Capitals

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? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Darci Wells writes: What do you think is the cause of so many consecutive losses?

Brian Murphy writes: The mental state of this team is as weak as a team can be. Their issues are MUCH deeper than “right defenseman hole”, not scoring, etc. For sure, they’re a TOTAL MENTAL MESS. To me, that signifies a deeper, locker room issue that isn’t “public”. My gut and instinct tells me something deeper is the root of their issues. What sayeth you?

Everyone has an answer for this. Half the mailbag submissions this week weren't questions at all, but just people telling me what was wrong with the team. The funny thing is, everyone has a different answer. Some think it's the coaches, some think the team is mentally soft, some think they are getting physically pushed around, some think it's the turnovers, some think it is the power play, some think it's the penalties, some think it's the defense, some think it's the breakouts.

The fact is, there is no one issue. It's not as black and white as some people on Twitter would make you believe. There are a bunch of problems right now.

 

What really stands out to me is the team's complete inability to build any momentum. Alex Ovechkin's 700th goal tied the game in the third period against a bad New Jersey Devils team...and they lost. You would expect the team to be able to skate through a wall at that point, but that momentum didn't even last them through the period. When the Caps beat Pittsburgh on Feb. 23, the momentum from that win carried them about halfway through the next game as they build a 3-0 lead over the Winnipeg Jets...then allowed the Jets to rally to force overtime. Washington escaped with the shootout win. That was more momentum than they got from Saturday's win in Pittsburgh in one of their most complete games of the season...and that didn't even carry them through the first period Monday in a 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, one of the worst teams in the NHL.

Every team has goes through and they eventually play their way out of it. A team builds on a good period and it turns into a good game. A team builds on a good game and they are able to string a few of those games together and boom,  you're out. Washington can't do that. The Caps have been trying to do that since February and they can't. To me, that's mental. There is a mental issue with this team right now and until they figure that out, things are not going to get better.

Mark LaPenna writes: Does anyone other than me and my son think that maybe the coaching staff is the issue? The head coach is in his second year, makes no in-game adjustments and doesn't seem to have the hammer over the team as an experienced head coach. The assistants are relatively new at this with no prior head coaching experience.

Let's clear some things up first. To say Reirden makes no in-game adjustments is just patently false. They may not be working at the moment, but let's not characterize the team's current struggles as the result of a coach just sitting on his hands. Also, Scott Arniel does have head coaching experience both in the NHL and AHL. When Barry Trotz was the head coach, his staff was Reirden, Blain Forsythe and Lane Lambert. None of those three had previous NHL head coaching experience. Having said that, your point that your point is well taken. There's not a lot of prior NHL head coaching experience on the bench right now.

As I wrote above, the issue is not black and white so I am not going to say that coaching is the only issue, but it is absolutely fair to say the coaching should be better. The coach receives the credit or the blame for a team's season so if the Caps cannot get out of this current funk, that is going to reflect on Reirden and his staff and he knows it.

 

Jason Woodside writes: Can you point to one systemic issue that Todd Reirden and staff have actually addressed and corrected in their time since his promotion? It kind of just seems like certain things have been getting worse for two years now.

This is why the task of taking over a Stanley Cup-winning team is an impossible one. Winning a championship alters everyone's memory of everything that happened leading up to it. Let's not pretend like the four years under Barry Trotz was all sunshine and roses. The Caps had their issues under him as well and, just like with Reirden, everyone was very quick to blame him for all their problems. Remember this? That article was written just before the 2018 postseason. That wasn't just an isolate hot take, that article reflected the feeling of a lot of Caps fans at the time.

Todd Reirden is much more patient with younger players than Trotz was. Jakub Vrana was benched at the drop of a hat under Trotz and I can guarantee you that Jonas Siegenthaler would not be leading the team in shorthanded ice time. Every coach makes seemingly weird personnel decisions. For Reirden you can point to Dmitrij and Travis Boyd. For Trotz it was Vrana and Connolly. Trotz played seven defensemen in the playoffs after not doing it all season rather than play Connolly.

You can probably add John Carlson to that list as well. He 55 points in his first season under Trotz and those totals went down to 39 and 37 the next two seasons. It shot up to 68 in 2017-18, but that was out of necessity with Matt Niskanen suffering an injury and a third pair that could not be relied on for significant minutes. I don't think Trotz really knew how best to utilize him leading to his breakout season coming when Trotz had no choice but to play him like a top-pair player.

I'm not saying Reirden is a better coach, I am just saying let's not pretend Trotz never made mistakes.

Cole Cohen writes: The Caps seem to not be able to get out of the penalty box. How long can they rely on the penalty kill and how can they stay out of the box?

You can't give up five or six power plays a game and expect the penalty kill to bail you out. That's asking too much. Frustration is part of it. When Carlson cross checks Brendan Lemieux in the face in the third period of a tie game, that's frustration boiling over. The other thing this shows is that the Caps are having trouble holding onto the puck. Teams with the puck don't take that many hooking, slashing and holding penalties.

Micah Reed writes: When will enough be enough for the powerplay? If we claim its the players not making right decisions then why don’t they put new players in? I get that they want the best talent on the powerplay...but clearly the best talent isn’t getting it done. Will the Caps do what is necessary to fix the powerplay?

 

Who would you put in? The power play is not going to get better with Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin and if he tried that, you and a lot of other people would be writing to me saying WHY IS HATHAWAY ON THE POWER PLAY INSTEAD OF JAKBU VRANA? WHAT IS REIRDEN DOING!?!?

The Caps have plenty of scoring talent. The problem is the puck distribution. Watch the Buffalo Sabres' first power play on Monday and see how quickly they distribute the puck. They know where the puck is going before it even gets to their stick and the penalty kill can't keep up. It's not just about getting the puck to Ovechkin or to the slot, it's about drawing the penalty kill out of position while you're doing it. Washington is far too slow distributing the puck and the penalty kill has a much easier time covering it.

Adam Oates writes: I have a suggestion to fix the power play. Hear me out. Let's try Alex Ovechkin in goal, John Carlson at center, Nicklas Backstrom also at center but with a right-handed stick, Tom Wilson standing perfectly still at the point, and Radko Gudas in the Ovechkin spot using Ovechkin’s gloves and yellow laces. Holtby can hang out by the bench with Captain cause he's fluffy. Thoughts?

Points for creativity.

Brian Murphy writes: Al Koken made a very good point on the postgame show. Todd Reirden benched Nic Dowd for a couple of shifts after his two penalties, yet Evgeny Kuznetsov gets his normal shift after the softest turnover you’ll ever see. Clearly there’s no consistency & shows favoritism to top liners. That’s very problematic in the locker room. Thoughts?

Al Koken and I were actually watching the game together and we spoke about this as it happened. I made the same point on an episode of the Capitals Talk podcast as well. Benching players is a slippery slope in that it is easy for a coach to paint himself into a corner. It's the third period, the Caps needed Kuznetsov on the ice, but you just benched Dowd earlier in the game for his mistake, why not Kuznetsov?

I think everyone recognizes there are different rules for different players and different players react to different things. I don't think Kuznetsov would have reacted to a benching the same way Dowd did. Having said that, the biggest problem I had with it is just how quickly Kuznetsov was on the ice. Take him off for a shift or two just to at least try to get the message across, but while also not shooting the team in the foot. Or, if you don't want to do that, switch him and Nicklas Backstrom for a period. That' what the lines were like for half of the season anyway.

 

Brian Murphy writes: I believe you’ve contradicted yourself. If I remember correctly, you wrote in response to a previous question that the head coach is usually more responsible for the defense. Yet mentioned that Todd Reirden had more of a hand with the defense when he was Barry Trotz’s assistant. Make no mistake, Trotz is known for his defensive coaching. I’m confused by your apparent contradiction.

I'm sorry if this was confusing. The head coach sets the system, but how big of a role assistants have varies from staff to staff. As I said, Reirden had a much larger role on Trotz's staff than Cashman has on Reirden's. If you want to dispute that because Trotz is a defensive coach and because you're upset with the way the defense is playing now so you want to undercut any role Reirden had on the Cup run, I don't know what to tell you other than to say Reirden absolutely played a significant in 2018. There's no truthful answer I can give that will fit the narrative I think you're trying to push.

John Leach writes: Do you think it might be time for the Capitals to really shake their forward lines up? The lines have pretty consistently been Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson, Vrana-Backstrom-Oshie, Panik (now Kovalchuk)-Eller-Hagelin, and Leipsic (now Panik)-Dowd-Hathaway all year, barring suspensions and/or injuries-- the biggest change to the top six since the new year was switching Backstrom and Kuznetsov. There is some fluidity in the lineup with Kovalchuk occasionally playing with Ovi and Kuznetsov, but the lines more or less remain the same from game-to-game. Do you think some adjustments to at least the top nine are in order?

I am OK with the offensive lines as they are. Washington ranks second in the NHL in goals per game with 3.42. Yes, Ovechkin's 48 goals has a lot to do with that, but so does Oshie, Vrana and Wilson all scoring over 20 goals and Carlson's 75 points. The third and fourth lines have been very good since the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk. The fluidity in the lineup is largely at the end of penalty kills. Rather than throw out the regular lines after a PK, the coach uses the players who were sitting on the bench. Obviously Ovechkin, Kuznesov and Kovalchuk do not play on the penalty kill. Every team does this.

Of all the problems the Caps have right now, I would not put offense as one of the. The lines are working just fine right now, no real reason to switch it up.

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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