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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Caps good enough to go on another deep run?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be 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.

I don’t know why Wilson and Gudas’ relationship would be any different from anyone else on the team. From what I have heard, Gudas is a very nice guy off the ice and there are few players, if anyone, who is as nice as Wilson. If you are asking because they fought once before, that does not matter. It was years ago, back when Gudas was in Tampa Bay. It is not like either player has been holding a grudge ever since. Don’t forget, Dmitrij Jaskin’s last fight was against Wilson in 2017 and he was still welcomed into Washington. This won’t be an issue.

As for their relationship on the ice, let’s just say there are a lot of teams that are going to be looking over their shoulders for 60 minutes every single game when they play the Caps.

Mike K. writes: Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t point produced but he’s strong on the puck and tough on the boards and has been able to create his own shot in tight spaces. I’m puzzled by the shunning when he’s been a difference maker on the ice. Brian MacLellan clearly sees talent which is why they kept him. Does he have a chance to earn a bottom 6 role? Do you have a projected top 9? Can we make a deep run with this roster?

When it comes to Jaskin they have to sign him first.

Like you, I was puzzled with how Jaskin was used over the season. He seemed to play well every time he got into the lineup, but for whatever reason, Todd Reirden did not appear to be a fan. Now as a restricted free agent, his future with the team is up in the air.

For most restricted free agents, it is an easy decision to bring them back. With Washington tight up against the salary cap, however, they may not be enough cap space to commit to him if he is not going to have a more regular role in the lineup.

It is clear the fourth line needs an upgrade. Is Jaskin good enough that he represents an upgrade or is the team better off letting him walk and saving as much cap space as possible to pursue more productive options? If he does sign, his role would be on the fourth line.

My projected top-nine as of now:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin – Lars Eller – free agent or trade

I ultimately do not think Connolly or Andre Burakovsky end up back with the team so they will need to find someone to plug into that third line who is not yet on the roster. This is where the salary cap not being determined yet or potentially being lower than that projected $83 million really hurts.

Can they make a deep run? It depends on who they get. I am not going to overreact to last season. The roster is roughly the same as the one that won the Cup and there was no reason to dismantle it just because they ran out of gas in the playoffs. Having said that, it is a fair question to ask when you could potentially lose Connolly, Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt NIskanen and Brooks Orpik and replace them with Radko Gudas whoever they can afford through trades and free agency.

I will say yes, the team can still go on a deep run with the caveat that I want to see what the roster looks like after free agency. If they completely whiff and fail to address their need for depth offense, then I will change my opinion.

Nathan S. writes: Why is NHL behind the trend set by MLB and NFL where managing and coaching trends are toward younger and more innovative leaders (Alex Cora and Sean McVay come to mind)?

Be careful what you wish for. The trend for younger managers in the MLB largely stems from the analytics movement that, in my opinion, completely undervalues managers. If you are managing just based on analytics, you can go cheaper and younger and it won’t matter. But those managers do not know how to manage players and personalities. I am not a dinosaur, I recognize the value of analytics and I am not arguing for the antiquated notion that numbers can’t tell us anything because the game is played on the field and not on the spreadsheet. But you cannot pretend that managing players and a team is just about the numbers.

Having said that, I see what you’re saying. Hockey very much as an “old guard” problem. Whenever a head coaching vacancy opens up, it always seems like the same candidates and coaches are recycled over and over again. There is just a different mentality in hockey that says you have to have the experienced coach in order to succeed. In the NFL and MLB, however, a lot of teams are starting to take the exact opposite approach believing that you have to find someone willing to be different in order to succeed.

This is changing a bit in the NHL as we have seen a few more general managers venture into the college ranks to find head coaches. Hopefully that will lead to other general managers looking outside the box to find their next bench boss. Really all it takes is for one coach to find success, then everyone will follow.

Rodney O. writes: Has a team ever won a Stanley Cup and their affiliate (ECHL, AHL) won the league championship as well in the same year?

The Stanley Cup winners have seen their AHL affiliates go on the win the Calder Cup in the same year three times. Both the Montreal Canadiens and affiliate Nova Scotia Voyageurs won in 1976 and 1977 as did the New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats in 1995. Those two Montreal wins came before the ECHL was founded and the 1995 winner of the Kelly Cup was the Richmond Renegades who, at the time, was the affiliate of the Hartford Whalers so no, it does not appear an organization has ever been able to pull off the triple NHL, AHL, ECHL championship.

Nathan S. writes: How much of the fact that no Canadian team has won the SC since 93 and many Canadian teams struggle to even make the playoffs consistently because so many players are reluctant to play in Canada (even Canadians) because of taxes, media/fan pressure, weather, and lack of endorsement opportunities?

Taxes are something analysts love to talk about, but I truly believe that is more of a talking point than a factor in players not going to Canada. I am not saying it doesn’t matter, I’m just saying I do not believe it matters as much as we think it does. There are still big-money players in Canada and let’s not forget that Toronto won the John Tavares sweepstakes, the biggest free agency extravaganza in years. Before you say, Tavares doesn’t count because he grew up a Toronto fan, that is exactly my point. Of all the factors that went into his decision, the positives outweighed the negatives such as taxes.

Also, it’s not as if every team in the U.S. is tax-free. Only four states with NHL teams -- Florida, Texas, Nevada and Tennessee -- do not have any income tax while California has the highest income tax in the country. And yet both Anaheim and Los Angeles have won the Cup since 1993 and San Jose is seemingly always in contention.

I would also quibble with your idea that there are limited endorsement opportunities. I think there are plenty of those in Canadian markets especially Toronto and Montreal.

As for your other factors, media and fan pressure is real and I think definitely a factor. You hear a lot of relief from players who leave Toronto and are able to walk down the street without getting harassed by fans and media. Weather can be a factor and you hear a lot of players list Winnipeg and Edmonton on their no trade lists because of this and because there is a perception that there is nothing to do there. Then again, the weather is nice in Arizona and you do not exactly see players lining up to be a Coyote.

For me, the two biggest factors are the league’s efforts to expand to more American markets and the salary cap. Since 1990, the NHL has added 10 teams, 11 if you count Seattle in 2021. Only two of those new teams were in Canada, eventually three when the Atlanta Thrashers eventually moved to Winnipeg. In 1990, seven of 21 teams were in Canada, or one-third of the league. As of 2021, seven out of 32 teams will be in Canada. That’s less than a quarter. Simple math says those teams will not win as much.

Second, while the salary cap was not instituted until 2005, it mitigated one of the biggest advantages teams like Montreal and Toronto had. Those teams are held in high regard because of history and tradition, but in terms of money they are just like everyone else, beholden to the same salary cap.

Thanks for all of your questions!. If you have a question you want to be read and 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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