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Capitals mailbag: It is way too soon to panic

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Capitals mailbag: It is way too soon to panic

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out the April 17 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want to be 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.

Nathan S. writes: Canes have been the better team and Caps have no answer for Canes forecheck as the lack of a top pair defenseman is clearly causing problems. I think Canes win this series unless something changes drastically. As a Caps fan, tell me why I am wrong or do you now believe Canes have a good chance to win the series now?

I see the newfound confidence fans were supposed to have gotten from last year’s run has evaporated already. It is incredible to me that so many people can count the defending Stanley Cup champs out after a single loss.

There’s no sugarcoating what happened on Monday. That was arguably the worst game the Caps have played this season and the worst playoff game we have seen since probably their 5-0 Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in 2013. No team has looked as dominant in this series as the Hurricanes looked on Monday. Yes, I picked the Caps to win in five, but that is with the caveat that any team can win any series in the NHL. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Of course I think Carolina can win.

Having said that, let’s borrow a page from Aaron Rodgers’ playbook: R-E-L-A-X. The Caps have lost a game. Singular. I am amazed at how many people are taking that one game as a sign that the series is over already. No one seems to remember that Washington is actually ahead in the series. The Caps went down 2-0 against the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and won. Tampa won three straight games in the Eastern Conference Final and the Caps still won. Carolina played a perfect game on Monday, but they still have to win three more games.

 I am not dismissing Monday’s drubbing, but I am also not prepared to say that the Hurricanes have figured the Caps out just yet. Now it falls on Todd Reirden to make the necessary adjustments to fix the problems exposed in Game 3. The Caps were torn apart by Carolina’s suffocating forecheck, every offensive line except the top line has disappeared, Christian Djoos looks completely overmatched, the defense as currently constructed isn’t good enough and the power play’s continued reliance on the slingshot makes me want to throw my computer out the window. Those are serious problems, but none are insurmountable.

If Thursday’s game has a similar result and the series comes back to Washington tied at 2 after two blowout losses, then it is time to be concerned. But, hey, let’s get crazy and say the Caps actually win Game 4. Then they will come back home with a 3-1 stranglehold on the series and Monday will seem like a distant memory.

So please people, let’s not take one game to mean the series is over.

Don’t worry, we’ll get to Devante Smith-Pelly. First, let’s address the offense. Offensive depth was considered a major advantage for Washington going into this series, but it has not played out that way. The Caps have only two goals from outside its top six with one from Lars Eller (empty-netter) and an overtime goal from Brooks Orpik. That’s it.

While you may point to the bottom six as the problem, I am going to lump the second line into this as well because it has been equally as bad. Heading into the series, the Caps wanted an Evgeny Kuznetsov/Sebastian Aho matchup with the thought that if Kuznetsov drives possession, he can keep the puck away from Carolina’s top offensive weapon. Washington has gotten that matchup in all three games and it has actually had the opposite effect. Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Carl Hagelin have the worst Corsi-For percentage in the NHL right now. You have to take that with a grain of salt knowing Carolina is a high shot volume team while the Caps are more selective, but the second line has been virtually invisible. Kuznetsov has still managed three assists through sheer skill, but this matchup is not working for the Caps.

Reirden switched Hagelin to the third line for Game 3 moving Jakub Vrana to the second which is a good start. I would switch Kuznetsov with Nicklas Backstrom as Backstrom is a more traditional shutdown forward. While the fourth line has not produced, I actually think Andre Burakovsky and Nic Dowd have been good together on the fourth. If that does not spark more offense, then you can move Burakovsky to the third line and you can move Hagelin pretty much anywhere.

There’s enough offense in this lineup to get to Carolina’s defense, the biggest issue thus far has been Carolina’s forecheck. You cannot get much offense if you are spending every shift in the defensive zone. Washington has to be prepared for this which means the forwards coming back to help give the defense options for quick breakout passes.

Bryce Healey writes: Should capitals call up Devonte Smith-Pelley, would give them more grit in the bottom 3.

Rodney O. writes: DSP is doing well and what he needs to do at Hershey, but do you think that if the Caps advance they'll need a more physical presence?

One loss and now everyone believes Smith-Pelly to be the savior. There is no denying Smith-Pelly has shown the ability to step up in the playoffs in the past. Whenever a team makes a decision you don’t understand, however, I always have to ask myself what don’t I know?

Smith-Pelly was having a lousy season for Washington, but I was still surprised to see him waived and even more surprised that he cleared waivers. That should be a red flag to everyone.

Thirty teams had a chance to claim Smith-Pelly off waivers including every single team in the playoffs. None of them did. That tells you something.

I am not going to speculate as to what the issue with Smith-Pelly may be. If you want to look up about the problems Smith-Pelly had at the beginning of the season or what the team said at the time he was waived, you can look it up and draw your own conclusions. But clearly there is something going on there.

A call-up is certainly possible, especially if the Caps lose again, but it is not as if the team was not aware of what he did in last year’s playoff run and yet they still decided to expose him to waivers. That tells me that no one really views him as an important factor this postseason.

Ben M. writes: Is there any word on watch parties at Capital One Arena?

The Caps will indeed host a Game 4 viewing party on Thursday at Capital One Arena. Doors at the F Street entrance open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. They will even be selling $5 beers.

Phillip M. writes: Andre Burakovsky’s cap hit of $3,000,000 will be needed next year to extend Jakub Vrana, Carl Hagelin and maybe(?) Brett Connolly. Do you think Vrana and Hagelin re-sign for a little over 3 million each to give the team something to offer Connolly or do you see them at 4 million plus and Connolly leaving the team next year?

Hagelin’s current contract carries a cap-hit of $4 million per year. He will be turning 31 in August, however, and was traded twice over the course of this season. Considering that his top asset is his speed and that he is on the wrong side of 30, I definitely believe the market will dictate that his cap hit goes down. As for Vrana, general manager Brian MacLellan has shown he is not afraid to give out long-term contracts to top-six forwards, but Vrana is only 23. Vrana’s skill and work ethic make him a safe bet in terms of a long contract, but as he is still young and that the team has to think about fitting other players under the cap, I believe a bridge deal seems more likely for him. That would keep his cap hit low as the team would not be buying any free agent years.

Will that leave enough money to keep Connolly? The answer is up to him. It is guaranteed that there will be other teams that can offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than Washington. Connolly will turn 27 in May meaning this will likely be his big chance to cash-in as a free agent. Having said that, Connolly has played for three teams in his career and washed out with two of them. If things had not worked out in Washington, his NHL career may be over right now. Keeping that in mind, there may be some opportunity here to explore a “hometown discount.” It will be up to Connolly to decide if what the Caps offer him will be enough.

Chris S. writes: We often hear team owners and management across all major sports saying they lose millions of dollars every year. Obviously there are accounting tricks being played, but what are they?  Can you shed some light on this and give some insight on what's really happening?  These owners didn’t get to be millionaires/billionaires by losing $30 million a year.

Interesting question. I do not claim to be a financial expert in any way and there are plenty of people a lot smarter than me who know more about an NHL team’s finances, but here are a few general insights into this topic.

The biggest thing to remember is that the NHL has a revenue-sharing agreement. The specifics are laid out in the CBA and are pretty complicated, but to put it simply, money is taken from the top grossing teams in the league, playoff revenue and league generated revenue and given to the lower grossing teams. The specific amount each team gets is determined by a committee, but you get the idea. So while an owner of a team like Florida can say he’s losing moneyyou also have to remember that the team is still going to be getting a check at the end of the season due from revenue sharing.

Second, you are correct in that the owners did not get rich by losing money every year. They got rich from making good investments. A professional sports team is generally a good investment because their overall value rises pretty steadily. Owners have other businesses and investments and can usually handle a year over year loss from a team. They accept this knowing that when they choose to sell, they will be making a tidy profit. Peter Karmanos, for example, sold the Carolina Hurricanes for $420 million in January. He bought the team for $47.5 million in 1994.

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 the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship is coming to a close this Memorial Day weekend.

After two weeks, the sixteen team field has been narrowed down to four with the world championship now on the line in Slovakia. 

The two group winners, Canada, the top-ranked team in the world and 26-time IIHF Champions, and Russia, who rolled through the group stage with a 7-0 record and a +29 goal differential, are the favorites. Russia overwhelmingly has played like the best team in Slovakia, outscoring its opponents 40-10 behind Nikita Kucherov's 16 points in eight games.

The Russian/ Soviet Union team is the only team with more titles than the Canadians with 27 (five as Russia, 22 as the Soviet Union). 

Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin is playing for Team Russia. In eight games he's scored two goals and recorded an assist. 

Canada will face off against the Czech Republic, whose only loss came against the Russians in group play, with a spot to the Finals on the line. Russia will play Finland for the last spot in the gold medal match.

Three of the four teams remaining (Russia, Canda, and the Czech Republic) are the winningest teams in the IIHF's history. The four semifinalists have combined to win 67 of the 82 IIHF World Championships.

When is the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will take place at 8:15 p.m. local time (2:15 p.m. ET) on Sunday, May 26. The bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match at 3:45 p.m. local time (9:15 a.m. ET). 

2019 IIHF World Championship Schedule:

There are only four matches left in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The two semifinals, the bronze medal match, and the gold medal match.

SEMIFINALS:
No. 3 Russia vs. No. 5 Finland, 9:15 a.m. ET, May 25
No. 1 Canada vs. No. 6 Czech Republic, 1:15 p.m. ET, May 25

BRONZE MEDAL MATCH:
Loser of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Loser of Semifinal No. 2, 9:45 a.m. ET, May 26

GOLD MEDAL MATCH:
Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2, 2:15 p.m. ET, May 26

How to watch or stream the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

All games at the IIHF World Championships will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Who is playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will be played between the winner of Russia (8-0-0)/ Finland (7-0-1) and Canada (7-1-0)/ Czech Republic (7-0-1).

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF Championship Finals will be announced on the morning of May 26. 

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

When the St. Louis Blues woke up on Jan. 3, they were in dead last in the NHL. A 15-18-4 record gave them 34 points, less than teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators who would go on to finish the season as the two worst teams. Yes, St. Louis had played in only 37 games to that point, the fewest in the league, but finding a way to climb back into the playoff hunt seemed daunting and unlikely.

Now the Blues are the Western Conference champions and stand just four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

The Blues have been one of the best stories of the NHL season climbing from last place to the Stanley Cup Final. When looking back at St. Louis’ season, there are several moments one can point to as key moments in the turnaround. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 20 and goalie Jordan Binnington got his first start with the Blues on Jan. 7 and never gave back the crease.

But the turnaround really started on Jan. 3. On that morning, the Blues were in last place. That would be the last day they would find themselves there.

And it all started with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals.

On Jan. 3, St. Louis and Washington looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Blues were in last place, the Caps were rolling with a 24-11-3 record, first in the Metropolitan Division. Washington came into St. Louis on a five-game road winning streak. As if that wasn’t enough, the Blues were also without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

And yet, what looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but. Robert Thomas scored a deflection just four minutes into the game. Washington managed to take a 2-1 lead early in the second, but St. Louis rattled off four straight goals for the 5-2 win. With Washington down only 3-2 heading into the third period, the Blues but on a possession clinic outshooting Washington 14-2 in the final frame.

"We stayed aggressive," Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. "When we're playing in the O zone, the best way to play defense is to play in their end. We kept the puck, we moved the puck, we worked. Forwards were great tonight, protecting the center of the ice. It kind of took their playmakers out of the game."

The Caps’ first shot came 13 minutes into the third. By then, the Blues already had 12 shots and two goals.

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams will lose games against teams they shouldn’t. This felt different. Watching this game, you did not come away thinking the Caps played down to an inferior team. The Blues dominated that game and the Caps knew it.

“They were skating, competing harder, won races, more determined than we were,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If we’re being honest about it, we didn’t have a very good game, and they played a pretty darn good game.”
More importantly, St. Louis realized it as well. They knew following the game that this was a win and a performance they could build on.

“I think we out-chanced them, so we're building here at even strength,” Pietrangelo said. “It's just a matter of keeping it at even strength and scoring goals. Tonight the goals weren't necessarily pretty but we created a lot of chances."
That night proved to be the first night of the turnaround. From Jan. 3 on, no team in the NHL earned more points than St. Louis’ 65, not even the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the Presidents’ Trophy with an incredible 128 points.

St. Louis was not expected to be bad this season. The team made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster and many thought they could be real contenders, but they sure did not play like it through the first half of the season. It took a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champs to show them and everyone else just how good they really were. From that point on, they never looked back.

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