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Capitals mailbag: Does the second defensive pair need a change?

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Capitals mailbag: Does the second defensive pair need a change?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the March 6 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.

I do not think we will ever see Nick Jensen and Matt Niskanen as a pair. The Caps have three right-shot defensemen and they are not going to put two of them together as a pair. I know they spent some time on the penalty kill together, but it does not really take advantage of the balance the Caps have and we are not going to see it for any prolonged period of time. Dmitry Orlov is not coming out of the lineup. He remains one of the six best defensemen on this team and trying to reshuffle the lineup without him means not putting together the best lineup.

So if you want to go the route of switching up the second pair, what do you do?

It would be foolish to move Michal Kempny away from John Carlson. That has been the team’s best defensive pair. Orlov and Jensen would be an interesting mix, but I do not like the looks of a Brooks Orpik, Niskanen pair. Maybe if you consider splitting the second pair, you consider putting Christian Djoos with Niskanen, but clearly the team still values what Orpik brings to the lineup and he played a lot better in the playoffs last year than in the regular season. I think the team would have to really struggle for Reirden to decide to take Orpik out. So long as he remains in, however, it limits what you can do in terms of the defensive lineup. At this point in his career, I would only want to give him third pairing minutes and he is not mobile enough to be play on his off-side.

For me, I am not someone who looks at the Presidents’ Trophy as a bad thing. Is there more pressure on Tampa Bay to win this year? Of course, but you can never convince me that winning a lot is somehow bad. It is your job to win as many games as possible so I do not take it is being necessarily “better” for the Caps to not be on top of the league standings. In fact, I find it largely irrelevant given the fact that Washington is the defending champion. On paper Tampa may be the team to beat this year, but within the locker rooms you can bet no one is looking past the Caps.

The biggest question of the offseason will be what general manager Brian MacLellan does with Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby. Both of their contracts expire at the end of the 2019-20 season and if the John Tavares saga wasn’t evidence enough of why you don’t simply let things play out in that final year then the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation should reinforce that message.

Vrana would appear to be a safe gamble if you wanted to sign him to a long-term deal. He is highly skilled, very fast, continues improving and is always one of the hardest workers at practice. He is one of the last players off the ice every single day. 

He is not someone who is going to take a big contract and dial back the intensity or suddenly regress. MacLellan has shown he is not shy about giving long-term deals to players in order to keep the cap hit low, but that may not work with Vrana considering a long-term deal for him would include buying up the rest of restricted free agency and buying some unrestricted free agent years. The longer MacLellan wants to give Vrana, the higher the cap hit is going to be. The Caps frequently seem to be against the salary cap, however, and if that remains a concern the next few years I would not rule out the possibility of a bridge deal.

As for Brett Connolly, he says he wants to stay in Washington. You can file that under “what is he supposed to say?” but let’s also remember this was the No. 6 overall draft pick in the 2010 draft, was traded by the team that picked him and then not issued a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent which is how the Caps were able to originally sign him. He really found his place in Washington and if there is a player who should be concerned about how his game will translate on another team in another city, it’s him.

But while MacLellan has shown a tendency to offer long-term deals to top-six players, he only gives short-term ones to the bottom-six, excluding Lars Eller who is a center and therefore more valuable. Connolly will turn 27 in May, will likely hit 20 goals this season – he has 16 now with 16 games left to play – and has a Stanley Cup ring. Someone will probably be willing to offer him more money, more years and/or a bigger role than the Caps will. As a UFA, it will be entirely up to him to determine what’s important to him. 

Tom Gulitti of NHL.com actually asked Michal Kempny about this.

I tweeted this out in response, but I will repeat myself for the mailbag. Multiple people have told me that Kempny has a “perfect face.” That’s not one person’s description that I am using to encapsulate how people feel, I mean I have heard several people use those exact words to describe him. I am sure all of those people are greatly relieved he did not break his nose.

Michael K. writes: Riley Barber has been on a tear as of late. Do you think he deserves a call up for the playoffs?

If you are asking should he be brought in and inserted into the lineup? No. There are currently 14 forwards on the Caps’ roster not including Devante Smith-Pelly. I would not have him in over any of them at this point. Not even Dmitrij Jaskin or Chandler Stephenson because Barber’s skillset would be better served in the top-nine and I certainly would not have him in over any of the Caps’ nine. Should he be one of the “black aces” that gets recalled as an extra for the playoffs? That is always a tricky question when it comes to the AHL playoffs. You want to make sure you have all your best players available, but you do not want to torpedo your AHL team’s playoff chances by taking away their best players just so they can be healthy scratches. The Hershey Bears should expect to lose Smith-Pelly and Jonas Siegenthaler for the postseason, but I would leave Barber there until the Bears are out of it.

Martin N. writes: Players were usually super fans while growing up, why is it that they rarely acknowledge the kids in the crowd during warmups?

Actually, in my experience the players acknowledge the crowd way more than they used to even when compared to just a few years ago.

While they may seem like they are in the minority, there are some players who take warmups seriously and want to focus on preparing for the game rather than the people in the crowd and I respect that given that their main job is to win hockey games. Second, the need to acknowledge all the fans all the time can be all consuming. I go to the team’s practices, morning skates and the games and I can tell you the pressure from the fans is never-ending. There are kids and fans at every event and there is always someone hoping for an autograph or a stick. People bringing signs asking for a stick is a fairly new thing as I don’t recall seeing signs like that until just a few years ago, but now there are dozens if not hundreds of them at every game. If the players waved at every fan they saw and gave sticks and pucks to everyone who asked, there would be nothing left.

That’s not to say the players don’t have a responsibility to their fans or they should blow them off. The entire industry is built on fan support. They get paid a lot of money because the fans come and pay to watch their games and buy their jerseys and the players take that very seriously. That’s why the team has fan events, many of which involve children so they can interact with fans. But the first responsibility of a player is on the ice. Players are paid to win and how a player plays in a game or prepares during practice will ultimately determine how much their next contract is worth, not how much they wave to fans.

Nathan S. writes: Why don't NHL players wear face protectors like college players do? Don't they want to keep their teeth and protect their faces better?

Visors are now required for all players except those with over 25 games of experience starting with the 2013-14 season. Rule 9.8 of the NHL rulebook states “A mask or protector of a design approved by the League may be worn by a player who has sustained a facial injury.” Why would there be a rule limiting when players can use shields? If I had to guess, I would assume the marketability of the players. It is easier to sell players to the fans if the fans can actually see their faces. That is part of the reason why NBA players are so much more marketable than NFL players despite how much more popular football is.

If a player was concerned and petitioned the league to wear a cage, would the league object? Probably not, but then what happens when you are on the ice and your team gets into a scrum? You would probably be seen as dirty for stepping in if you are the only guy with a shield on.

Chris S. writes: It seems unfair that just by virtue of being a big goalie the pads are concomitantly bigger. There is nothing that can be done to the obvious difference in body size, but what if pad size could be more evenly used to cancel out the body size difference? Would it be possible to somehow limit the size of goalie pads to a set surface area?

I credit you for thinking outside the box. It is an intriguing idea, but I know the main argument around it would be why should larger goalies be more exposed to injury than smaller ones? All it would take is for a goalie like Ben Bishop to get injured and call out the league for the pad rules and this would suddenly look very bad. At the end of the day, the league can only do so much to even the playing field and a player’s size is a natural advantage you can’t really take away.

Benjamin C. writes: Why doesn’t the NHL want to change the new format back to the old one?

I wrote about this exact issue in last week’s mailbag. To summarize, the current format is garbage and while I believe the majority of hockey fans and players feel the same way, the NHL says ratings are up so they feel no pressure to change it.

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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T.J. Oshie skates with military families as part of Courage Caps initiative

T.J. Oshie skates with military families as part of Courage Caps initiative

Capitals winger T.J. Oshie and his teammates hosted an event supporting the TAPS program, which helps military families who have lost a loved one in service to their country 

The Capitals hosted an afternoon skate on Thursday for dozens of military family members who have lost a loved one during their service. 

Oshie and teammates Garnet Hathaway and Nick Jensen were on the ice at MedStar Iceplex in Arlington. They skated. They took pictures. They signed autographs. It was all part of an annual Courage Caps event for members of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). 

That organization has helped support over 90,000 families of fallen military heroes with grief and trauma resources, emotional support, camps for children and seminars and retreats for adults struggling with loss.

Sale of Courage Caps t-shirts and caps have helped bring in almost $1 million since 2011. The merchandise will be available at the organization’s team stores at Capital One Arena and MedStar Iceplex all November. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) is a supporting partner. 

Families not only interacted with Oshie, Hathaway and Jensen on the ice. Captain, the Capitals’ service dog in training, made an appearance along with mascot Slapshot and members of the ALL CAPS crew.

Oshie raced two boys and appeared to lose to the smaller of them just as they crossed center ice, laughing all the way. Jensen helped another novice skater by escorting her around the ice. Afterward, the Capitals and Papa John’s hosted a pizza party for the families.

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Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 21: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

Capitals vs. Canadiens Game 21: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

Winning seven of their last eight games, the Washington Capitals haven't suffered a regulation loss in an entire month, thus steamrolling the NHL and looking to continue a 13-game point streak. After narrowly escaping the Flyers with a shootout win, Washington is poised to face Montreal, not too far behind them in scoring prowess.

The Canadiens are scoring an average of 3.44 goals per game so far this season, compared to the Capitals notching 3.85 per outing. Montreal sits right behind Boston at second in the Atlantic Division, and the Canadiens even beat the Bruins as recently as November 5. They're 4-5 on the road, eager to bolster their presence outside the Bell Centre with another hefty W in the American capital.

Most recently, Montreal placed Jesperi Kotkaniemi on injured reserve Nov. 1 due to a groin injury, missing six straight games since then. He practiced Nov. 13 and has not been cleared to play against the Capitals yet. Here is everything else you need to know in order to tune in to the much anticipated matchup. 

CAPITALS-CANADIENS GAME 21: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Friday, November 15, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-CANADIENS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: NHL: Montreal Canadiens @ Capitals
9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 PM: DC Sports Live
10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live

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