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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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Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

The bye week and the all-star break are upon us meaning we will have to wait until Jan. 27 for the Capitals to take the ice again for a game. With the season over halfway done and the Feb. 24 trade deadline rapidly approaching, the focus of the season now shifts towards the playoffs.

Washington has certainly done enough at this point to show they are a playoff team, but just how good are they? Are they a true contender or are they destined for an early exit?

Over the next few days, I will examine the team to answer if it is good enough on offense, defense and in net to win a Cup and, if not, what they must do to improve by April.

Today’s question: Do the Caps have the offense to win the Stanley Cup?

Team stats
3.55 goals per game (1st in the NHL)
20.3-percent power play (13th in the NHL)

Goal leaders
1. Alex Ovechkin 34
2. Jakub Vrana 22
3. T.J. Oshie 18

Assist leaders
1. John Carlson 47
2. Nicklas Backstrom 29
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 26

Point leaders
1. John Carlson 60
2. Alex Ovechkin 50
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov 42

Just in case you forgot about Ovechkin, he just let everyone know that yes, he is still outrunning Father Time with eight goals in the past three games. He remains one of the top scorers in the league, that is beyond dispute and so is this team's the top-six.

Backstrom, Wilson, Vrana, Kuznetsov and Oshie round out one of the best top two lines in the NHL. There are only a few minor concerns with this group.

Vrana and Kuznetsov have proven to be streaky performers. When they are hot, they are among the top offensive players in the NHL. Vrana is actually tied with David Pastrnak for third in the NHL in even-strength goals with 21. He is as dangerous a goal-scorer as just about anyone in the league. And everyone knows how good Kuznetsov can be at his peak. Just look at the 2018 Cup run.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope Vrana and Kuznetsov don’t get cold in the postseason because when their production tapers off, it craters.

Moving on to the bottom-six, let’s start with the fourth line because it is easier. Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway is one of, if not the outright best fourth line in hockey. They are able to hem opponents into the offensive zone and allow very little in the way of scoring opportunities. If you put any credence into things like Corsi, Nic Dowd is the best on the team with a Corsi-For percentage of 57.22 while Leipsic is 54.04 and Hathaway is 54.43. In a nutshell, what that means is this line is generating a heck of a lot more offensive opportunities than it is allowing which is a huge asset to have for a fourth line.

What’s more, these guys are the kind of players you hate to play against. Hathaway and Leipsic both play with an edge and Leipsic has a fair amount of speed as well. They have to make sure they limit the penalties they take, but otherwise this line is a huge asset.

That brings us to the third line.

While the offense is starting to pick up slightly, overall the numbers have just not been there. Lars Eller is doing fine with 11 goals and 16 assists, but Richard Panik is having a tough first year with five goals and five assists while Carl Hagelin has only three goals and eight assists and that’s including the two goals he scored in the past week.

Even as the line continues to improve, I do not think at its peak it is going to prove to be as good offensively as once hoped.

The third line has definitely found a role as a shutdown line, however, which is how Reirden has been utilizing them of late, using them to shut-down one of the opposition’s top lines both to limit their offense and also to free up Ovechkin’s line by getting it away from that matchup.

That’s easier to do at home, now Reirden has to figure out just how to best utilize the third line one the road where it is tougher to get the matchups you want.

Overall, however, this line is trending in the right direction. The power play, however, is not.

Though it ranks 13th in the NHL, that percentage is being propped up by a good start. Since Dec. 1, the power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. The offense has just been non-existent. The struggles have clearly gone to the head of the players because it becomes a comedy of errors on the ice every time the team gets the man advantage. Reirden has tried Vrana on the top unit in Kuznetsov’s spot, but that spot is not well suited for Vrana as he is a sniper and Kuznetsov plays primarily around the goal line where shots are hard to come by. Kuznetsov on the second unit is largely wasted as there is not enough scoring talent on that unit for him to set up.

The result is two power play units playing without confidence and not producing while also allowing far too many shorthanded goals.

The verdict: Yes, the Caps have the offense to win the Cup.

In terms of the personnel, it is hard to get better than what the Caps have. The top two lines are loaded with talent and the fourth line is the best at what it does. The offense is lacking on the third line, but Reirden has found a role for it in which it can still have a positive impact on the game and its offensive production seems to be improving.

The only real concern is the power play, not only because it is completely ineffective but because the team is pressing so hard it has allowed five shorthanded goals, tied for the most in the league. As bad as it is, however, I think this is a case of frustration making things worse. With the personnel this team has, there is no reason for it to be producing at only 14.1-percent. Once they string a few goals together, things will turn around. I don’t think it will be among the most potent in the NHL, but I do think this is a low point and a natural progression will occur.

After the power play, however, it is hard to find a more potent offense than the one assembled in Washington.

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Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

The Capitals may not be participating in Stadium Series this year, but the team is embracing outdoor hockey around Washington for spirited game day fun.

The Caps are hosting Rock The Rink skates at The Wharf, Penatgon Row, Rockville Town Square and The Avenue at White Marsh on select game days from January to March 2020. Fans attending these events can wear Capitals jerseys or gear to get either $5 off admission or free skate rentals.

The Wharf

Jan. 18 at 1 p.m., Jan. 31 at 6 p.m., and Feb 17. at 1 p.m.

Transit Pier will boast a Capitals-paneled ice rink with an ice resurfacer, trivia contests, giveaways, along with a DJ. The Capitals Campire will also boast Adirondack chairs around a fire to roast marshmallows for smores in front of a 14-foot jumbotron screen to watch the Capitals games. 

Pentagon Row

Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 6 p.m.

These skates will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants. The Caps games will also be on at surrounding bars. 

The Avenue at White March

Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

This event will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants.

Rockville Town Square

Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.

In addition to the above fun, Rockville native and Capitals hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa will be there on Jan. 31. You can watch the Capitals game at local bars as well. 

Fans attending these events or using local outdoor rinks this season are encouraged to post about it on social media by tagging @capitals and using the hashtag #RockTheRink to enter themselves for a chance to win prizes.

Caps slept through the first 40 minutes, they did not give Holtby much help though he was bad in his own right and Vrana sure did show something with the game-winning goal.

As for no penalties...not so much.

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