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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Hurricanes now the Caps' biggest rivals?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Are the Hurricanes now the Caps' biggest rivals?

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

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Bo H. writes: Why are people already panicking? I mean there are issues to sort out but 6 out of 8 possible points? All against teams that made it further then them in the playoffs? Including the champions? But you read through some comments and it's like we're San Jose or something.

We can’t have anyone freak out out there, OK? We’ve got to keep our composure! We’ve come too far! There’s too much to lose! We’ve got to keep our composure!

Fans are going to fan. The Caps have not lost in regulation, they are 2-0-2 despite not having Evgeny Kuznetsov for three games or Michal Kempny for any of them and yes, people are upset because the team has lost two games in a row in overtime.

There is no doubt that the early season has shown some problems the team needs to sort through. The power play still looks bad, though it is tough to judge given that Kuznetsov only just got back. Pretty much everything behind the top defensive pair remains a question mark especially the second pair. Michal Kempny’s continued absence still looms large over the defense. The only offense the third line has provided is Kuznetsov’s goal and he has already been moved up to the second line. I knew Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik were not going to light things up, but the team needs more than the zero points they currently boast.

Having said that, we are just four games into the season. Relax, everyone. Problems are going to come up over the course of 82 games.

Stephen H. writes: That loss the other night to Carolina isn’t sitting well with me. With the Penguins in decline and the playoff result last year, are the Hurricanes our top rival now?


They have played one first-round playoff series and one heated preseason game. That's it.

Admittedly, I'm biased. I grew up watching the Dale Hunter, Peter Bondra Caps battle against the Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr Penguins, I will never acknowledge any team other than Pittsburgh as Washington’s biggest rival. Ever. Even when the Caps and New York Rangers met in the playoffs five times over the course of seven years, never once did it cross my mind that the Rangers were a bigger rival than the Penguins. If anything, those series grew tiresome after a while (yet another reason why the NHL's current playoff format to force the same matchups over and over again is dumb).

I don’t think the history between Washington and Pittsburgh or the Alex Ovechkin - Sidney Crosby rivalry can be eclipsed by one first-round series matchup and a mouthy head coach.

I'm not saying there isn't something brewing with Carolina. Geography says these teams should be rivals, but it never really clicked until last season. It’s not just the fact that they played a series, it was Warren Foegele’s hit on T.J. Oshie, Ovechkin’s KO of Andrei Svechnikov, Justin Williams, the fact that the Hurricanes ended Washington’s Stanley Cup defense, a Game 7 double-overtime game and Rod Brind’Amour chirping throughout. Add in what was a crazy preseason game and it looks like there is suddenly a rivalry there.

Then again, the home opener lacked a lot of the juice and fireworks we expected so who knows? But no, to me no one will ever top the Penguins as the Caps’ biggest rival.

John F. writes: Is Alex Alexeyev injury prone or just unlucky?

I feel like it’s both for most players who get saddled with the label of “injury prone” except for Michal Neuvirth who seems to be taken out of the lineup every time the wind changes direction. I get your point though. Alexeyev’s junior career ended because of a knee-on-knee hit and he did not play at all in training camp because of a dirty hit to the head in the Prospects Showcase. There is nothing he can do about that.

The fact remains, however, that Alexeyev never played a full season in the WHL so ultimately we won’t know the answer to this question until after some time as a professional. Let's see how he handles the AHL which, at times, can be more a more physical league even than the NHL.

@NathanSprenger on Twitter writes: Which team ownership is worse? Ottawa Senators or Washington Redskins?


Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.


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Capitals await word on possible Garnet Hathaway suspension

Capitals await word on possible Garnet Hathaway suspension

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway was still waiting to hear about a possible suspension following his spitting incident Monday in a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks
Hathaway spit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the final minute of the second period against the Ducks at the tail end of a brawl seconds after Chandler Stephen’s goal made it 3-0. The NHL Department of Player Safety is not involved in any decision for supplemental discipline. Instead, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department will make the determination. Washington coach Todd Reirden said he was disappointed in Hathaway's action, but defended the player's character, too, after the game Monday. 

"I definitely appreciated that and it went a long way," Hathaway said. "Just to echo what [Reirden] said, that is not how I see myself either. Not the kind of character I want to uphold either. So it is something I regret and it was nice Todd said that stuff."
The Capitals play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Tight against the salary cap and already playing with a short roster, coach Todd Reirden said there are moves coming to ease that crunch whether Hathaway is suspended or not. 
"I think you always have to prepare,” Reirden said. “We're going to be making a few transactions here later today and tomorrow morning, and it'll all kind of combine into the decisions that we make."
One move could be placing forward Carl Hagelin on long-term injured reserve. He sustained an upper-body injury in a Nov. 7 game against the Florida Panthers. Hagelin must miss 10 games and 24 calendar days, however, to make that move retroactive. He skated again in a light blue non-contact jersey at practice on Tuesday. 
That almost certainly rules Hagelin out for the Rangers game. That would be his seventh game in a row out of the lineup. Because of the 10/24 rule and a compressed schedule, Hagelin would actually have to miss through the Nov. 30 game against the Detroit Red Wings, which would be an 11th game missed.
The Detroit contest is the beginning of a four-game road trip that continues in California. Hagelin would be eligible to play again Dec. 3 at the San Jose Sharks.   
Another option is a player with a more concerning injury. Fourth-line center Nic Dowd had a serious cut on his left hand against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 13. He has missed three games in a row, but the injury is considered more serious. Dowd would not be able to return until a Dec. 9 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 
“He's a little bit more serious than we anticipated, so he's still not on the ice,” Reirden said. “I'm going to wait to get final word from our trainer and I'll speak on that when I have that news.”
Dowd has a salary-cap hit of $750,000. Hagelin is at $2.75 million. The Capitals are down to $259,059 current daily cap space, according to the web site, and has been juggling players between the NHL and AHL roster (goalie Ilya Samsonov, defenseman Tyler Lewington, Travis Boyd, Vitek Vanacek, Liam O’Brien) thanks to the untimely injuries to Dowd and Hagelin. 
A possible Hathaway suspension complicates that further. The Capitals are headed to New York on Tuesday afternoon, but NHL executives are busy with the General Managers' meetings in Toronto so it is possible they don't find out for sure until Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. 
“I haven't really thought about it, but you never want to sit and leave guys hanging and not be able to help out,” Hathaway said. “So this is a group that it would be unfortunate if I wasn't [playing], but they are a team that can handle themselves and not worried about them in the outcomes of games." 


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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Travis Boyd knew the situation when he came into training camp. He knew the Capitals were tight against the salary cap even before the team signed several depth forwards who could potentially push him out of the lineup. He knew he would have to scratch and claw to keep his spot. Initially, however, he was not able to show the Caps why he deserved to remain on the NHL roster. When Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from suspension early in the season, Boyd was among the odd-men out and reassigned to Hershey in the AHL.

Fate, perhaps, is now intervening as Boyd has been called up twice due to injuries and he has certainly made the most of those opportunities. Now in his second call-up, Boyd is showing the coaches in real NHL games what he could not in the preseason, that he is an NHL player and that the Caps are better for having him on the roster.

“It's been a tough year so far definitely, but try not to think about it,” Boyd said. “That's the part of this that's out of your hands. My focus has been every game I've had a chance to play this year, just try to go out there and play well and make it a tough decision for them whether to send me back down or not. Just try and play well every game and get another chance and continue to show what I can do.”

In just eight games, Boyd has already contributed six points (1 goal, 5 assists). That’s more points than Carl Hagelin (5), Nic Dowd, (4), Chandler Stephenson (4) and Richard Panik (1), all of whom have played more games. Boyd is also contributing with limited ice time. Dowd and Brendan Leipsic are the only Caps currently averaging less than Boyd's 10:03 of ice time per game.

Promoted to the third line for Monday’s game, it took Boyd just 50 seconds to end Panik’s point drought, setting up his linemate with a pass from behind the net that Panik fired into the far corner.

The main issue for Boyd is that, apart from his offense, he does not provide much else. He is not good enough to play on the power play and not well suited for the penalty kill. He plays more of a finesse style than the heavy, physical style the Caps covet.

“It's more than just points,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “Obviously we want our lineup to have a certain identity to it and be able to play a particular way that we feel gives us a chance to have success and that's a heavier, more physical, aggressive forechecking style. So those are types of things that he can continue to add [to his game].”

But, even if Boyd does not contribute those big hits, he does provide something that right now may be even more valuable: a small cap hit.

With a total cap hit of only $800,000, Boyd has the third-lowest cap hit among the team's forwards and fifth-lowest among all players on the current roster.

Given how dire the Caps’ salary cap situation is, the fact that the team could potentially save money against the cap by replacing someone on the roster with Boyd cannot be ignored.

So tight against the salary cap was Washington that when Panik returned from LTIR, the team reassigned both Boyd and Tyler Lewington to Hershey leaving them with only six defensemen and 12 healthy forwards, the bare minimum. So tight against the cap was the team that when both Dowd and Hagelin were injured, the team recalled Lewington, a defenseman, because he has the lowest cap hit and was the only player the team could afford to call up. So tight against the cap was Washington that the next day the team sent down future starter Ilya Samsonov and replaced him with Vitek Vanecek just to get enough cap hit to recall Boyd in order to skate four full forward lines.

Clearly, the team’s cap situation is not sustainable.

Forget about when the team travels to California at the start of December and will need to bring extra players in case of injury, this already has proven to be a problem for the team. They need more cap room.

Even if the cap situation did not necessitate some sort of move to free up space, Boyd is showing through his play that he deserves to remain with the Caps. The impact he is having on the ice is undeniable.

When asked if Boyd was competing to potentially stay in Washington, Reirden did not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He's known that. The message has been clear to him. Especially as we're getting closer here to 30 days with him and a decision having to be made again, he's doing everything he can with his game to be able to prove every night that he deserves an elevated role or to be here. Certainly with the low cap hit and the offense he's been able to generate make it an intriguing situation for sure.”

Once the team gets healthy again, the Caps will have no choice but to send someone back to Hershey, but both Boyd’s production and his cap hit dictate that it should not be him.

“I think I am an NHL player,” Boyd said, “But ultimately with the way that everything has worked out so far this year, every game I get is just another chance to show that.”