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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Did the Caps address all of their weaknesses?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Did the Caps address all of their weaknesses?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

John F. writes: Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky's career goals record? What will it take?

It will take 237 more goals.

OK, but what does that mean exactly? Ovechkin will turn 34 before the start of the season. Let’s say he plays seven more seasons and retires when he is 40. He would have to average 34 goals per year to do that.

That seems doable for Ovechkin, but you have to remember that Father Time is undefeated. At some point the production will decrease. You also have to wonder if he will even play that long. That’s no guarantee. If he does, it would be hard for him to return to Russia to play in the KHL, which many believe he would want to do given his outspoken pride for his home country.

For this to be a realistic possibility, it is going to require at least one more 45-50 goal season and probably another 40 goal season on top of that. He is going to have to get a good chunk of goals this year while he is still productive because eventually he is not going to be able to score 50 goals anymore. Then he won’t be able to score 40, and so on.

I can’t sit here and tell you that it is impossible because Ovechkin keeps redefining what is possible for a goal scorer over 30. Having said that, I still am not willing to say I think he will do it. Considering we all marvel at what he has been able to do the last two seasons and he still sits over 200 goals away, I still have my money on the Great One keeping his record.

Blake B. writes: The Capitals appear to have addressed all of their necessities this offseason (i.e. filling their 3rd and 4th lines, unloading salary and making tough but necessary trades). What are the biggest question marks, uncertainties and holes entering the 2019-2020 season?

There are a few and some of your fellow readers asked about them as well this week. For me, depth offense is a concern. The Caps got only five goals from their bottom-six in seven playoff games against the Carolina Hurricanes. One goal was an empty-netter, one was a penalty shot and the remaining three came from Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, who are both gone. Offensively, the team did not get better, so where are those goals going to come from? More on this later.

Players like Connolly and Burakovsky provided injury insurance. Both players could plug into the top-six in case of injury. Hagelin and Panik now look like those players, but both look like offensive downgrades in that respect.

On defense, the team looks pretty set assuming Nick Jensen can handle a top-four role. I wrote about this as part of our “Burning Questions" series we are currently running. The team’s defense truly hinges on Jensen. If he plays well, you have a clear top-four with an upgraded bottom pair thanks to the acquisition of Gudas. If Jensen does not play well, you have a major hole on the blue line and no clear candidate to fill it, plus a defenseman with three more years on his contract after this season.

And then there is the power play. Brian MacLellan focused on defense in the offseason, so the team should be improved in that area and on the penalty kill. The sacrifice was losing some offensive depth, but you can potentially make that up if the team rebounds on the power play. More on this later too.

Ben C. writes: Our bottom-six seems to be better defensively now. How do you think they will contribute offensively?

I also wrote about this very subject for our “Burning Questions” series. Hagelin is a very versatile player, but offense is not his strong suit. He managed only five goals and 19 total points last season. He has never scored 20 goals in any season of his career and has reached 30 points only once in the past five years. Eller has tallied 38 and 36 points in each of the past two seasons, the best two seasons of his career. But, like Hagelin, he has never scored 20 goals at any point in his career. Panik scored 20 goals only once in 2016-17 when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks and playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. Last season with the Arizona Coyotes, he totaled 14 goals and 19 assists.

Simply put, there is no way a third line of Hagelin, Eller and Panik will produce as much offensively as the third line did last year. The good news, however, is that If the team improved defensively as much as they hope, they shouldn’t need to.

Brian R. writes: Do you anticipate any changes to how the PP gets run this year considering how inconsistent it was last year either a new scheme or different personnel?

The obvious glaring issue with the power play last season was zone entry, so fingers crossed that this will lead the team to scrap the horrendous slingshot which doesn’t work and is ugly to watch. Considering so many other teams utilize it as well, however, I am doubtful they will, but one can hope.

I wonder if Tom Wilson will see more time in T.J. Oshie’s spot in the slot. Wilson does not play that spot as well as Oshie does, but if the team does move on from the slingshot, then the dump-in may be more common and you need that bigger body to fight for the pucks in the corners and behind the goal line to keep possession.

Really, everything depends on how the team decides to fix its zone entry problem. If it remains status quo, then I do not see any changes. If they finally realize how awful the slingshot truly is, then you have to work on a new method for zone entry and put together the best personnel to operate it.

Chas L. writes: With T.J. Oshie possibly looking at less playing time on the third line, is it time for the Caps to bring up a prospect or two? With all the new free agent additions, the Caps all together have gotten a lot older age wise. Would it hurt to maybe push down players like Lars Eller and Oshie and bring up some young prospects?

A few things. First, moving Oshie down to the third line was more realistic before they lost so much offensive depth. I have written on this topic before about how I believe reducing Oshie’s minutes would be beneficial given his playing style, but I am not sure how realistic an option this is when the two candidates to replace him would be Hagelin and Panik.

Hagelin’s offense is a bit too limited for me to put him in the top-six when the team is at full strength. He is a solid replacement player if there is an injury in the top-six, but otherwise that is not ideal. Panik, on the other hand, is an unknown coming in as a free agent.

Second, bringing in prospects is a great option if you have prospects ready to make the jump. The Caps do not think they do and they showed that with all the depth signings they made in the offseason. You do not sign Panik or Garnet Hathaway for four years if you think Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Shane Gersich are going to be taking their jobs at the start of the season.

MacLellan was probably hoping more prospects would be ready for the NHL as they would have been cheap replacements for the players lost, but I am not sure anyone is ready to make that jump yet.

Third, part of the appeal of pushing Oshie to the third line, if that was still a realistic possibility, would be to play him with Eller. They have great chemistry together and this would be a formidable third line. Pushing Eller to the fourth not only would push Nic Dowd out of the lineup, but it would also waste Eller’s skill. There comes a point where a team can have too much depth and it becomes a waste. If Washington had several home-grown centers knocking on the door, trading Eller would be a more realistic possibility. As of now, however, that is not the case.

John F. writes: Not to go full-Don Cherry, but is the lack of "good Canadian boys" on the team a concern? (For the record: I don't think it is).

No. Where players are from is completely irrelevant. It is foolish and I would argue racist to think having one specific nationality is the key to winning. I can take Don Cherry’s “old man yelling at clouds” takes because those are harmless. His blind support of all things Canadian while downplaying players of other nationalities, however, is infuriating to me.

Cherry may want to believe the Caps won the Stanley Cup because of Tom Wilson and Braden Holtby, but this completely ignores the all-time great Russian who won the Conn Smythe, a Russian who led the team in scoring, a future Hall of Fame Swedish center, a top defensive pairing with an American and a Czech and a Dane who scored the Cup clinching goal.

This is a ridiculous sentiment that for some reason lingers in Canada, where no team has won a Stanley Cup since 1993, but I am sure that is just because none of those teams had enough Canadian players.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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5 fun facts you may not have known about new Capital Ilya Kovalchuk

5 fun facts you may not have known about new Capital Ilya Kovalchuk

On Sunday, the Capitals traded for Ilya Kovalchuk making him the newest player on the team and perhaps the last piece to what Brian MacLellan is hoping will be a championship roster.

Kovalchuk should be a familiar name for most hockey fans considering he was a superstar player in his prime, but here are five fun facts you may not know about the Capitals’ newest forward.

Reirden and Kovalchuk were teammates in Atlanta

Before he was an NHL coach, Reirden had a journeyman’s NHL career with stops in Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix. His one season in Atlanta came in 2001-02, which was Kovalchuk’s rookie season.

"He was very underrated I think,” Kovalchuk said of Reirden. “He had big shots, scored some goals, but I think he was more a stay-home defenseman, but great off the ice. We spent a lot of time together on the road and he teach me some English, I teach him some Russian. I think he knows more than I expect, Russian words.”

It may have only been one season, but Kovalchuk and Reirden hit it off. Reirden credits the very little Russian he knows to the time he spent with Kovalchuk that year. He even had him and fellow teammate, Dany Heatley, over for Thanksgiving that year.

“[Kovalchuk] was the one that we first started on the word exchange,” Reirden said. “Obviously now his English is perfect and my Russian still is not perfect. That was when I was realized, I was a sixth, seventh defenseman on the Atlanta Thrashers and our team wasn't very good. We got to Thanksgiving time and I didn't feel like enough time was being spent with those players to help them get ready to play in the NHL. So I remember Thanksgiving having both of them over to my house and my wife cooking a Thanksgiving meal for them. So that was the first time we really started to connect.”

Kovalchuk is on the cap for four different teams

As part of the trade that brought him to Washington, Montreal agreed to retain half of Kovalchuk’s salary. That means he is counting $350,000 against the cap for both teams. In addition, Kovalchuk is still on the books in Los Angeles for $6.25 million for both this year and next after his contract was terminated. And, though it feels like a long time ago at this point, Kovalchuk continues to count against the cap for the New Jersey Devils. That massive 15-year contract that Kovalchuk signed in 2010 will continue to cost the Devils $250,000 in cap recapture penalty through the 2024-25 season.

Kovalchuk is an Olympic gold medalist

Alex Ovechkin has a Cup, but Kovalchuk has something that Ovechkin does not and that is an Olympic gold medal. Since the NHL chose not to participate in the 2018 Olympics, Ovechkin was not able to suit up for the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) team. Kovalchuk at that time was playing in the KHL so he was free to represent his country, or at least he was free to play for a team of a bunch of people from the same country but who definitely weren't representing that country...or something like that. The OAR team went on to win gold, the first for Russia since the country participated as the Unified Team in 1992 with all the countries that made up the Soviet Union.

Kovalchuk has two different-colored eyes

Move over, Max Scherzer. You’re not the only athlete with different color eyes.

Heterochromia iridium is the condition in which one eye is a different color from the other. Scherzer has it and so does Kovalchuk.

Many of you out there are trying to Google a picture of Kovalchuk right now or are wondering how you never noticed this before. The reasons is because Kovalchuk’s heterochromia is much more subtle than Scherzer’s. Instead of having two completely different eye colors like Scherzer has with one brown and one blue, Kovalchuk’s eyes are light brown and dark brown. Most people wouldn’t notice unless you stood close to him or got a very up-close picture.

The Caps are one of two teams with two of the top-five active goal scorers on the roster

Ovechkin obviously has the most goals among all active players with 701. In Kovalchuk, the Caps added the No. 4 active scorer with 442 career NHL goals. Only one other team in the league can boast having two of the top five and, of course, that team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby is third among active players with 459 goals and he is now teammates with Patrick Marleau, who was acquired in a deadline trade. With 561 goals, Marleau is second only to Ovechkin.

That’s a lot of goals between those four players. Ovechkin and Kovalchuk have a total of 1,143 goals with Crosby and Marleau combining for 1,020.

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Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

Not enough grit and not enough power from Capitals in Winnipeg

The Capitals were shutout for the first time since Dec. 16 as they failed to build off their two-game win streak. Connor Hellebuyck was tough to beat, but did the Caps do enough to get to him?

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

This team has to play physically to win

If you want to know the importance of physical play, compare this game to the last few the Caps have played. The Caps did not dictate the physical play in this game nearly as much as they had in their last two wins and it was very noticeable. You have to take the "hit totals" with a grain of salt because it varies from building to building, but in this game the Caps out-hit Winnipeg 17-16. On Tuesday, Washington led in hits 25-17. In Tuesday's win, the Caps used the physical play to dictate the game as they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. They just did not do that at all on Thursday.

Make life difficult for the goalie

Give all the credit in the world to Hellebuyck, he was great. He was on his game and seeing the puck really well. When that happens, the Caps have got to make life more difficult for him. It felt like there was not enough traffic in front of Hellebuyck and not enough battling to win rebounds. It was going to take an ugly goal to beat him and it looked like the Caps could not deliver that. You can't always win with skill, sometimes you have to get dirty.

Turning point

Down 1-0 late in the second period, Washington got its first power play of the game when Neal Pionk was called for hooking Alex Ovechkin. Just three seconds after Pionk's penalty expired, Anthony Bitetto was caught hooking Ilya Kovalchuk giving the Caps almost four continuous minutes of power play time. Washington could not take advantage and suddenly when the team headed into the locker room it was clear Hellebuyck was going to be tough to beat.

Play of the game

Hellebuyck was great, but the save of the night came from Ilya Samsonov when he denied Jack Roslovic with the toe.

Stat of the game

Hellebuyck's performance overshadowed what Samsonov was able to do, but he had a solid night overall as well.

Quote of the game

Considering all the talent on this roster, it is always staggering when the Caps get shut out. It happens to everyone, the league is really good and really tough, but it is still surprising. The players feel the same way.


Fan predictions

You got the one from Dmitry Kulikov, but that was it.

The dream was over 23 seconds into the game as Patrik Laine took a puck off the heel and was forced to leave the game.

He got really close from the Ovechkin spot on the power play.

They have to score to do that.

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