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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What happened to the scoring depth?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What happened to the scoring depth?

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.

Nathan S. writes: Why are Caps so bad against Dallas Stars?

Every team has that one matchup that never seems to go their way. For the Caps, it’s Dallas and that continued on Tuesday. That is now the third straight overtime loss they have suffered at the hands of the Stars and the 13th loss in their last 16 meetings.

These kinds of things are baffling because the coaches change, the players change, everything changes so you can't say this is simply a matchup issue.

These kind of streaks are often -- not always, but frequently -- between two teams from different conferences. The East and West play a different style of hockey. You do not play against the same players as often and you do not coach against the same coaches as often. That can make it harder to know what to expect and some teams are able to get the upper hand as a result.

Is there a mental aspect to it? Maybe a little, especially with guys like me asking the players about it every time these games come up, but that is not the entire explanation. You think Garnet Hathaway or Radko Gudas are worried about playing Dallas? They are new to Washington. The streak against the Stars doesn't mean anything to them. Yet, here we are one day after another loss. These two teams play again on Saturday so maybe the Caps can get a win in that one.

Douglas F. writes: This seems like a season where offensive depth isn't with the Washington Capitals. Was this offseason about getting more grit and heavy hitters for the 3rd/4th lines and bottom pairing for the defense?

Yes, in part. Brian MacLellan definitely wanted to add size to the lineup, but not at the expense of speed. The lesson of having a matchup nightmare like Tom Wilson on the roster is not lost on him.

MacLellan was asked about this on a conference call in July after the free-agent frenzy.

“In our mind, I think you need a certain amount of heaviness -- you can't have too heavy of a lineup -- and you need a certain amount of skill and speed,” he said. “The thing I like about [Richard] Panik and [Garnet] Hathaway is that they both skate well. Garnet had good north-south speed. Panik is a really good skater for his size. So, I don't think that we're sacrificing on the speed side to add heaviness. I think we got big players that can skate and play well.”

The Caps also needed to improve their fourth line and especially needed to improve team defense and that was what really shaped the offseason plan.

I wrote an in-depth piece about this in July which you can read here, but something that was not talked about much last year was just how bad the Caps were as a team on defense.

Per Natural Stat Trick, only one team in the NHL allowed more high-danger chances over the course of the 2018-19 season than the Caps. Washington held the third-worst high-danger scoring chance percentage and has seen that percentage get worse in each of the past five seasons. In 2016-17, Washington allowed just 2.16 goals per game. Over the past two seasons, that average has skyrocketed to 2.90 in 2017-18 and 3.02 in 2018-19.

Not only was the team bad at defense, but it was also progressively getting worse each year. The salary cap had a lot to do with what MacLellan did in the offseason, but so did defense. Washington could not afford Matt Niskanen anymore so he was traded for Radko Gudas who, at this point in their respective careers, is a better defenseman than Niskanen. RIchard Panik, a two-way forward who can play the penalty kill, was signed as a replacement for the less versatile Connolly. Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic are also very good at shot suppression and bolstered a fourth line that contributed very little last season.

MacLellan really showed his hand when he re-signed Hagelin. With Brett Connolly also in need of a new contract, the team could only afford to keep one. MacLellan elected to re-sign the speedy penalty kill specialist over the 20-goal scorer.

On paper, the team got better defensively, on the penalty kill and on the fourth line, but this came at the expense of scoring depth, namely Connolly and Andre Burakovsky. If you prevent more goals from going in your net then presumably the Caps won’t need to score as many on their own, but I think there is a definite possibility this offense could become dangerously top-heavy and overly dependent on its top-six.

Benjamin C. writes: Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik obviously aren’t really goal scorers but they’ve been the quietest line production-wise so far. How much does Lars Eller boost them?

Actually between Hagelin, Eller and Panik, the player with the best offensive season in his career is Panik. He is the only one of the three to top 20 goals and 40 points in a season in his career. Yes, that season came on a line with Jonathan Toews, but clearly Panik can raise his game depending on who he plays with. Eller is certainly an offensive upgrade over Chandler Stephenson, but I think the guy who is going to be relied on to score the most goals on that third line is Panik. You should not expect 20 goals, but I think all three players will be looked on to score 10-15 goals and at least 30 points.

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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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.

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Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Samsonov weathers the Lightning in shutdown performance

Ilya Samsonov got the difficult assignment on Saturday of playing on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He proved to be up to the challenge with a brilliant performance in net, leading the Capitals to the 5-2 victory, their second win over the Lightning in 16 days.

Here is how Washington won.

Ilya Samsonov

There's no question who the player of this game was. Samsonov was brilliant in this game. He had an immediate impact as the Lightning came out firing. Samsonov robbed Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev all in the first five minutes of the game.

Samsonov did not fade down the stretch either. Tampa Bay dominated in the second period and Samsonov turned aside 10 of the 11 shots he faced. For the game, he stopped 26 out of 28.

The fourth line and top line team up

The Lightning were all over Washington at the start of the game and Samsonov was the only reason Tampa Bay did not take advantage. A really strong shift by the fourth line for Washington seemed to settle everything down. Soon after, the Caps were celebrating a 1-0 lead.

Defenseman Jan Rutta had the puck behind the net. Ondrej Palat came wheeling around for the handoff and Alex Ovechkin saw him coming. As Palat wheeled one way, Ovechkin came charging the other. That forced Rutta to flub the pass and the puck bounced right in front of the net to a wide-open Nicklas Backstrom who fired it into the net.

Incidental contact

Tampa Bay thought they had the tie early in the second when Carter Verhaeghe finally got one past Samsonov, but the goal was immediately waved off for goalie interference.

Mathieu Joseph and John Carlson were battling in the defensive zone when Joseph was skated into Samsonov. He was not necessarily pushed, but he and Carlson battled their way into the Caps' netminder, which did not allow Samsonov the chance to defend against Verhaeghe's shot.

You never know what can happen with a goalie interference call, but in this case the referee got it right. It was no goal for incidental contact and no penalty for goalie interference.

The bottom-six

These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL. But that's not all it takes to win in the NHL and the Caps' showed off their depth in the third period, which really proved to be the difference.

With the game tied at one, Dmitry Orlov made a great play at the offensive blue line to get the puck over to Richard Panik despite the immediate pressure he faced. Panik set up Lars Eller who one-timed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Just 45 seconds later the fourth line came streaking down the ice and Brendan Leipsic teed up Garnet Hathaway, who took it in on net and chipped it through Vasileskiy.

Those two quick goals suddenly turned the game on its head. To that point, the Lightning had been the better team. After that, the Caps were dominant.

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