Capitals

Capitals

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the March 27 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.

The Caps currently have 98 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets are the first team out of the playoffs at the moment. The Montreal Canadiens are in the second wild card spot, but Columbus has a game in hand on them so for our purposes, let’s just call them tied. If either Columbus or Montreal wins out, the most they can get is 100 points. Those two teams play each other on Thursday, however, and someone has to lose at least one point in that game. So in order for the Caps to clinch, their magic number is two.

Any combination of two points for Washington and two lost points for either Columbus or Montreal will clinch a spot. If the Caps win on Thursday, they are in.

Todd Reirden called Michal Kempny’s injury “long-term” on Monday. You can read the latest update here. Reirden has still not given a timetable for Kempny’s possible return saying more tests are needed and possible treatments are being discussed including surgery. At this point I would be very surprised if we see Kempny back this season, but we will not know for sure until we get a definitive timetable.

 

Not at all, though it certainly makes things more difficult. Look at it this way. If you were to rank the most important players on the team, where would he rank? Certainly he would be behind Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson at the very least. Are you telling me that, including Kempny, the Caps have six players they absolutely could not afford to lose in the playoffs? If that’s true, that’s a really weak team.

Depth matters in the playoffs for a reason. Everyone will suffer injuries. Kempny is a big loss for sure, but I do not think Washington is already done because of his injury. Heck, the Caps managed to find a way to win an elimination game on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins with no Backstrom, Burakovsky or Wilson.

Have they still got Ovechkin? Holtby? Kuznetsov? Then they still have a chance.

Benjamin C. writes: It seems like Christian Djoos would struggle against power forwards/1st line players. Why not move Nick Jensen to be with John Carlson and Djoos back with his old pal Brooks Orpik? 

Djoos did a good job in the playoffs last year not letting his size be an issue, but he has certainly struggled with that since he got back in the lineup after Kempny’s injury. Part of the problem, as you correctly point out, is when you are on the top pairing, you are usually facing tougher competition. I also believe this has a lot to do with his partner as well. Carlson likes to jump up into the offensive play leaving more of the defensive burden on Djoos. He is more suited to jumping into the play than being a stay at home defenseman and when he has to get back on defense and cover the front of the net, that is when he really gets pushed around by the opposition’s forwards. Djoos is better off with a partner like Orpik who is a total defensive-minded player.

The reason why Djoos went up initially and the problem with moving Jensen up is about his shot. Carlson and Jensen are right shots while Djoos shoots left.

No, don’t roll your eyes, that matters.

Ideally, a team wants three balanced defensive pairs with a lefty and a righty. Not many teams have that luxury, but it is definitely preferable. Playing on the off-side could prove difficult for a righty. More people tend to shoot left so usually see a left-shot playing on the right a lot more often than the other way around. Right-shot defensemen can be hard to come by and it is even rarer for a team to be in a position in which he has to start using them on their off-side. Chances are it has been a long time since Jensen had to do that, if ever. European players also seem to be more comfortable playing on the off-side than North American players in my experience and so Jensen going to the left is a bigger deal than Djoos playing right.

 

Here’s what I would do:

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Christian Djoos – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen

This lineup keeps three left-shot defensemen on the left and three right-shot defensemen on the right. It also keeps Djoos with a more defensive blueliner in Niskanen. Orlov and Carlson were not great together last year, but Orlov’s setup of Carlson’s goal on Tuesday makes me think there could be hope there. Plus, it is not like Orlov and NIskanen have been all that great this season anyway, which leads us to the next question….

Benjamin C. writes: Last year Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen were key to our success being the “shutdown pair.” They’ve struggled all year and now Kempny is out for playoffs. Will they get themselves together in playoffs?

The answer to this question may be one of the keys to Washington’s entire postseason. I know they have been seen as pair all season. Their chemistry as well as Orlov’s lack of chemistry with Carlson last year sort of handcuffs how the Caps can shuffle their blue line. For me, however, that goes out the window now with Kempny gone. You cannot put together the best defense if you see the second pair as locked in. You need more flexibility than that.

Here are my two issues with the power play. First, the zone entries are atrocious. The sling shot is complete garbage and needs to go away. Everyone sees it coming from a mile away. If you have Kuznetsov and/or Backstrom standing behind Carlson as he skates up the ice it is not hard to figure out what the Caps are trying to do. Everyone is prepared for it, it doesn’t work, get rid of it.

The second issue is that teams are not giving Ovechkin any room. You may be asking yourself, wait, stopping the Caps’ power play is as simple as covering Ovechkin? Then why did it take so long to figure that out? Because in the past, teams could not just blanket Ovechkin for fear of getting torched by Backstrom, Kuznetsov or Oshie in the slot. To me, Kuznetsov and especially Backstrom meed to shoot way more than they are. If you have extra room because the other team is leaning on Ovechkin, use it. The threat of a shot from those guys is gone at this point. Get back to it and that will open up more room for Ovechkin.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very effective because it has both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov basically playing Ovechkin’s spot on either side of the ice. What really makes that work, however, is Victor Hedman quarterbacking the power play from the point. If you have concerns about Carlson’s passing, this won’t work because adding Vrana as a sniper gives Carlson a bigger role. He has to quarterback the power play and distribute the puck.

 

Plus, if you put in Vrana, who comes out between Oshie, Kuznetsov and Backstrom? Oshie plays the slot and Kuznetsov the goal line which is not where Vrana would be most effective. Backstrom quarterbacks the power play form the half-wall which is presumably where you would play Vrana so who is running the power play instead?

Washington has the best personnel on the ice for the power play it wants to run. The issue is execution and I am not about to advocate rebuilding the entire power play with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season.

Tristan B. writes: Do you believe the pressure of not worrying if being traded has caused Andre Burakovsky’s game to skyrocket the second half of the season?

The difference in how well he has played certainly makes it hard to argue against that. As well as he is playing, however, we have seen this before. The issue for Burakovsky is not that he never plays well, it’s that it never seems to last that long. It is good that he is playing well, but I want to see this continue and carry over into the playoffs.

While I remain skeptical, there is hope that he has turned the corner. The biggest change for me is that he is having an impact on games even when he is not producing points. Burakovsky used to be completely invisible if he wasn’t on the scoresheet. Now he is still putting on pressure and giving the defense fits. He is much faster getting the puck off his stick and on net.

So there is definitely improvement there, but I still need to see it last.

They practice multiple aspects of the game, but not every possible situation every practice. Power play and penalty kill is usually a focus. Four-on-four or 5-on-3 is only something they work on if there is a reason the coaches want to focus on it that day. As for shift changes, if you are in the NHL you should be able to figure that by now without any practice.

Chris S. writes: What’s up with Dmitrij Jaskin? To the eye test for many he seems to be a positive force when he gets to play. It just seems very strange given that throughout the early part of the season Todd Reirden made a practice of not leaving anyone in the press box too long; trying to give everyone some ice time and not letting them lose the competitive game edge. What’s really up?

I share your confusion. Every time he was in the lineup, he seemed to play well and yet he could not stay in the lineup. It is something Todd Reirden has been asked about many times over the course of the season. He’s never come out and said, Jaskin is not playing because…. After a while, it seemed clear that Jaksin just was not in Reirden’s plans and the media stopped asking.

 

So let’s see if we can connect the dots.

Reirden likes two things from his fourth line players: Players who can score and players who can kill penalties. Andre Burakovsky and Travis Boyd are more offensively skilled players. Guys like Nic Dowd and Chandler Stephenson can play on the penalty kill. Jaskin generated a lot of scoring opportunities it seemed, but struggled to finish. As a result, in 36 appearances Jaskin had only two goals and eight points.

As for the penalty kill, Jaskin has 8:41 of penalty kill time total in his 36 games. Carl Hagelin had 8:18 of shorthanded time in a single game on March 8.

To further illustrate the point, Reirden was asked on Feb. 11 why he took Jaskin out of the lineup after he played on Feb. 9 in a loss to the Florida Panthers.

“As we get closer and closer to opportunity, towards the last 20 games of the year, the opportunities become more critical for those guys that are in and out of our lineup,” Reirden said. “I use [Jaskin] at the end of a penalty kill and then it ends up in the back of our net. Those are situations where we have to find people that can be used in all different areas of the game, especially back-to-backs.”

So to Reirden, Jaskin is very limited in the ways he can use him and that makes him less valuable. At this point of the season, Reirden is more concerned about tuning up the lineup for the playoffs than anything else. While getting players games in the earlier part of the season was important, I think that is less true now as it seems Reirden has his mind made up on Jaskin.

This to me is the bigger issue with Jaskin, more so than his playing time. OK, so you have decided Jaskin is at the bottom of your depth chart. Fine. As head coach, that is Reirden’s prerogative. What I do not understand is how the team managed the salary cap.

Carrying two forwards on the roster comes at a cost. Literally. Every day you have two extras, their salary counts against the cap. That is an extra player worth of cap room the Caps were spending every day.

With no waiver exempt forward, it is understandable initially why the Caps would not go that route. You risk losing someone on waivers and no one likes losing a player for nothing. But it is clear that Jaskin no longer factors into Washington’s plans and that has been clear for a while now. When that became the case, they needed to move him before the trade deadline to clear up cap space. It is important to do it before the deadline because a player has to be on an AHL roster at that point in order for that player to be eligible to be sent down to the AHL after the deadline. The Caps could not send Jaskin to Hershey even if they wanted to.

 

So now the Caps have a player who they did not need, who does not play, but still counts against the salary cap and who they cannot send down to Hershey. They did this knowing that Vrana and Orpik both could potentially hit their bonuses which now means the team will be charged an overage penalty on next year’s cap. It is a situation the team should have seen coming and could have fixed long before now.

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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