.

The opposite of that is what happened last season when MacLellan and the coaches talked about the need to add a defenseman to bolster the top four. MacLellan actually had Todd Reirden evaluate game tape of Michal Kempny before making that trade. Communication between management and coaches is vital to a team’s success and based on the personnel moves this team has made in the last few years, there seems to be every indication that MacLellan and the coaches talk very often.

Lisa also writes: The Caps’ win streak was surprising given that T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov have been out the entire time. I always though the “teams need adversity” line to mostly be BS (don’t all pro athletes want to win all the time?) but this makes me wonder. In your years of observation, does this type of adversity make teams play harder? What else explains the Caps best games happening without two of their top 6 players?

I’m with you Lisa. I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as too much success. A team’s goal is to win every game it plays in both the regular season and the playoffs and you will never convince me a team is somehow better off for losing or having to deal with some sort of issue such as injuries. This becomes an easy narrative for people to grab onto without any real type of analysis.

But while I will never admit that losing is a good thing, that doesn’t mean good can’t come from it.

When it comes to injuries specifically, if significant players go down, the players around them know they have to step up. This can lead to a team playing very hard and very well in the immediate wake of significant injuries, but that motivational boost only lasts a limited amount of time. Lars Eller was called upon to replace an injured Nicklas Backstrom in the playoffs last season after Backstrom suffered an injury to his hand. He looked tremendous initially, but with every passing game Backstrom’s absence began to loom larger. The Caps are fortunate to have a player like Eller they can plug into the top six if they need to, but the longer he plays there the more you recognize that the third line is where he should be playing.

Looking at the team as a whole, this Capitals team certainly does seem to respond better to adversity than to success. Down 2-0 to Columbus in the first round? The Caps rattled off four straight wins. Playing with a shorthanded roster in Pittsburgh? They turned in their best game of the series to eliminate the Penguins. Lose three straight to Tampa Bay? They responded with arguably their best two performances of the entire postseason to win the conference crown.

Again, you’re not going to convince me that a middle of the pack team somehow has an advantage over a first place team, but there is something to be said for how the Caps respond when they face adversity.

Greg C. writes: Do you all think Dmitry Orlov's game has regressed this season?  Is he back to being a high-drama, something-really-good-or-something-really-bad-is-gonna-happen player?

I’m not ready to go as far as to say that Orlov has regressed to being the “high event” player of the past, but there’s no question that he and defensive partner Matt Niskanen are having a rough season thus far and both have said as much to the media.

Why have they struggled so much? Defense as a whole has been an issue in the early part of the season and has only just begun to improve in recent weeks. Let’s also not discount the effect the playoffs had. A lot of focus was paid on how players like Ovechkin and Backstrom would handle the short offseason, but Niskanen and Orlov had the second and third most time on ice per game on the team respectively through the postseason, behind only John Carlson. I believe their early struggles are a combination of both factors, but they will get better over the course of the season.

He says worse on the Capitals Talk Podcast. When he gets going, there’s no stopping him.

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 or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.


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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.