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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Is this a slump or something worse?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Is this a slump or something worse?

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

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity. Also, most of these questions came before the Brenden Dillon trade so please keep that in mind as you read.

Craig Boden writes: Do you feel the Caps are just in a slump, which happens over 82 games, or that there is something definitely wrong with the club?

The answer is both. Since this gets to the heart of what everyone really wants to know this week, I'll expand a bit on this.

There are a lot of issues to the Caps' game right now that are based purely on frustration. I have seen a lot of people blaming the "system" for the team's struggles, but, looking at Monday's game in Vegas as an example, there is no system that says both defensemen should be on the left side of the ice leaving open a stretch pass breakaway attempt that ultimately led to the first goal.

There is no system that says no one should challenge Tomas Nosek when he has the puck in the Caps' defensive zone, or cover Williams Carrier or Nick Holden who was standing literally right in front of the crease. There is no system that says lose a loose puck battle to Jonathan Marchessault or to let Reilly Smith cut through three Caps to get the pass and find the shooting lane. There is no system that says Radko Gudas should get the puck stolen behind the net allowing for a quick pass and goal before Braden Holtby could even realize Gudas had lost the puck.

Those are just misplays from a team that can't seem to do much right at the moment, particularly defensively. I can't sit here and tell you the system is the problem when the goals the team is giving up come on plays in which no one seems capable of playing the system or playing even basic defensive hockey. In that sense, this is is a "slump" because this team is not so bad that it suddenly forgot how to play defense. That's frustration taking over and forcing boneheaded mistakes.

The Caps are not as bad as they have played of late, but there are some deeper problems here. The team has lost four of its last five and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23.

They have earned fewer points than any team in the Metro during that time, even New Jersey. While many teams wish that their slump would be .500, that's too long a sample size to simply expect the team to play its way out of at this point. The first and most glaring issue, and something I have talked about for much of the season, is that this defense just is not good enough. Neither Nick Jensen nor Radko Gudas are good enough to play in the top-four and Michal Kempny is struggling.

That means two of the team's top four on defense is a question mark which led to Monday's trade for Brenden Dillon.

I am also beginning to wonder if forward depth is more of an issue than previously thought. The top six is cold right now, but there is too much talent there to worry about, they'll be fine.

My concern is that, outside of center depth, if the Caps need to shuffle lines, there are not many players they can turn to throw into the top six. Sure, there's Lars Eller, but what about the wings? Carl Hagelin's has very little offensive finish, Richard Panik is a two-way forward whose offensive output has not been good enough to think he could bolster the top six, and Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway are fourth line players.

There is no Brett Connolly or Andre Burakovsky the team can throw into the top six for a game or two when the offense gets stale, which it certainly has of late. That leaves Todd Reirden with few options for how to wake the offense up.

So while I do not think the Caps are as bad as they look right now, there are certainly glaring issues that must be addressed if they have any hope for a deep run.

Nathan S. writes: Why aren't Caps willing to change their systems to address their awful defense?

I touched on this a bit above, but I'm not sure how much you can blame the system when the team is abandoning it the moment they face any adversity in-game and the defensive mistakes are things you wouldn't expect from a high school team. If there were a quick fix to the team's defensive issues, I promise you the team would have adjusted by now, but it's not that simple.

Kevin Mills writes: I read multiple reports about this being the sixth time in six years the Caps traded for a defenseman at the deadline. Is there a reason that the Capitals always seem to have a hole in the defense at the trade deadline?

Yes, Brian MacLellan has traded for a defenseman at the deadline every year since becoming general manager, but it's not always because defense is a hole.

Last season, for example, the team acquired Nick Jensen to supplement the blue line, not because there was any glaring hole to it. The injury to Michal Kempny happened after the deadline and that gets to the heart of why MacLellan always feels the need to add. The playoffs are very long and very grueling and no one escapes unscathed. The prevailing theory within the hockey community and one MacLellan has talked about in the past, is that for a deep playoff run a team needs eight defensemen it can rely on. That's a lot of defensemen so MacLellan likes to add at the deadline.

Justin Tepe writes: With salary cap problems, if the Caps want to make a Cup run does trading a T.J. Oshie or a 2nd/3rd line forward have enough value to get that 2nd pair defenseman? Who can draw enough interest?

Specifically, does trading Oshie for a defenseman make sense? No, absolutely not. Oshie has 24 goals this season, the second-most on the team. I have a hard time believing a move like this would make the team better.

In a more general sense, as I mentioned above, there's not enough scoring depth to risk a move like that. If you trade someone off the second line, who replaces them? There are no clear candidates. You don't want to trade away Hagelin because he is a proven playoff performer and the team's best penalty killer and Panik is not going to be enough to get a top-four defenseman back in return.

Paul Trubits writes: When are the Caps going to realize that Evgeny Kuznetsov is the 2nd coming of Alex Semin (not a good thing)? They beat a good playoff team on the road without him. Eller deserves to be the 2C. Should the Caps trade Kuzy for another 2-3C now while he still has a lot of value and maybe save some cap space for a top-four right D?

I get that Kuznetsov's 2018 playoff run seems like an anomaly at this point, but it did still happen. I don't think it makes sense to trade Kuznetsov because Eller played well in a game against Colorado while ignoring what happened in 2018. That's one game as opposed to 2018. Eller is a third-line center. That's what he is. He's a very good one and one in whom the team can trust in the top six in limited amounts of time, but he is not a 2C. 

Take a guess as to what Eller's career highs are. Every time I watch him play, I think this guy must be a 20-goal scorer, 50-point per season type of player. He's not. In fact, he's never been that. His career highs are 18 goals, 23 assists and 38 points. Now yes, Eller is more of a two-way forward and he doesn't have Jakub Vrana or Oshie on his wing. That's totally fair. But even when Kuznetsov is having a down year, which I would argue this is for him, he is still on pace for 65 points. He can sleepwalk to what most players would consider to be a great season.

I get the frustration. Kuznetsov should be 90 to 100 point player every year. But I don't think 75-percent Kuznetsov hurts the team the way a 75-percent Alex Semin did. He's still a better player than Eller. Trade away Kuznetsov and this team takes a very clear step back.

Tim K. writes: Why do Caps fans insist that a left-handed LD (Alec Martinez) is a perfect fit, or even an option, to fill the second pair RD slot? Am I missing something here?

Martinez actually routinely plays on the right so that's not an issue, but it's moot now after the team acquired Dillon.

Joe Nieves writes: What do you think about trading Nick Jensen and his 4-year contract for Alec Martinez and his 1 more year?

Again, doesn't matter with Dillon, but that would not have been nearly enough to get a deal done. Yes, the Kings would be getting more years, but they would be losing a higher quality player.

Chris writes: I enjoyed reading through the list of potential acquisitions that the Capitals could make by the trade deadline. I was looking at another Minnesota Wild defenseman, however. What are your thoughts trying to trade for Carson Soucy? To me, he looks like a guy similar to picking up Kempny a couple years ago.

Soucy is a left shot, has six goals and six assists which is fairly decent given he plays less than 16 minutes per game, but his PDO is the third-highest on the team and the highest among Minnesota's defensemen so that may have more to do with luck. His analytics aren't great  compared with his teammates so I'm not sure this one would work.

My biggest issue with him is that I'm a big fan of "The Usual Suspects" and his name is close enough that I worry I would call him Keyser Soze by accident, thus torpedoing whatever reporter/player relationship I could have had.

Jason Woodside: Hear me out: Caps bring back Oates to work exclusively with centers on face-offs. Two or three practices a month with no contact allowed with other players. How could he make things worse?

No. He would find a way. Trust me.

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, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
Time:
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
Time:
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
Time:
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
Time:
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
Time:
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."

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