Capitals

Capitals

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the March 13 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

You never know for sure how a player will adjust to a new team and a new locker room so I am somewhat surprised at just how good both players look so quickly. When Carl Hagelin took a penalty against Winnipeg I wondered how are the Caps going to kill this power play off without him? That’s a player who has only been around for a few weeks so that speaks to how big of a role he already has with the team. As for Jensen, he was playing a much larger role on a worse team in Detroit so it is no surprise he has been able to excel on a third-pair role with Washington.

I think this reflects the change in philosophy the Caps have adopted in recent years when it comes to the trade deadline. There were years in which it felt like Washington was just acquiring players for the sake of acquiring players without any real thought to need or the role they would play. You have to consider what your expectations and needs are for new players you bring to the team, locker room chemistry and the players they are replacing. Some of those trade deadline moves do not seem well thought out in the past.

 

Hagelin and Jensen are fitting in well because the Caps had an obvious need for a bottom-six penalty killer and for a top-six right-shot defenseman. Washington also did its research as both players are considered excellent in the locker room, Hagelin especially. In that sense, it’s no wonder this seems to be working out so well so far.

Having said that, these trades will ultimately be evaluated by how the players perform in the playoffs.

Uh…next question.

Blake B. writes: As of March 8th, the Capitals and Islanders are tied in points, games played, and regulation plus overtime wins (ROW). Yet the division standings show the Islanders get the tie-breaker as they are in 1st and the Capitals in 2nd. Why?

The first two tie-breakers in the regular season are games played and ROW. As you pointed out, that does not help here. The third tie-breaker is the greater number of points earned in games between the two team if the two teams have played the same number of home games against each other. Washington is 2-1-0 against the Islanders this season, but the first game gets thrown out as it was played in New York and the two teams have met twice in New York and only once in Washington. That means both teams are 1-1-0 against each other in terms of the tie-breaker. The fourth tie-breaker is goal differential and on March 8, the Islanders held the edge there with a plus-34 over the Caps’ plus-20.

Something to remember as well with the standings so close is that the Caps and Islanders will play once more in the regular season finale on April 6. Circle that date on your calendars. That game is either going to mean nothing or everything.

Melanie C. writes: What's going on with Christian Djoos? He played a bit after recovering from surgery, but hasn't really been around since we got Jensen. What can we expect his role to be for the rest of the season (and beyond)?

It was no surprise to see Djoos as the odd-man out initially. Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and Djoos’ normal spot in the lineup is playing on the right of the third defensive pairing. I think there was genuine surprise by the team that he was ready to return as quickly as he was from the injury and I think there was some worry over the fact that he struggled to return to game-speed even after eight games back. Most of all, however, I believe Djoos is a victim of circumstance. I do not believe the team anticipated him not playing since the trade deadline, but when you get hot and win seven straight, you do not want to tinker with the lineup. Now that the win streak is over, I would not be surprised to see him get a game very soon.

 

As for his future, general manager Brian MacLellan seems to really like his game, plus he stepped in last season on the third pair and was a factor in helping the team win the Stanley Cup. There is always going to be a ceiling there because of his size and I do not see him ever being a top-pair guy, but he is definitely someone in the team’s future plans.

Nathan S. writes: It seems that Kuznetsov has gone quiet again and is spending too much time floating on the ice and isn't scoring. Do you think his lack of grit or work ethic are keeping him from being as great of a player he could be and as team needs him to be? Do you see him getting it together in time for playoffs?

If Tuesday’s game does not serve as a wake-up call for Kuznetsov, nothing will.

Sometimes I think people can grasp onto a player’s deficiencies to the point of forgetting what he does well and Kuznetsov is starting to fall into that. There is no total package player in the NHL, someone who is great at every single aspect of the game. None. There are players who are good at almost everything, some players you can feel comfortable in any situation, but every player has some sort of weakness to their game.

Kuznetsov is not a physical player. Would you like him to be a bit more physical? Sure. I also think the Caps would benefit if Tom Wilson could shoot the puck as well Alex Ovechkin and if Brooks Orpik had Djoos’ mobility. Does that “hold them back” from being as good as they can be? No, that’s just who they are as a player. Kuznetsov is one of the most skilled players on the team. His lack of “grit” is not a concern, especially since he plays on a line with Wilson. What is a concern is his focus. We can laugh off his bizarre comments about not wanting to focus 365 days a year early in the season when he was dominant. Now in March, it does not seem nearly as funny.

As for the playoffs, Kuznetsov is very hard to predict. A player is not always able to simply flip the switch and Kuznetsov was a victim of that in 2016 when he scored only once in 12 games. Hopefully a tight playoff race will get him into playoff gear in the final stretch of the season.

Washington’s power play currently ranks ninth in the NHL at 22.1-percent. Since the All-Star break, the Caps are 10th on the power play at 22.8-percent. That’s not terrible, but not close to the 29.3-percent they managed in the postseason.

Producing at close to 30-percent on the power play is not sustainable. You can do that for 24 playoff games, but not over the course of a regular season. The best power player in the NHL as of now is Tampa Bay and it is still below what Washington did in the playoffs at 28.5-percent. With that in mind, I am not overly concerned about the power play heading into the postseason.

 

Does it still have Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson? OK, then they’ll be just fine.

Given the success we saw the viewing parties have last season, you would certainly think so. They are not going to close down any streets for fans to watch games in the first round, but yes, I expect there to be plenty of opportunities to get together with other Caps fans and watch when the postseason begins.

Edie R. writes: To the casual, tv viewer and social media follower of the Caps, it seems Alex Ovechkin is much more relaxed and jovial this season. He seems to smile more, joke around with his teammates and just seems more centered. How much of this attitude do you think is due to having finally won the Stanley Cup and how much do you think it has to do with him being a dad? I guess I’m really curious about how being a dad has influenced Ovi as a hockey player, teammate, and captain.

I know what you’re saying and a lot of it comes from the media coverage. Ovechkin has always been a goofball, but he certainly seemed a bit more relaxed when he first came to training camp this season and winning the Cup has to be reason No. 1 for that. From the outside looking in, he also appears more relaxed because he has not had to spend all summer and all season answering questions about getting over the playoff hump and whether or not he will ever win the Stanley Cup. Every segment on TV and every written article does not start with “will he ever win it all?” anymore. I think that has more to do with how you see Ovechkin than just being a dad.

If you want to deeper look into what it is like being a dad in the NHL, check out this great article from Ben Raby.

I have wondered this myself. I can’t speak for anyone, but here are a few observations that I believe contributed to this. First, last season his cap hit was not close to his value on the ice. It is no surprise to see a player in his late 30s decline, but he was already an old-school style defenseman and that exacerbated his decline in today’s speedy and possession driven NHL. Orpik does not fit the mold of the modern NHL defenseman so some of the more popular analytics do not reflect kindly on him. Orpik is a physical, defensive defenseman. He will not drive possession, breakouts or offense. But that does not mean he has no value.

 

The criticism of Orpik reflects the problems of the analytics movement. The debate over the eye test vs. analytics paints a very black and white picture of hockey in which people have to choose one side or the other, but the fact is that both are incomplete. Ignoring analytics and going just on what you see in a game is foolish, but it is just as foolish to look at a spreadsheet and think you know how a player performed without actually watching. You have to take both the eye test and the analytics into account when evaluating the player or you are getting an incomplete view of a player and a team.

Darren L. writes: Do you think that the Caps will be forced to choose between re-signing Carl Hagelin or Brett Connolly? Connolly has been a mainstay on the third line and Hagelin has really made a difference with his speed, and on the PK.

These things rarely come down to one player or another. In addition to Hagelin and Connolly, Nic Dowd and Brooks Orpik will also be unrestricted free agents while Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Dmitrij Jaskin, Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos will also be restricted free agents.

The future of Hagelin and Connolly will depend on how they play in the playoffs, how much of a raise Vrana and Djoos get, what the team ultimately decides to do with Burakovsky and the other free agents plus any other offseason moves the team decides to pursue. I do not see it is being a choice between Hagelin or Connolly.

Hagelin has not been in Washington that long so it is unclear what his plans may be for the offseason. As for Connolly, at 26 someone is going to offer him more money, more years and a bigger role than the Caps will. I could see Washington being interested in keeping both, but as UFAs they ultimately hold all the cards.

Douglas F. writes: Do you see Pheonix Copley staying up and keeping Ilya Samsonov in Hershey for another season, or "risk" Copley getting through waivers and not being claimed, or bring Samsonov up to back up Braden Holtby as Holtby’s deal is coming to an end at the end of next season?

I believe Samsonov is going to be given every opportunity to win the job as the backup in training camp, but I expect him to start the season in Hershey. It will be his second season in North America and getting playing time in the AHL is more important than sitting on the bench behind Holtby the majority of the season.

One of the biggest storylines of the offseason this year will be what the team decides to do with Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom both of whom will be entering the final years of their contracts. John Tavares, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are all good examples of why you do not wait until a contract expires to try to re-sign important players. I believe the future of Holtby and Backstrom in Washington will be determined this summer, not next. Just something to keep an eye on.

 

If you consider a sub/hoagie/grinder to be a sandwich, which most sane and rational people do, then I do not see how a hot dog is not. They are both long, cylindrical pieces of bread stuffed with meat.

Gritty is the demon spawn of a muppet and Cheeto dust so he falls into a different category.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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