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Capitals mailbag: How to solve the Capitals’ top-line woes

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Capitals mailbag: How to solve the Capitals’ top-line woes

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Jan. 2 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

Interesting question. There definitely are players who come out and say they do not watch hockey or really follow the game on their off nights. No one has demonstrated (to me at least) an instant recall of other team’s stats, so I went at this from a different direction. Which players seem to have an extensive knowledge of the game and are good communicators? Three guys came to mind: Lars Eller, Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik.

Eller has been around the game his entire life as his father, Olaf, played professionally in their native country of Denmark and became a coach after this playing career ended. Lars has been traded twice in his career so he is not a stranger to the process and, despite being a productive player in Washington on a third line role, he seems to recognize the importance of center depth to a contender and has never agitated for a top-six role. He even signed a lengthy extension for less money than he probably would have gotten on the open market to stay in Washington despite knowing he will remain behind both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov on the depth chart.

While many outside of Washington see Wilson as little more than a thug on the ice, he actually studies the game very closely and spends much of his offseason talking to people around the league about the physical nature of the game in order to get a better idea of how to keep his own physical style within the rules. Any talk of how hard Wilson works at his craft is met with serious eye-rolling from his detractors, but all I can say is he tells the media about how he studies the game and this has been backed up by general manager Brian MacLellan.

As for Orpik, he has been unfairly labeled as a one-dimensional, stay at home defenseman in recent years, but the fact is he tailors his offseason training based on trends he sees in the NHL. He used to focus primarily on developing strength, but in recent years he has worked more on his agility and conditioning as he sees the NHL getting faster. What’s more is that he takes better care of himself and his body than anyone else on the team which suggests he would value players who take their health and conditioning seriously. While he bristles at the notion of people looking at him as more of a mentor this year than a top-six defenseman, the younger defensemen always rave about what he means to them on and off the ice and the advice he gives them on how to play the game.

On Tuesday I wrote on the top line’s struggles and how reuniting Ovechkin with Kuznetsov and Wilson would be the right move. It appears Todd Reirden took my advice as Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Wilson skated with one another on the top line at Wednesday’s practice.

As skilled as an Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie line is, I just think it is too slow to be effective enough in today’s NHL. For Ovechkin to be at his best, he needs players on his line who can take some of the attention off of him. Kuznetsov is able to because of his skill and his speed. Wilson uses his physical play and some speed as well, though he is not nearly as fast as Kuznetsov.

Granted, Backstrom has been outplaying Kuznetsov this season by a wide margin so you hate to “demote” him to the second line, but ultimately I believe this team is at its best with Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Wilson on the top and Jakub Vrana, Backstrom and Oshie on the second line.

Djoos underwent surgery on his left thigh on Dec. 13 and was declared out indefinitely. There has been no update as to his status since then and the team has not provided the media with a specific diagnosis of his injury. That makes it hard to estimate when he might return.

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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How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

How to watch Evgeny Kuznetsov's best games with the Capitals

Over the past six seasons, forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the biggest reasons for the Capitals' success.

Kuzy has been extremely durable for the Capitals, playing in at least 76 games over the past six seasons, excluding the 2019-20 shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The winger has been one of Washington's best attacking players during that span, splitting time between both Washington's first and second lines. 

No. 92 has also found a knack for playing his best hockey on the sport's biggest stages. Kuznetsov netted arguably the most important goal in Capitals history, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2018 Eastern Conference semi-finals in overtime to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins, "exorcising the demons" for a franchise that previously could not get past the second round. We all know how that story ends, with the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup just over a month later.

On Sunday, NBC Sports Washington is airing four of Kuznetsov's best regular-season performances. At 9 a.m., tune in to watch the Caps 6-5 overtime thriller over the Tampa Bay Maple Leafs from January 3, 2017. In that contest, Kuzy totaled four points, netting one goal and notching three assists, including one that set up Alex Ovechkin's game-winning goal.

Following that, we travel back to October of 2018, when Kuznetsov turned in another four-point performance in a 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup. Kuzy started the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal and would tally three assists later on in the match as the Caps cruised to a dominating win.

At 2 p.m., the Caps 6-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings from February 11, 2019, will re-air. In this matchup, Kuznetsov finished with four points once again, this time finding the back of the net twice to go along with a pair of assists. To close out the day, tune in to see Kuznetsov net two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes at 4:30 p.m.

A trip down memory lane that highlights Kuznetsov's greatest games is the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

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When:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Where:

Broadcast Schedule:

9:00 a.m.: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Capitals from January 3, 2017

11:30 a.m.: Vegas Golden Knights @ Capitals from October 10, 2018

2:00 p.m.: Los Angeles Kings @ Capitals from February 11, 2019

4:30 p.m.: Arizona Coyotes @ Capitals from November 11, 2019 

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Ever Wonder: Why the Capitals' jerseys have three stars on them

Ever Wonder: Why the Capitals' jerseys have three stars on them

The current Washington Capitals jersey design — the red home sweaters with the white away ones — has been the defining look for the team throughout much of the Alex Ovechkin era.

During the summer of the 2007 season, the Caps rebranded. The franchise changed its colors from black and blue back to the organization's original design scheme of red, white, and blue. The jerseys that followed were similar to Washington's old-school look, having plenty of similarities with the uniform they wore from 1974-1994.

However, when the Caps unveiled their new look in 2007, there was one big difference from their old uniforms. The new-look had three stars on the front, compared to the six stars that had been across the top of the old sweaters.

Capitals assistant general manager Don Fishman spoke with NBC Sports Washington and explained why the franchise chose to go with just three stars, and it's because each star has a specific meaning.

"The three stars on our current Capitals jersey represent the three jurisdictions: Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.," Fishman said.

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While cutting the number of stars from six to three on the front of the sweater was a big change, Fishman explained that the new uniform was designed to be a modernized version of the franchise's original look.

"It was sort of meant to update and modernize the original Caps jersey, beautiful, old-school, 1970's work hard," Fishman said. "That jersey had six stars and was even on the jerseys in the 90s with the blue and black jersey. So we wanted to keep that concept of the stars, but we didn't want to keep that exact same look. So instead, we redid three stars right on the wordmark. The three stars seemed perfect."

The uniform change also marked the beginning of an incredible postseason run the Capitals have gone on since.

In 2007, the team's first year with the new look, the franchise made the playoffs for the first time in the Ovechkin era. Since then, they've made the postseason 11 of the past 12 seasons and won their first Stanley Cup in 2018.

For Fishman and many Caps fans, the red and white uniforms will always remind them of Washington's first championship and the franchise's biggest star.

"I think it's neat how this redesign will always be linked to Ovechkin and the Capitals' first Stanley Cup," Fishman said.

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