Capitals

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

Capitals

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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