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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What does Nicklas Backstrom going agent-less in negotiations really mean?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What does Nicklas Backstrom going agent-less in negotiations really mean?

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.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

David Pittman writes: Do you think the Caps will make any trades at the deadline?

Mark Kinnane writes: Do you think the caps need to make any more serious trades given that we are already stretched by the salary cap and playing like cup contenders?

Yes, I think the Caps need to make a trade. They have a hole in the top four on the right side on defense which is a significant enough position that I have my doubts they can go all the way without addressing this. The problem is they have no cap room to make a trade.

Teams bank cap space throughout the season which allows them the room to add players they otherwise would not have been able to afford under the cap. Washington has banked virtually no space to this point and that's why I expect them to carry just six defensemen for the foreseeable future in a despite the obvious issues that can cause because the team desperately needs the cap space.

Will that be enough to add a big-name player? Probably not. If Brian MacLellan is not willing to trade away a player as part of a deal in order to free up space, then we are probably looking at him going the Michal Kempny route meaning trying to bring in a cheap right defensemen who can't gain traction on his own team, but who the scouts are very high on and hope he turns into a diamond in the rough. That sounds great, but those players are really hard to find. Kempny is more the exception, not the norm.

Kevin Jensen writes: Is Nicklas Backstrom's decision to represent himself in contract negotiations a twist on providing a hometown discount? By not needing to include a percent given to an agent, his take-home amount would be the same for less.

Well, that's an interesting way of looking at it.

If you're asking if that's why Backstrom has elected to represent himself, the answer is no. As he told reporters in California, he knows he wants to stay with the Capitals. The prospect of negotiating with one team rather than 31 is much less daunting and he wanted to do this himself.

Backstrom also said he would have liked to have the deal done before the season. I don't know when exactly Backstrom moved on from long-time agent Marc Levine, but I would not be surprised if the fact that he came into this season without a new contract already in hand had something to do with him deciding to represent himself.

Does the fact that he won't have to pay lead to a bigger hometown discount for Backstrom? I doubt it.

Backstrom has laid his cards on the table here. He wants to be back and is firm enough in that desire that he will represent himself. On the other hand, his $6.7 million cap hit was already a steal. Backstrom would be well within his rights to ask for a significant raise. Plus, no agent means no buffer. MacLellan will have to deal directly with Backstrom and tell him why he's not worth what he's asking for.

I don't see that happening.

Backstrom wants to be back so I don't think he will want to break the bank as much as he could and I don't think the Caps are going to nickel and dime him either.

Ashley Spencer writes: What do you think will be the Caps’ largest hurdle/challenge in the next 11 games?

I believe you are referring to the fact that there are 11 games against Metropolitan Division teams between now and the All-Star break. Those games will include two more games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, two games against the New York Islanders, three games against the New Jersey Devils and three games against the Carolina Hurricanes. In addition, the Caps will also play the Boston Bruins again and the Tampa Bay Lightning twice.

To me, it's not one specific team that will be a challenge, it is playing the same teams over and over again.

For much of the regular season, you play a team once and you forget about it and move on. It is harder to play the same teams repeatedly because they scout you better, they know you better, the games become more contentious.

The Caps are more skilled than most teams in the NHL. On some nights, that's enough to win. The more a team knows you, the more their coaches can gameplan to beat you and the tougher those games become. We see that in the playoffs every year.

Robert Fletcher writes: The Caps are having a fantastic year! With Nicklas Backstrom back where do you put their Stanley Cup win odds at for this season?

High. Washington is certainly among the favorites. I would put the Caps with the Bruins, Blues and Avalanche as the top four contenders this season. Having said that, the defense worries me as I noted above. I am not sure they can go all the way without finding a top-four right defenseman. to play on the second pair

One thing to keep in mind: If the Caps win the division, who gets the wild card? Teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto and Pittsburgh are all struggling more than many anticipated, but all remain in the hunt. If their slow starts means they fall to the wild card any of these teams would be a tough draw for a first-round matchup.

Alex G. writes: How do you think Garnet Hathaway's game has changed since he joined the team? Though I never really saw him play before he came to DC, 2 goals, both 5v5, in one game (particularly against a team like San Jose) seems pretty impressive for a fourth-line forward (granted, he did have really good set-ups on both goals).

Hathaway really hasn't changed his game. This is exactly what MacLellan hoped he was getting when he signed him in the offseason; a physical, grinding fourth-line player with enough skill to produce when given the opportunity.

Hathaway is getting about a minute more of ice time per game than last year, but his ice time is about on par with what he got in 2017-18. He is on pace for about 10 goals which would be just shy of his career-high of 11. He is on pace for about 24 points which would be a career-high, but otherwise, his numbers all seem pretty much consistent for him.

The reason why you are seeing such an impact from him is because you are seeing his entire line have an impact on the game which a lot of teams do not get from their fourth line.

Chris Couch writes: Does Holtby sit-in on the penalty kill meetings? If not, should he?

I asked Holtby this and he told me yes, he does, in fact, sit in on penalty kill meetings. He said that everyone actually sits in on those meetings which makes sense when you think about it because you never know what could happen and who may be needed to step in and play on the PK. Everyone needs to be ready for that situation.

Holtby also said that he has to sit in on every meeting except the power play. There's not much he needs to know about that.

Joe writes: Been seeing a lot of buzz recently about Joe Snively and how well he's doing with Hershey. Do you see him getting a call up at all this year, especially now that Chandler Stephenson is in Vegas rather than Hershey?

Snively has certainly been hot lately and has seven goals and 10 points on the season. Will he got a call-up? I doubt it.

Snively's cap hit is $925,000 which is the maximum for an entry-level contract. Beck Malenstyn, by contrast, has a cap hit of $736,666. I don't think Washington has the cap flexibility to just call up a guy like Snively as a reward unless it is really, really needed and the team was in a position to make the required roster moves to free up enough cap space.

Maryanne McCormick writes: How much weight do the guys drop through sweating in a typical game?

I don't know about skaters, but goalies with their heavy pads are known to lose quite a bit of weight over the course of a game. Holtby has had issues with hydration in the past so he is very aware of how much liquid he drinks and how much weight he loses. He can lose six to eight pounds just over the course of a practice. For a game, he can lose 10 to 15 pounds and generally drinks 15 to 16 liters of liquids.

The big soda bottles at the grocery store are two liters. Holtby basically drinks eight of those, though I am sure he's not drinking soda.

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 inches closer to 700 career goals

Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is flying up the NHL leader board. 

Doesn’t matter if you want to specify this season or his career overall, Ovechkin’s hat trick on Thursday night in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils helped in both cases.

Start with the big names. Ovechkin now has 689 career goals. He is inching closer to the magic 700 mark. Only seven NHL players in history have reached it. Before then he will pass Mario Lemieux (690) – fittingly maybe on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3 when the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Then Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) are up next. These are incredible names, the greatest to ever play the sport. Ovechkin has etched his name into the record books with them all.

“[Lemieux was] one of my idols when I'm growing up,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It's huge….They're legends. To be close to those guys, it's pretty impressive.”

Just looking at this season: Ovechkin is now at 31 goals. He needs 19 more in his 32 remaining games to reach 50 for a record-tying ninth time. For a time this season that appeared to be drifting away from Ovechkin. Now? Seems reasonable. Ovechkin will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens to serve a suspension for skipping the All-Star game in St. Louis next week. 

Ovechkin has pulled to within five goals of Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead (36) and is in third place overall. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is second (34). 

“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” Capitals teammate John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either. I’ve said this before. I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”

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Ovechkin gets pissed, Hagelin gets a goal and Panik gets comfortable

Ovechkin gets pissed, Hagelin gets a goal and Panik gets comfortable

Alex Ovechkin let everyone know what happens when you make him mad on Thursday as he returned from a high stick to score the 25th hat trick of his career in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

You mad, bro?

When Miles Wood hit Ovechkin with the high stick, you knew he was pissed. Before he even got off the ice he was yelling at the Devils' bench. He went to the locker room and returned to the ice in the same period to score twice.

After the game, Ovechkin said he did not think it was intentional, but yeah, he was mad.

"I don't think he meant to do it, and the ref didn't see it, but yeah I was little mad and I just punish them."

The third line has finally found its role

The third line is not going to produce as much offensively as the team hoped, but Todd Reirden has found a role for this line as the shutdown line. It was integral in the team's win over Carolina on Monday as they lined up against the Hurricanes' second line. Reirden again used them primarily against New Jersey's second line on Thursday. Carl Hagelin even scored his second goal of the season with assists from Lars Eller and Richard Panik.

"It feels finally how it was supposed to feel at the beginning," Panik said.

The challenge now will be how Reirden can get the matchups he wants when he is on the road which is tougher to do as road teams have to change lines first.

The power play is still an issue

Ovechkin scored on a two-man advantage, but once again the Caps gave up another shorthanded goal. Blake Coleman scored on a breakaway in the third period to pull New Jersey to within one in what could have been a major turning point in the game. That was the third shorthanded goal the team has allowed in four games and the fifth shorthanded goal allowed in the last 11.

That is a horrifying stat.

"Yeah that's definitely something that needs to be solved," Reirden said. "That's not acceptable, that's not winning hockey, it's not a winning formula. I think obviously they score a big 5-on-3 goal after struggling the last couple games 5-on-3, but in that situation with the lead, you can't give up shorthanded goals. So that has to continue to be worked on as we go on here."

Turning point

Don't make Ovechkin angry. He took a nasty high-stick from Wood and returned in the same period to score twice. That gave Washington the 2-0 lead and set the tone for the entire game.

You can read the full story about Ovechkin's crazy first period here.

Play of the game

The play of the game is Ovechkin's hat trick goal, but not because of Ovechkin. Really, it was the pass by Tom Wilson that was so impressive.

Whenever someone says Wilson is just a goon, this is the clip you should show them.

Stat of the game

These are going to be a bit Ovechkin heavy, but there were a number of milestones the Great 8 hit in this one.

Quote of the game

It's hard to top Ovechkin's quote about punishing the Devils. This one from Nicklas Backstrom, however, is a close second:

I could just tell when he got that high stick in the first there and then he got pissed off and he always plays better when he’s a little pissed off. So, there you go. That was drawn up like that, I think. So, came back, got a little mad, scored two and then I was just waiting for the third. That’s the story of Ovi, I think.

Fan predictions

No goal for Nick Jensen, but you nailed the score.

...and second.

He came pretty close.

The cow was spotted. He is always pretty easy to spot, but even if you have trouble, the crowd usually can steer you in the right direction.

See what I did there?

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