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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What more does Travis Boyd need to show?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What more does Travis Boyd need to show?

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.

Jack Concanon writes: Why did Todd Reirden seperate the Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie - Nicklas Backstrom - Jakub Vrana lines? They clearly dominated in the 2018 cup run and we saw last year's playoffs that the Ovi-Backstrom pairing doesn't really balance the scoring enough.

Early struggles prompted Reirden to switch up the lines. A lot of coaches go to the line blender during the season whenever the team starts to struggle. It really is no surprise to see different combinations throughout the season. So long as the team keeps winning, the lines don't really matter until the playoffs. That's where you see the "real" combinations.

I am surprised we did not see more of Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson and Vrana-Backstrom-Oshie last year given their success in the postseason, but I am not too worried about what the lines look like right now.

Micah Reed: Why is the coaching staff so stubborn about certain players? Dmitri Jaskin is the last that comes to mind. Travis Boyd is the new one. What are they seeing that we (the fans) can't?

A lot of coaches fall into this trap. It certainly is not limited to Reirden. Joel Quenneville is one of the best NHL coaches in history and ranks second in wins all-time. When he was the head coach in Chicago he had Michal Kempny on the roster. A Blackhawks team always desperate for defense could not find room for Kempny in their lineup and Kempny was largely a No. 7 for them. Clearly, Quenneville got that one wrong.

I try not to judge coaches too harshly on this because the coaches see the players more than we do and presumably know more about what they can bring. Having said that, coaches are frequently proven wrong on certain players. Sometimes it is a question of fitting into a coach's system, sometimes personalities can clash.

This also goes the other way when coaches rely too much on a player who is clearly struggling. In those cases, there sometimes can be a locker room dynamic at play where a certain player is considered a leader by his teammates and a coach knows it won't sit well to bench him.

As for Boyd, he is in danger of falling in this category as a player the coach just got wrong. A team with serious cap issues cannot afford to keep sending a player with an $800,000 cap hit with six points in nine games down to Hershey. I am not sure what else he needs to show the coaches at this point.

Joe Blumenauer writes: John Carlson has been the biggest surprise for the Caps this year, well on his way to a career year so far. What's been the key to his success? Is there a noticeably different style of play for him personally, simply a more aggressive defensive strategy, or is he getting some extra luck bounces this year?

There are two reasons I credit to Carlson's incredible early-season production. First, the Caps are playing more aggressively on defense. The defensemen are expected to jump into the offensive play when they have room. Carlson has taken more advantage of this than anyone as the best offensive defenseman on the roster. The second reason is that Carlson is using more misdirection in his game than previously. He is better at faking shots/passes and looking off opponents to open up passing and shooting lanes.

A good example of this was Carlson's assist on Jakub Vrana's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 16. Carlson had the puck in the offensive zone with no open lane to distribute the puck. He looked off John Tavares to free up a passing lane then passed cross-ice to Vrana who fired a one-timer for the goal.

Julia Keller writes: Do you think the Caps are playing a shell game with the salary cap by rotating players on and off the injured reserve list?

Yes and it's not sustainable. When Richard Panik returned from LTIR, the Caps trimmed the roster to 12 healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen. It took less than a week for problems to arise from this when injuries to Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd forced the team to recall Tyler Lewington and play seven defensemen against the Montreal Canadiens. Washington had to send Ilya Samsonov down to Hershey the following day to clear up enough room to recall Boyd. Now Garnet Hathway is suspended for spitting, Nicklas Backstrom has an upper-body injury and Brian MacLellan has to do even more roster gymnastics.

And all of this happened on a stretch in which the Caps are on the East coast. They can't do this when December rolls around and they head to California or when they have other road trips that will take them off the coast. Injuries happen, but when you are this close to the cap you are playing with fire.

To make matters worse, the team also is not banking any space which means things are not going to get better anytime soon. A lot of trade deadline deals are made possible by banking cap space which is how teams are able to trade for players they could not afford under the cap when the season began. Washington will not be in a position to do that if things continue the way they are and they are a team with at least one hole to fill on its roster. But we'll get to that.

Nicholas Kabatsky writes: If Travis Boyd continues to play well, what is the likeliness that he will stay in the big club?

Benjamin Cross writes: Travis Boyd seems to be playing very well, but with Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd coming back and Richard Panik starting to show some flashes, is he going to be sent back down?

The injuries will keep Boyd in the NHL for the time being. When everyone gets healthy though if Boyd continues to play this well, I don't know how you can justify sending him back down to the AHL. The salary cap is so tight the team literally skated seven defensemen in a game because that was all they could afford. Here is a player who is producing points in limited minutes with an $800,000 cap hit. I don't care if he doesn't play on the penalty kill, this is a guy who should stick around.

One other thing to consider is that, given all the team's injuries and the Hathaway suspension,  Boyd is going to stick around past the 10-game, 30-day limit for players who pass through waivers meaning he would have to go through waivers again to go to Hershey. No one ever gets claimed off waivers and I'm not saying Boyd would get claimed, but the fact is that there are other players on the Caps' team who would be more likely to pass through waivers unclaimed than Boyd at this point.

The only caveat is that Boyd probably would not be an everyday player when the team is 100-percent healthy. Can he be productive coming in and out of the lineup which is something he struggled with last year or is his production due to getting consistent playing time between Washington and Hershey?

Jason Woodside writes: When are we gonna move Richard Panik? It’s not even about giving him enough time to adjust at this point. Being this close to the cap is not sustainable.

Kaitlyn Carter writes: Now that Panik has his first goal and points as a Washington Capital how will that change his game moving forward?

I still maintain this is too early to sell on Panik, but you asked so let's work through this.

There are two obstacles to moving on from Panik. The first is his contract. He is in the first year of a four-year deal in which he has been injured and scored one goal in 14 games. Teams are not going to be lining up to take that contract off the Caps' hands. I am doubtful that MacLellan would be able to trade Panik and walk away from that deal with another third-line forward who can produce. You're not going to get close to equal value for him. If the only real asset the Caps can get back for Panik is more cap space, is that worth a trade?

The second obstacle is that you still need someone to be a productive third-line winger. If there is no one who can fill that role then you have sacrificed depth just to get rid of a player for little in return. Perhaps the team would be more open to moving on from Panik with how Boyd is playing, but considering how Boyd struggles to stay in the NHL I am doubtful Todd Reirden has him penciled in as a possible replacement for Panik.

There is no question Panik has to produce more. One point in 14 games is not enough. Having said that, he has been noticeably better since returning from injury. Given where the Caps sit in the standings, I think they can afford to be patient and see if his improved play leads to more production before any decision is made on him. But if the Caps do move on, they will be selling really low so don't expect them to get much in return for a trade.

Bill Bridges writes: Now that Nick Jensen has been permanently moved to the third pairing, it seems clear he's not the player the Caps thought they were getting. Do you think Brian MacLellan would consider trading him in-season and bringing up one of the kids from Hershey like Martin Fehervary or Alex Alexeyev who have been playing so well with the Bears?

First, MacLellan is not going to replace Jensen with Fehervary or Alexeyev because Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and both Fehervary and Alexeyev are lefties. Promoting those players to the NHL full-time to play their off-side just to get rid of Jensen is not a realistic scenario. Perhaps the team could move Jonas Siegenthaler to the right, but that does not solve the real problem and that is that this team does not have a right defenseman for the second pair.

I also do not think $2.5 million is outrageous for a third-pair defenseman. There is no question though that Jensen has not been the top-four guy they were hoping for and that he has never really looked comfortable in Washington. Trading him is a much more realistic scenario to me then Panik because teams always need a right-shot defenseman and his cap hit is not too bad. We know he can be a top-four defenseman in the right system, it just looks like that system is not Washington's.

The problem is that you have to replace him. As I touched on above, the Caps need a top-four right defenseman and I don't think that replacement is currently within the Caps' organization.

Bailey Dennis writes: What will be the key for the Caps in getting past the second round again this year, since everyone expects that now?

Health and luck are a given since every championship run requires a bit of both. The Caps should be in a better position to advance in the playoffs this year given there will not be as much fatigue as there was last year. Washington just flat out ran out of gas last year and still came within one goal of advancing to the second round. Depth scoring was also a weakness last year as the team relied far too much on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom for all of its offense. Continuing to get the type of offensive production from the defense will be a huge factor.

The team must also improve in its own zone. There are still a few too many defensive zone breakdowns and bad breakout turnovers that the team continues to struggle with. That's not just on the defense, but finding that top-four righty would certainly help.

Matthew Tobin writes: What are the chances of Alex Ovechkin passing Wayne Gretzky for most goals all-time?

Joe Blumenauer writes: How likely do you think it is that Alex Ovechkin eventually catches Wayne Gretzky?

A few years ago I scoffed at this very notion. People would ask and I would immediately dismiss it as fantasy. But Ovechkin just will not slow down and now at he very least it seems...possible.

First, let's make sure we understand the enormity of what Ovechkin still has to do to get there. He still needs 222 goals to pass Gretzky's record of 894. Even if Ovechkin scores 50 goals this season (he currently has 15) he would still need another 187. If he plays another five seasons, he would have to average 38 goals per year to get there.

The fact that Ovechkin has made this seem even remotely possible at all is incredible, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

It's possible, but still not probable that he beats Gretzky.

John Flemming writes: Is it true that, back in the day, Craig Laughlin wrote "PIG FARMER" on Dale Hunter's sticks?

I asked Locker about this and he denies it. He told me it was probably Craig Berube, but that it wasn't him.

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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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

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4 things to know for Capitals-Lightning: A battle of top offenses

Coming off a big win on Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, the Capitals (23-5-5) will look to stay in the win column as they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-11-3). Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Be sure to stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for all your postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here’s what you need to know for Saturday’s game.

Samsonov gets the start

When you are coming off a big win over the second-best team in the NHL, it's not a surprise to see the Caps stick with the same lines at Saturday's morning skate.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

The one surprise is that Ilya Samsonov will start for Washington against a very potent Tampa Bay offense.

One thing to note, since it is the dad's trip it is traditional for every player to get into the lineup for one of the two games. It was expected that Samsonov would start Monday in Columbus, but it looks like that will now go to Braden Holtby. You should also expect to see Travis Boyd on Monday as well.

When last we met

The Caps and Lightning last met on Nov. 29 in a thrilling game that saw Washington rally from a 3-1 deficit with two goals in the third period before winning in overtime. Ovechkin tied the game with a shot from the office on the power play and Dmitry Orlov would go on to record the overtime winner.

As a refresher, you can check out the recap from this game here.

These are two teams that know how to score

Tampa Bay is not obliterating the NHL like it was last year and people are scratching their heads wondering how a team this talented isn’t even currently sitting in a wildcard spot in the standings. One aspect of their game you can’t blame for their struggles this season is the offense as the Lightning rank second in the NHL with 3.57 goals per game. Washington sits just behind them at No. 3 with 3.55.

This year, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more spread out. Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 33 points, tied for 15th in the NHL. That’s a far cry from the 128 points he put up lace season. Behind him there are six Lightning players with over 20 points. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point should come as no surprise. The other two, however, are Alex Killorn and Kevin Shattenkirk.

The power play has also been hot for both teams. Tampa Bay is second in the NHL with a 29.6 power play percentage while the Caps are fifth at 24.0.

The Caps hold the advantage on defense

Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s numbers are remarkably similar this season. Holtby has a .911 save percentage and 2.80 GAA while Vasilevskiy has managed a .910 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.

That’s pretty close until you move on to their records this season. Holtby boasts a 16-3-4 record in 24 starts this season. His 16 wins leads the NHL. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, is 3-8-1 and that says a lot about how much better Washington is playing defensively.

The Caps defense is currently allowing 2.82 goals per game as compared to Tampa Bay’s 3.17. Likewise while there is not much that separates these two teams on the power play, Washington has the superior penalty kill. With Carl Hagelin back in the lineup, the Caps have climbed all the way to third in the NHL at 85.3-percent. The Lightning’s penalty kill is only at 79.8 percent.

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Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

Capitals service dog Captain wins Sports Dog of the Year

As if any other candidate would even come close, Captain was named Sports Dog of the Year on Friday afternoon.

The four-legged phenom has been everywhere this fall, making his presence felt all over the DMV, and his popularity has extended nationwide.

Captain doesn't take days off and is always ready to have some fun.

He was there to maintain the peace during the biggest shopping day of the year and he made sure your Cyber Monday gifts arrived on time. 

He inspires greatness and has been a driving force behind the Mystics' WNBA Title as well as the Nationals' World Series victory.

He knows when its time to put in the work as well. He's always on time for meetings, and he has never missed a practice.

He's preparing to assist a Veteran or First Responder one day, and he's already making progress.

And he's always ready to celebrate.

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