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Capitals mailbag: Will the real fourth line please stand up?

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Capitals mailbag: Will the real fourth line please stand up?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Feb. 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.

Ben C. writes: Why don’t they play Dmitrij Jaskin more? He may not score as much but does so much more. Why not a 4th line of Jaskin, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd?

Michael K. writes: What is the deal with the numerous line changes? Jaskin has showed that he more than deserves to be an every night starter over the likes of Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson, yet he’s scratched for multiple games at a time. Are the inconsistencies relating to line changes affecting chemistry and the play of the team? Is Todd Reirden starting to panic?

I don’t see the frequent changes as a sign of panic, I think Reirden just has not been able to settle on what he sees as the best combination for the fourth line. Part of that is because the team has dealt with so many injuries and Andre Burakovsky took a tour on the fourth when he was in the dog house.

I asked Reirden Monday about Jaskin once again getting scratched on Monday:

I use [Jaskin] at the end of a penalty kill and then it ends up in the back of our net. Those are situations where we have to find people that can be used in all different areas of the game, especially back-to-backs. I think that the penalty killing attributes that Stephenson and Smith-Pelly have add a little bit different element to us so don't have to use our top guys on penalty kill situations tonight.

I also asked him about when he wants to get some consistency on his lines and he said he’s not going to be married to anything until after the trade deadline.

I’m fine with some shuffling on the fourth line throughout the season – with two extra forwards, you need to get guys playing time – but I think it’s getting to be a bit much. Jaskin, to me, is someone that should be getting more games than the 34 he has played in. He plays well and has a positive impact almost every time he’s in the lineup. In my mind, the Jaskin, Dowd, Boyd line has been the best fourth line this team has shown this season and they haven’t gotten much opportunity of late. It’s hard to build much consistency with the lines changes every one or two games. Sometimes players on the fourth line make mistakes, but Jaskin definitely seems to get scratched for them more often than anybody else and I believe there are two reasons why.

First, Reirden believes both Smith-Pelly and Stephenson are better on the penalty kill and he said as much in the quote above. The second reason, and it is not something Reirden has said but is just a theory of mine, is because Smith-Pelly and Stephenson were part of the championship lineup that helped win the Caps their first Stanley Cup. These players were trusted when it mattered the most and they delivered. I believe that’s why Reirden will lean more on players like Smith-Pelly, Stephenson, and Brooks Orpik over players like Jaskin and Jonas Siegenthaler.

The Caps are all-in on defending the Cup and Brian MacLellan has made at least two trades at the deadline every year since being general manager so yes, I do believe the Caps are going to make at least one trade.

I still believe Andre Burakovsky will be available if the right deal comes along. Yes, he is playing well now, but we’ve seen this play out before. With 25 games left in the season, plus the playoffs, do we really expect Burakovsky to play consistently well that long? The fact that he is playing well is a good thing as it should increase his value. Having said that, considering how much the team values keeping its championship lineup together, I would not be surprised if they decide to hold onto him for the playoffs.

But what will they bring in? You can pretty much take it to the bank that they will bring in a defenseman. MacLellan has added a defenseman every trade deadline and I don’t expect this one to be any different. What they do on offense will be dependent on what they decide to do with Burakovsky. Obviously they will have to add a player to the third line if they want to trade him. I think they will at least explore adding a strong faceoff player, but only if he brings something else to the table as well, like penalty killing.

To summarize, I would assume we see MacLellan add a depth defenseman and at least explore adding a depth forward, though I also wouldn’t be surprised if they stand pat on offense.

Actually, I disagree with you. The second pair has been a major issue, but I am much more concerned by the play of Matt Niskanen than I am Dmitry Orlov. Because that pair was struggling, Reirden split them up during the losing streak putting Orlov with John Carlson and Niskanen with Michal Kempny. Orlov was fine, but the second pair again struggled, furthering my belief that the issue is Niskanen.

As for how to fix that, that’s a good question. I hated the Orlov, Carlson and Kempny, Niskanen pairings, as those players do not complement one another as well as the original pairs. That’s not the solution. Niskanen is a righty so moving him down to the third pair doesn’t make sense because it would mean an Orpik, Niskanen pair which is also not a good combo. Do you put Orlov with Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos with Niskanen? Not unless Bowey starts playing better.

Fixing the second pair may be a matter of letting Niskanen play through this just because there do not seem to be any good alternatives despite Washington’s depth on the blue line. And if you think Washington should trade for a top-four defenseman, those players are very expensive, especially rightys. The Caps hit a home run by finding Kempny last season for just a third-round draft pick, chances are lightning will not strike twice and they will not be able to pluck a hidden top-four player from an opponent like they did last year.

Benjamin C. writes: Why does it seem like Caps are undisciplined? Most minor penalties in NHL and nothing is done about it and nothing is changing, at some point this has to be thrown on Todd to blame.

Yes, the penalties are a major problem and, as you correctly note, Washington leads the NHL in minor penalties. It seems like they are undisciplined because the penalties are unnecessary. Brett Connolly’s penalty at the end of their loss to Florida is a great example. Aleksander Barkov had the puck in his own zone with four seconds late and Connolly still felt the need to knock the stick from his hands for no reason.

To say Reirden is doing nothing, however, would be untrue. It is something we know he has addressed in practices and in games. Both he and the players have said as much. He also publicly benched Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jaskin in the first period against the Boston Bruins after they both took bad penalties.

The issue for me is that it was not addressed earlier. This has really been a problem all season and only now does it seem to be a point of emphasis. Habits are hard to break. When penalties were an issue at the start of the season, that’s when you start benching players or moving them down in the lineup or even scratching them. The problem you have now is that there are 25 games left in the season and you are in a tight race in the standings. Can Reirden really afford to bench Kuznetsov and Kempny at this point in the season, the two players with the most minor penalties on the team? Probably not.

It’s fair to blame Reirden for letting the penalties get to this point, but before you grab your pitchforks and torches and conclude that the only explanation is that he is a bad coach, consider this: While the Caps may lead the NHL in minor penalties, the team in second place is Tampa Bay, the top team in the NHL. Coaching is not seen as much of an issue there.

Jimmy H. writes: With the success that Ilya Samsonov is having with the Hershey Bears could you see him coming up to play with the caps anytime soon?

Soon as in next season? Sure. Soon as in this season? No. Unless there’s an injury to Braden Holtby or Pheonix Copley, I do not believe there are any plans to bring Samsonov up. As good as he is playing in the AHL, it still has been an adjustment for him and bringing him up to the NHL in his first North American season would be a lot to ask. It’s better for him to get his minutes in the AHL.

For those of you thinking about Carter Hart and saying bringing your star goalie out of the AHL worked for Philadelphia, you have to consider that Hart grew up playing in North America. He is from Alberta, played junior hockey in the WHL and started this season in the AHL. Again, this is Samsonov’s first season in North America. It is an apples and oranges comparison.

I would not be surprised if Samsonov battles with Pheonix Copley for the backup role in training camp and even gets a few starts next season. For what it’s worth though, MacLellan said in January that he anticipates Samsonov going back to Hershey next season.

Nathan S. writes: Why do Caps often play so poorly to bad and mediocre teams at home? I know that even in the playoffs last year Caps were better on the road for some reason but it does seem that this year Caps are having trouble closing teams out at home and not running anyone out of the building the way Pittsburgh, Nashville, Vegas, Toronto, NYI, etc. often do.

I find zero correlation between how they played at home in the playoffs last season and this season. The Caps’ playoff history weighed on the minds of both the players and the fans and it was probably a relief for the team to be on the road and get away from that. You could feel the tension at home games for the past few years so I’m not surprised they played well on the road.

As for this season, the Caps are 17-9-5 at home. Bad teams play them closely because it’s the NHL and teams can lose to anyone on any given night. Tampa Bay has lost to Anaheim and Ottawa at home, San Jose lost to Arizona and Los Angeles at home, Pittsburgh lost to Carolina and New Jersey at home, etc. I just do not see this as an issue.

Ben C. writes: T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom don’t seem to be getting Ovechkin the puck and that line seems a little slow, why don’t they put Kuznetsov back up there now that he’s playing and skating well?

Ask and ye shall receive.

The Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line used to be very good and it has enough skill to generate some points, but it is just too slow for today’s NHL and over time its deficiencies become apparent. The problem is, with Kuznetsov not playing well, Reirden could not afford to keep him on the top line so he switched things up. The offense will be much better for the switch.

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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Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has an enormous first birthday bash

Alex Ovechkin's son Sergei has an enormous first birthday bash

Alex Ovechkin’s son Sergei turned one this week. And the celebration? According to Ovi’s wife’s Instagram, it was a success:

The caption translates to 'Happy birthday, our beloved boy! Grow healthy and the happiest!' 

In typical Ovechkin fashion, a simple celebration just won't suffice, so the Caps' star made sure to make it a day to remember.

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Capitals officially lose defensive prospect and draft steal Chase Priskie to the Carolina Hurricanes

Capitals officially lose defensive prospect and draft steal Chase Priskie to the Carolina Hurricanes

Former Capitals defensive prospect Chase Priskie has agreed to terms with Metropolitan Division rival Carolina Hurricanes, the team announced.

Priskie was a sixth-round draft pick of the Capitals in 2016. Despite being a late-round pick, Priskie developed into one of the top college defensemen in the country at Quinnipiac and was named one of the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player in 2018-19.

"Chase was one of the best defensemen in college hockey last season," Carolina general manager Don Waddell said via a statement. "We believe he has a bright future in the NHL, and we're thrilled that he has chosen to come to Carolina."

The move is a blow for Washington. While the team has an abundance of left-shot defensemen, Priskie is a right-shot. Finding such a valuable player with a sixth-round draft pick was a coup for the Caps and its scouting staff...or at least would have been had the team been able to keep him.

“My dream is to play in the NHL and I feel like I've given myself every advantage to achieve that goal,” Priskie told NBC Sports Washington in March. “I think with the right motivation this summer, having a good summer, good training, I'm going to go into training camp and try to earn a roster spot.”

Priskie informed the Caps that he intended to become a free agent on Aug. 15.

Priskie joins a crowded blue line in Carolina as defense was certainly one of the team’s strengths last season. There is room in just about any NHL roster, however, for a right-shot puck-moving defenseman. If Priskie pans out the way he is expected to, he will be playing in the NHL, and against the Caps, sooner rather than later.

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