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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Try not to panic

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Try not to panic

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.

Jason Woodside writes: Where does the blame fall for this underwhelming stretch of play? Is this just a bad stretch or are cracks appearing in the foundation?

Nathan S. writes: Are the Capitals' defensive woes in your view because of their structure not matching the players’ skills, the coaching staff not employing it properly or are the players (defensemen and forwards) just not good defensively? Or is it a combination of all three?

Not surprisingly, defense is a major topic of conversation this week. Things are bad right now. It's been my feeling for a while that this team won't go far with its defense as constructed and boy have things gotten ugly.

I asked around the locker room about the defense on Tuesday and got some pretty basic answers, but that's not a surprise because the last two games we have seen very basic problems. Turnovers, missed assignments, horrible puck management, misplays on the rush, missed assignments, these are basic things. For much of the season the Caps have outscored their problems and when a team has success, there is less urgency within the locker room to fix those problems. It's human nature. This is why teams will follow a long winning streak with a losing streak.  Washington has been relying on its offense, and lately just Alex Ovechkin, to bail it out. You can't always rely on Ovechkin to get a hat trick in the final six minutes of a game. The result is that poor defensive play is now getting exposed and, when that happens, frustration sets in. Monday's game was a frustrated team abandoning its defensive structure and every man chasing the puck like they were the mites on ice.

Those things, however, are correctable and will improve over time. No team is ever as bad as its worst slump and the Caps are no exception. There are, however, two larger issues that are of greater concern to me than their recent play. The first is the obvious hole in the top four. Nick Jensen and Radko Gudas are both third-pair defensemen. This team does not have a defenseman who can play on the right of the second pair next to Dmitry Orlov.

Were you surprised to see Martin Fehervary called up when he was? You shouldn't be. You also shouldn't be surprised that he played most of those three games on the second pair. This team needs a top-four right defenseman in the worst way and was experimenting to see if a Fehervary-Orlov pair could be the solution.

The other issue is that Michal Kempny is not having a very good season at all. When two out of the top four defensemen are question marks, that's a problem and this is what will keep the team from a deep playoff run if not addressed. Trading for a right defenseman is now a necessity. I would also think we could see a lot more of Jonas Siegenthaler playing with John Carlson. They seem to work well together, though this would complicate the penalty kill structure as Reirden really wants to lean on the third defensive pair on the penalty kill to keep the defense fresh though games.

One quick note on Reirden as I think both these questions hint that perhaps coaching is the problem (and even if that was unintentional, plenty of people on Twitter are), my feeling on coaching is that team performance is the ultimate reflection of the coach and the book on Reirden as a head coach is going to be written based on what they do in the playoffs. I am not putting much stock into this current slump just as I am not putting much stock into the success of the first half of the season. Last year Reirden was put in an impossible situation and the team rebounded from a slow start and a seven-game losing streak to win the division. I felt that was an impressive first year for a head coach, but none of that mattered because they lost int he first round of the playoffs and, in my view, questionable coaching decisions played a factor. That's not the only reason why they lost, but it was a factor. Knowing this, to me whatever happens in the regular season is largely meaningless. OK, if the Caps collapse to the point that they could fall out of a playoff spot that's an issue, but frankly I'm not going to judge Reirden on an in-season slump. I'm going to judge him based on how he manages this team in the playoffs. Until then, my grade for him is incomplete.

Steve Singer writes: For me, the two biggest weaknesses on this very good Capitals team are the taking of penalties (thank goodness for the PK) and the powerless Power Play. On the first item, what can the Caps do better to clear the puck out of the zone, reduce the forechecking pressure, and thus limit their penalties? On the second item, what else can they do to energize their lifeless power play?

In fairness to Steve, this email was sent before the last two games, but I have been saying for weeks that this team's biggest weakness is defense and I don't think there is any debate. Having said that, these two issues do need to be addressed.

When it comes to penalties, you are correctly recognizing part of the issue is possession of the puck. When a team is taking as many penalties as the Caps are, it is usually the result of a team chasing the play. Teams that have the puck a majority of the time don't need to hook, slash or hold. The interesting thing is that the team's Corsi-For percentage, a stat that is loosely used to measure possession, ranks seventh in the NHL. When it comes to high-danger Corsi-for percentage, they move down to 16th at 50.10-percent which makes a bit more sense as penalties often come out of desperation.

To me, they need to cut back on the turnovers more than anything. The turnovers are putting everyone out of position and they are reacting with penalties. The first thing this team needs to do is stick to short, easy passes. I don't know why this team is allergic to easy passes, but if I see one more cross-ice pass from a defenseman from the goal line trying to hit someone on the offensive blue line, I'm going to tear my hair out. And that's just from someone analyzing the game from the press box. I can't imagine how it must feel watching that on the bench.

As for the power play, that leads me to the next few questions....

Benjamin Cross writes: This power play has been absolutely terrible. Bad zone entries, barely any zone time, going through the motions like It’s some sort of boring routine, pucks forced back to John Carlson. When will this power play get it together? Why can’t Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana be more creative with their skills and find something new?

Erik Kampmann writers: How many more short-handed goals do the Caps need to give up before the coaching staff REALLY makes some changes on the power play? Switching the position of Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson during the PP doesn't seem to confuse defenders at all. Other teams have figured out how to defend our weak power play and the Caps coaching staff has yet to figure out a better system. What would you suggest?

Douglas Forsyth writes: With our PP struggling recently, is that the Capitals number 1 priority heading into the deadline?

Again, I don't put the problems on the power play anywhere close to the defense. This team can go far with a good defense and a horrible power play. A team with a horrible defense and a great power play is going nowhere fast.

Having said that, I don't want to see major changes to the structure of the power play at this point. I think that's an overreaction. With Ovechkin nearing 700 goals, I've talked to a lot of players around the league about him and everyone says how he is indefensible on the power play. So when the team started to struggle the solution was to put Jakub Vrana on the top unit where he could not be used to shoot, move Evgeny Kuznetsov to the second unit where he has no one to play with and move Ovechkin to the right? Why?

Those are big changes and they were all bad ones.

The issues on the power play aren't hard to diagnose. Yes, it is predictable in that the team wants to get the puck to Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie in the slot, but four penalty killers can't defend against that if you are moving the puck quickly and purposefully. Right now this is what we see on the power play: pass, stickhandle, stickhandle, stickhandle, pass back, stickhandle, stickhandle, pass back, stickhandle, stickhandle, force a pass through traffic, turnover, clear.

Keep moving the puck and for Heaven's sake, Nicklas Backstrom needs to shoot more. The amount of room teams give him when he has the puck is criminal.

If you want more drastic changes, then shuffle the two units so that you can play two power play units that actually have a chance of scoring. Kuznetsov setting up Brendan Leipsic, who has not scored a goal since Nov. 27, is not going to get the job done.

Wilson Thomas writes: I believe that it is time to move on from Panik, and give someone like Travis Boyd a chance on the third line LW spot and free up three million dollars in our tight cap situation. Do you agree?

When you say move on from Panik and free up his cap space, we are talking trade and not just putting him on the bench.

At the risk of repeating myself, what's the biggest issue for the Caps? Defense. Not liking the offensive output of Panik is not high on the list of priorities right now.

I don't know why Boyd has not been given more of an opportunity this year. If Reirden didn't want to break up the third line, fine, but what has the fourth line done the past two months? It was great at the start of the season, but has been practically invisible lately.

The problem with moving Panik off that third line is that Reirden wants to use that line as a shutdown line and Panik is much more of a two-way forward than Boyd is. With the defense playing like it is, I'm not doing anything to boost offense that will come at the expense of the defense.

Benjamin Cross writes: Why does Todd Reirden ignore the Stanley cup-winning top 2 lines?

The Caps won a Cup with Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson on the top line and Jakub Vrana, Backstrom and Oshie on the second. I am surprised we have not seen those lines more than we have over the last two years, but Kuznetsov's play has been largely inconsistent since then so it is hard to justify putting him up on the top line. Ovechkin is scoring like crazy without him and his two-way play certainly does not warrant a bump up to the top line.

Steven Singer writes: After the humbling loss to the Flyers, I had to wonder ... do the Caps play especially poorly when they’re wearing those awful throwback uniforms? And, why would we want to wear uniforms anyway that remind us of 30 years of futility on ice?

How dare you, sir! The team wears the throwback reds because those jerseys and the blue Stadium Series jerseys are tied for the best look this franchise has ever had and it's not close. I love the throwback reds. Having said that, they are 1-6-2 when wearing those jerseys this season so that's not ideal. They are currently scheduled to wear them three more times this season.

Justin Cade writes: John Scott’s co-host on the excellent podcast “Dropping the Gloves” suggested that Tyson Barrie would be a good fit for Washington at the trade deadline. Should the Leafs agree to deal him, what do you think of this idea? Would Barrie help shore up the Caps defense and would he bring anything to the struggling power play? Do you see any other defensemen potentially on the Caps’ radar as the deadline approaches?

It's an interesting point, but a moot one as long as Toronto's blue line is banged up. They can't afford to move anyone off there right now.

But Barrie does check a lot of boxes. He is a good puck-mover and generally a top-four guy, though he has struggled tremendously in Toronto. I don't know who he would play with because putting him with Dmitry Orlov would not seem like a great fit and if that doesn't work then what's the point? This is also highly unrealistic move because the Maple Leafs are very much in win-now mode so if you're Washington, you're not getting him for picks or a prospect, a roster player would have to be going to Toronto and that makes it hard to see how this one would work.

Phillip Martin writes: How do you feel about Dustin Byfuglien if he gets out of his contract and is healthy?

Is he though? The last update from Elliotte Friedman is that he has not even resumed skating yet. I like the thought. A great defenseman who you could potentially get for a dirt-cheap contract just to run out the season and make a playoff run, but I would be stunned if he plays at all this season and certainly would not base any trade deadline decisions on the hope that he could even be an option.

Kevin Easley writes: Given the Caps' glaring need for a righty D-man is there a more perfect potential fit at the trade deadline than Alec Martinez?

Phillip Martin writes: What are your gut feelings about defensemen Zach Bogosian and Sami Vatanen for the Caps?

I have had tons and tons of questions about potential trade targets. Instead of answering each question individually here and on Twitter and in an effort to avoid endlessly repeating myself, I'm going to write on this later in the week, assuming of course the Caps don't make a trade beforehand. Stay tuned.

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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For Capitals coach Todd Reirden and his immune-deficient son, the risks of coronavirus are all too real

For Capitals coach Todd Reirden and his immune-deficient son, the risks of coronavirus are all too real

With the NHL season on pause, the Capitals stand either on the precipice of the playoffs or the offseason. Either way, head coach Todd Reirden has to stay prepared. For now, however, the most important thing on his mind is the safety of his family. While he is not unique in that respect, the dangers presented by the spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, are much more on Reirden's mind than it is for most people.

It can be hard to come to grips with the fact that the world is in the grips of a global pandemic. That has led to a lot of people downplaying the severity of the coronavirus.

"It's basically the flu."

"Only old people can get really sick."

"I'm low risk so I don't need to follow the guidelines."

Sometimes it is hard to realize how serious a situation can be without putting a face to it. For Reirden, however, putting a face to a situation like this one was not difficult at all because of his son, Travis.

"When first news came out of who was going to be most affected by this, obviously it was the elderly and people with compromised immune system and immediately Travis, who's now 17, goes to the top of that list," Reirden said in a conference call on Monday.

Travis has common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder he has had since birth. This disorder leaves his immune system unable to defend against bacteria and viruses.  Being a teenager on its own can be an ordeal, but Travis has had to face his teenage years with the uncertainty that comes with his disorder that is constantly affecting his health. Now with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, this is a very scary time for the Reirden family.

Ironically, during the early stages of the spread of the coronavirus, it may have been an illness that initially kept Travis out of harm's way.

"He was not in school, and it was a little bit of a fortunate break, for the prior month or more coming into this virus and the shutdown of everything," Reirden said. "He had gotten sick, had been tested, had the flu at the end of January. So for him, it takes him a little longer to fight off things. He got a little bit behind in school ...  and they’ve actually put him on a homebound plan, which means that we had a tutor coming to our house and working with him to get him caught up while he was continuing to not just be healthy but also rebuild up his immune system before he went back into the school system. And as he was getting caught up and everything was going good and he was feeling better and all set to go back to school, then there was talk of this coronavirus so we kept him at home."

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But keeping Travis at home was far from the only precaution the family had to take.

Since the spread of the coronavirus, health officials have advised everyone to wash their hands, avoid large groups and practice social distancing. The Reirdens now take this to a serious degree.

"We've really had to be careful about what we're bringing into the house and not leaving and making sure that if we do go out and do something, that we basically leave all of our clothes at the door and make sure that they get washed and wash our hands," Reirden said.

The tutor that was working with Travis is no longer able to come and he now has to do his schoolwork online instead.

Travis was also receiving plasma treatments from a nurse who would come into the family home to administer it to him for several hours. The family elected to forgo those treatments for the time being.

"It was our decision that we made that during this virus and shutdown time that it would not be a good idea to have someone coming into our house at this time," Reirden said. "And Travis felt that someone who had that type of specialization and health background that they should be out helping others who are going through this virus right now and if we could do it as long as we could and he was still feeling healthy then he would go without right now, without any treatments, unless there was an issue."

With the whole world on edge right now, all the added anxiety going through the Reirden household would be tough to take, but Reirden says Travis has approached it all with remarkable maturity.

Not only did he advocate discontinuing plasma treatments to free up the nurse to be used where they may be most needed, but he also has been able to keep things in perspective with his friends.

While his friends struggle to adapt to the current world of health precautions and social distancing, they are getting just a glimpse of how Travis has had to live his life.

“It’s interesting from his standpoint that he’s gone through a lot of these things kind of having to go through this type of deficiency that he has," Reirden said. "Some of his friends are going through now when they’re on Facetime or they’re talking and they’re like, ‘We can’t get together.’ Originally, you couldn’t get together with more than 10 people and those were all decision and you can’t be in groups, and you’ve got to be a little further away from people with social distancing. These are all things that [Travis] does on his own now. So, he’s found that interesting that now his friends are seeing a little bit of how his life has to go when he’s out in the public and the precautions he needs to take just because of the inability to fight off everything as easily as others."

So far, everyone has remained healthy through the pandemic, but this will continue to be nervous times for the Reirdens. While the coronavirus may not seem like a big deal to some, the Reirdens do not have the luxury of being so dismissive.

Said Reirden, "It certainly has made it a different situation in the Reirden household."

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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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