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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What are the Caps weaknesses?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What are the Caps weaknesses?

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

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Neil Murphy writes: Almost through December what do you think the team's biggest weakness is? And what could the possibilities be for the trade deadline at this point?

Sam Shuttuck writes: Do you foresee any moves the Caps need to make at the deadline? Any predictions?

I have talked a bit about this in recent mailbags, but the biggest weakness of this team is defense. They do not have a second-pair right defenseman which is the most glaring hole on the roster. If you are big on analytics, the numbers suggest Michal Kempny is not having a great season and he was on the ice for all three of the Columbus Blue Jackets' goals on Monday. A second weakness is also third line production because they are getting very little of it. If we are talking possible trades, I think the team still has some options for what to do about that third line including Travis Boyd so I am not sure that ranks high on the list of trade targets given this team's cap constraints. Defensively, however, I think right-shot defenseman has to be at the top of the trade list.

If money was not an obstacle, I would say expect the Caps to trade for a right defenseman and a depth forward at the deadline. Considering the team is so tight against the cap, however, I think we are probably just looking at the team acquiring a defenseman. So here's my prediction: The Caps acquire a right defenseman and when the trade is announced the overwhelming reaction will be, "who?"

Top four right defensemen don't come cheap so I think we are most likely looking at a Michal Kempny-type trade; someone who the scouts love who may be underutilized on their current team (and also cheap). It's not going to be a big-name player.

Kath Graninger writes: Who do you think the Caps have the hardest time beating and why? What can the Caps do better when playing this team?

The teams that always seem to give the Caps the most issues are Columbus (as we have seen twice in the past week), Nashville and Florida. I know there have been struggles against Dallas, but Washington is turning that one around with four wins in their last eight matchups.

For Nashville and Florida, the Caps always seem to get into track meets, meaning both teams trade breaks back and forth in a very fast-paced game. Washington does not do well in those type of games. Sure, they can eke out a 5-4 or 6-5 win here and there, but the Caps are at their best when they are playing a physical, grind-it-out style of game and those track meets take them away from what they do best. For some reason Nashville and Florida always seem able to draw the Caps into that type of game. Pittsburgh used to do that a lot too until general manager Jim Rutherford inexplicably tried to turn a fast team that had won two consecutive Cups into a physical team because he hates Tom Wilson.

As for Columbus, we have seen what they can do against Washington over the past two weeks. Braden Holtby tried to explain it after Monday's game saying, "They seem to have a bit of a different game plan against us than most teams do. They come hard to start and then they basically just sit back and play an old-school type style. It's one of those games where one or two go in early, it's a different story. Just a weird game."

The Blue Jackets' were aggressive with the forecheck initially, something else the Caps struggle with as last year's playoff series against Carolina illustrated. When Columbus took the lead, they went all-in on the defense. Washington has an issue with making one too many passes and Columbus just pounced on them every time they did that, suffocating the offense.

John Dulin writes: I get that players don't ever want to sit, but with the Caps as tight to the salary cap as they are, wouldn't it make sense to "take advantage" of certain injuries? Nicklas Backstrom was reinserted into the lineup after missing 8 games; had the team placed him on LTIR retroactively they could've banked quite a bit of salary.

So just a quick clarification on how LTIR works because it is super confusing, when a player is placed on LTIR their cap hit does not come off the books. It continues to count against the cap. The relief that LTIR provides is that it allows teams to go over the cap by a certain amount as determined by a super complicated calculation. Cap Friendly has a great breakdown of the rules that you can read here, but the Caps did not miss out on an opportunity to bank space with Backstrom out.

Having said that, your point is well taken. I have been confused with the way the team has managed some of its injuries this year as well. Michal Kempny. for example, was not placed on LTIR at the start of the season and then missed the first eight games. Maybe they did not anticipate he would miss that many and thought he was closer than he was. The same thing with Backstrom. The reason why that still matters even though they can't bank space is that they did not have enough cap room to bring an extra defenseman with them on the trip. Had someone gotten injured they would have had to play a game with five defensemen. That's why you use LTIR even if there is no cap relief.

The Caps' medical staff is top notch so I assume they know what they are doing, but I am surprised they did not put Kempny or Backstrom on LTIR in either of those situations.

Daniel Thur writes: Do you think Alex Ovechkin will re-sign with the Caps when his contract is up?

Yes, I do. I know there is some consternation from fans, but as long as he is playing at a high level, which he still is, I do not think he will be headed back to Russia. The one issue that gives me pause is the Olympics. If Olympic participation is not guaranteed, would he be tempted to go to Russia so he could play in the Beijing games? I don't think he would do that and especially now that Russia will be once again reduced to competing as Olympic Athletes from Russia.

The KHL can wait. He will always be welcomed back even when his play starts to decline. Until then, I think the competitor in Ovechkin wants to continue playing in the best league at the highest level. And, even if he doesn't want to talk about it, he is still chasing Wayne Gretzky's record.

Franklin Hubbard writes: Can the Capitals sweep a first-round playoff series if all players are healthy?

Depends on who they play. Washington is going to make the playoffs and will likely win the division and the conference so we are looking at a wild card matchup. Teams like Pittsburgh, Toronto and Tampa Bay are not having great seasons to this point. At the very least, none of those teams have cemented themselves in a top-three position in their respective divisions and a wild card spot is a real possibility. Any of those matchups would be a brutal first round. Carolina is also lurking at No. 3 in the Metro, though I would take them over any of those other three.

So yes, the Caps could sweep a wild card team, but what if that team is Carolina, Pittsburgh, Toronto or Tampa Bay? That seems less likely.

Nathan S. writes: What changes would you make in player safety rules and/or the NHL Department of Player Safety as no one seems happy with the way players are punished or not punished for illegal and dangerous hits? Penalize all contact to the head whether it be incidental or not as former NHL player turned safety advocate Ken Dryden proposes?

I absolutely would not penalize all contact to the head because it unfairly penalizes bigger players. When one player hits another cleanly, incidental contact to the head can happen just because of the momentum and force of the hit or because one player is bigger than the other. Penalizing clean hits because of incidental contact to me seems unfair. Zdeno Chara essentially wouldn't be able to hit anyone and neither would Tom Wilson.

You think Wilson is unfairly targeted by refs now? Just wait until even his legal hits become illegal.

Honestly, I would not change much about the DoPS. No one is going to ever be happy with the job they do because fans are always critical of suspensions to their players. The only issue I have is consistency. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for each suspension and I am not just talking about players with history. I get why the punishments go up in those situations. I am talking about situations like last season when T.J. Oshie was slammed to the ice by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey. Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson was suspended two games for the exact same hit which he delivered to Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson earlier in the season. Morrissey? He got a fine.

Seriously, watch those plays. The hits are exactly the same and both players suffered a concussion as a result. That's my issue.

Nathan S. writes: Is there any type of "code" or "unwritten" rule about avoiding big hits at the end of games that are out of reach? Do coaches encourage their players to back off of the physicality late in the game?

Not being in the locker room, I don't know what coaches say, but no, players do not back off when games are out of reach. We see it all the time in the third period of a blowout when the losing team realizes they are not going to win so they decide to take their pound of flesh from the team beating them and things dissolve from there. Obviously there is no unwritten rule against it because we see players do it frequently.

This kind of thing is prevalent enough that the NHL rule book actually has a rule about instigating fights late in a game. Rule 46.12 states that if a player instigates a fight in the final five minutes of a game or at any time in overtime, he will get a minor penalty (instigating), a major penalty (fighting) and a game misconduct penalty. Rule 46.21 goes on to say that when this happens a player will be suspended for one game and that the coach will be fined $10,000 which will double after every incident.

Kathy Graninger writes: There was this video that they put out on NBCSW where Rob Carlin was asking Alex Ovechkin who would be left standing if he, Tom Wilson and Radko Gudas crashed at full speed. Who do you think would be the last man standing?

Ovechkin is an unstoppable force. Nothing knocks him over.

Thanks for all your questions! 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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Alex Ovechkin’s wife Nastya announces the couple is expecting a second child

Alex Ovechkin’s wife Nastya announces the couple is expecting a second child

It’s been an exciting past few days for the Ovechkin family.

Just two days after Alex Ovechkin became the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 career goals, his wife Nastya announced on Instagram that a second child is on the way.

The Ovechkins’ first child, Sergei, is just over 18 months old and has already been sighted on the ice practicing his stick skills with his father. Nastya has posted lots of photos on Instagram of the two of them attending games at Capital One Arena.

With another baby soon to join him, Capitals fans can be rest assured that the number of glimpses into the Ovechkin family’s life will only increase once there are twice as many toddlers running around.

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Wayne Gretzky thinks Alex Ovechkin has a ‘legitimate chance’ to break his all-time goals record

Wayne Gretzky thinks Alex Ovechkin has a ‘legitimate chance’ to break his all-time goals record

There are very few records in sports that are widely recognized by their number alone.

762. The number of home runs Barry Bonds has hit in his career, the most ever by an MLB player. 2,015. The number of rushing yards Eric Dickerson picked up in 1984, the most ever by an NFL player in a single season. 100. The number of points Wilt Chamberlain scored against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962, the most ever scored in an NBA game.

Another such number is 894, the final tally of goals scored by Wayne Gretzky throughout his NHL career. Since he retired in 1999, Gretzky’s all-time goals record has stood as one of the most unbreakable records in sports. The game of hockey has changed so much since his glory days, with goalies adopting more effective goal-stopping methods in front of the net and wearing thicker padding, that it didn’t seem possible for a player to ever reach that lofty of a figure.

That is, until the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin defied the aging curve and continued his torrid goal-scoring pace well into his 30s. After becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 career goals on Saturday, the winger officially thrusted himself into that conversation.

“I texted him the other day,” Gretzky told Rogers Sportsnet. “Alex and I are pretty good friends. He was at 698 and he went a few games without scoring. And I know that feeling. Everyone is watching you. There’s more media attention. You go into a city where you’re used to maybe eight or nine media people and then all of the sudden there’s 20, 25 people there. It takes a little bit of a toll on an individual."

Gretzky added in his conversation with Sportsnet: “I texted him at 698 and said, ‘Just relax, before you know it you’ll be at 700.’ And so when he got to 700 it was a simple, ‘Listen, I know you’re going to get to 800 real quick.’ It’s wonderful for the game with what he’s doing. I compare him to only two players that I know – Gordie Howe and Mark Messier.”

Gretzky, who’s always been lauded for his respect for the game and his opponents, put out a tweet Sunday congratulating Ovechkin for reaching the 700 mark. While speaking with Rogers Sportsnet, he reinforced his previous statements that he’d embrace Ovechkin breaking his record.

“If he breaks my record, I’ll be the first guy to stand there and shake his hand,” Gretzky said. “I think it’s great for our sport. I’m proud of what I accomplished, I know what I did was really hard. But, listen, I think it’d only be a positive for our game if he can break the record.”

Despite Ovechkin playing in his age-34 season, Gretzky believes he has the skills and situation around him that would make it possible for him to break the longstanding record.

“I’ve said a few times the things you’ve got to have in my estimation,” Gretzky said. “You’ve got to play on a good team, first of all. And he plays on a good team. He plays with a centerman who gets him the puck. Secondly, you’ve got to stay healthy. And he stays healthy. And you’ve got to love to play. Alex loves to play, loves to score. He competes hard every night. He likes to win as much as he likes to score and that’s a big, big factor. And so I think that he’s got a legitimate chance.”

While most would find it perfectly understandable for Gretzky to root for Ovechkin to fall short of passing him on the leaderboard, the Hall of Famer looked back at how hockey legend Gordie Howe treated him when he passed Howe for the top spot in 1994. 

“I remember when Gordie was following me around and I was breaking his record, I said to my dad one night, ‘You know, I feel in some ways kind of bad. That’s Gordie Howe,’” Gretzky said. “But my dad said, ’You know what? Somebody is going to break your record and when he does make sure you’re as much a gentleman to him as Gordie Howe was to you. You smile, you shake his hand and you’re proud of what you accomplished. It’s better for the game.’

“And that’s what I always think of. I always think of Gordie Howe and what my dad told me.”

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