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Caps vs. Devils: Let's try this again

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Caps vs. Devils: Let's try this again

Just five days after the New Jersey Devils (17-22-7) came to Washington and blew out the Capitals (31-11-5), the two teams will meet again at Capital One Arena in a rematch on Thursday. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all of the action. Pregame coverage starts at 6 p.m. with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

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

When last we met

On paper, Saturday's game looked like a mismatch and it was...just not in the way everyone expected. The lowly Devils came limping into Washington and stunned the Caps, handing them a 5-1 thrashing. Washington looked sleepy from the very start going down 1-0 in the first period. Things devolved from there and the Devils grew more confident as the game went on and never allowed the Caps' rally we all expected.

Nico Hischier scored twice, New Jersey was 4-for-5 on the penalty kill and scored a short-handed goal to make up for the one they gave up and looked in control from start to finish.

It was easily one of the worst losses of the season for the Caps. If you dare, you can read a recap of it here.

Samsonov starts

Braden Holtby got the last start against New Jersey and allowed four goals on just 21 shots. On Thursday it will be Ilya Samsonov’s turn to show what he can do.

Samsonov is coming off the first NHL shutout of his career on Monday as he turned aside 23 shots from the Carolina Hurricanes. It was the latest feather in the cap for the young rookie as he has put together a very strong season thus far. This is the first time this season in which Samsonov will get consecutive starts.

In addition, the lines for the Caps also have not changed from Monday’s win:

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

Are the Devils turning things around?

It was a pretty good weekend for New Jersey. Not only did the Devils blowout the Caps on Saturday, but they followed that performance up on Sunday with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending Tampa Bay’s winning streak at 10 games. Sure, they lost to Toronto on Tuesday, but considering how bad the Devils have been for much of the season, this has been an impressive stretch.

Since John Hynes was replaced by Alain Nasreddine behind the bench, the Devils have hovered around .500 going 8-9-3. Since the start of 2020, they are 3-3-1.

Still some turmoil

Even if Nasreddine is showing some promise, there is still some work to be done with the Devils as general manager Ray Shero was shockingly fired on Sunday.

Shero engineered what was thought to be an impressive offseason with drafting Jack Hughes, signing Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev and trading for P.K. Subban. The Devils, however, did not come close to meeting expectations on the ice leading to Hynes being fired in December and Taylor Hall getting traded not long after.

Midseason general manager changes are not typically reflected on the ice, but you do have to wonder if the sudden move has some Devils more focused on their long-term future in New Jersey than on Thursday's rematch.

Optional morning skate

As noted above, one factor in the Caps' poor performance on Saturday was a flat start. To combat that, Todd Reirden gave the team an optional morning skate on Thursday.

After losing 5-1 to one of the worst teams in the NHL, you would have expected Reirden to follow that performance up with a really hard practice. Instead, Sunday's practice ran for only about 20-30 minutes and the team had an optional skate prior to Monday's game. Reirden said he challenged each player to take the option to prepare how they saw fit. The result? A great start against the Carolina Hurricanes allowing the Caps to take a 2-0 lead which they never relinquished.

Reirden will look for a similar result on Thursday after giving the players again the option of choosing how to prepare for this game.

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Capitals' Nic Dowd crashes Brenden Dillon's interview scrum in hilarious exchange

Capitals' Nic Dowd crashes Brenden Dillon's interview scrum in hilarious exchange

Ahead of Brenden Dillon's first game with the Capitals after he was acquired from the Sharks on Tuesday, center Nic Dowd crashed his first interview scrum in a hilarious exchange between two new teammates.

The biggest concern for Dowd in his questioning? How Dillon will adapt going from comfortable, warm San Jose, CA to a colder city on the east coast in Washington D.C.

Dowd: Did you bring your thermal underwear?

Dillon: Yeah, I wore shorts from my walk last night to dinner. I know I might have to put on some pants today, and I'll make sure to wear a suit and maybe an overcoat. 

Dowd: We require suits here in D.C.

Dillon will make his debut for the Caps Thursday night against the Canadiens and hope to sure of some of the defensive woes Washington has experienced at times during the year. 

Figuring out where he fits on the ice is a challenge in its own, but it at least appears as if Dillon is getting along with his new teammates. 

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What to make of the Brenden Dillon trade

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: What to make of the Brenden Dillon trade

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.

Phillip Martin writes: What does Brenden Dillon bring to the 2020 Washington Capitals playoff hopes?

Geoff Joert writes: I’m interested in your thoughts on what Brenden Dillon will do for this team. Grade the trade. Why did Brian MacLellan make this move? Do you think a trickle-down effect will happen?

I'm not quite sure what to make of the Dillon trade just yet. I like Dillon a lot. He's a top-four defenseman, physical, has playoff experience, has played well despite how bad the Sharks are this season, is a high character guy and the cost wasn't too high. Having said that, does his addition really address the defensive issues the team has had?

There are two glaring issues the team has struggled with this year defensively. The first is they do not have a second top-four right defenseman behind John Carlson and the second is that Michal Kempny is really struggling. In my opinion, right defense was the bigger problem. Even if you think Kempny on the top pair is a bigger issue than Nick Jensen or Radko Gudas on the second, that's fair, but I would argue the team has more options to deal with Kempny than they do with the Jensen/Gudas conundrum. Dmitry Orlov has played situationally on the top pair with Carlson and Jonas Siegenthaler played well with him in the playoffs last season. Either of those players were viable options for the top pair. What's the solution for right defense on the second pair?

While Dillon has played a little on the right in the past, both Brian MacLellan and Todd Reirden sounded pretty set on Dillon staying on the left. So what do they do now? Move Orlov to the right? He has said he is comfortable there and played there in Russia, but every time we have seen him do it with the Caps the results have not been great.

This is one of those deals that I would love to know the behind the scenes info that a general manager could never discuss with anyone. How much did he look into options on the right? Does this mean Jeff Petry and Josh Manson were not available or the asking price was too high? What was MacLellan's walk away point? What do the scouts think of a guy like Dylan DeMelo? Did last year's Nick Jensen deal make MacLellan seek out only a player with playoff experience and stay away from a guy like DeMelo?

In a vacuum, it sure looks like MacLellan decided Kempny's play was a bigger issue than Jensen's, but it could be a case that there were no good right options available and doing nothing was not an option. If this team was playing the way it was in October/November, then maybe he could get away with letting the defense ride, but he couldn't do that given the team's recent stretch. If Dillon was the backup plan, that's a heck of a backup plan.

The fact is the team added what could be a top-pair player and they did it for only a second and a third-round pick. That's a good deal, but if the team enters the playoffs with either Jensen or Gudas playing in the top four, then what the heck was the point?

Charles Ruane writes: With only days to go until the trade deadline, who, if anybody, should the Capitals go after on the trade block to improve the defense?

We saw it. Dillon was the big move and while MacLellan said he would be open to exploring other options if the opportunity arose, he was pretty firm that he was satisfied with the seven defensemen this team now has so I would not anticipate any more additions to the blue line.

Micah Hackney writes:  Do you think they'll make another trade for forward depth before or at the deadline?

Benjamin Cross writes: Now that we’ve gotten an extra defensemen, are we done trading? If we were to get a forward who would we possibly target? Is this for third or fourth line?

I wrote about this Thursday morning and you can read the full article here. MacLellan sounds satisfied with the defense, but is looking at adding to the fourth line. 

Cap Friendly estimates Washington having only about $1.077 million of cap space to work with at the deadline. With teams having the ability to retain 50-percent of a player's cap hit in a trade, at most Washington could add a player with a cap hit of just over $2.15 million. That's not insignificant, especially for a fourth-line player.

Just to throw it out there, I have seen the rumors that the Caps were kicking the tires on Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis. His cap hit is $2 million so he could theoretically fit.

Nick Crawford writes: Before the trade deadline comes and goes, do you think actually trading for someone may actually make things worse?

It can, absolutely. This happens for a variety of reasons. I think the worst trades are the ones in which a general manager is clearly grasping at straws and makes a trade purely for the sake of making a trade. You give away an asset, maybe even a player to add someone who doesn't bring anything to the table and who pushes someone else out of the lineup. Imagine being on a team, seeing a friend traded away and another friend relegated to the press box for someone who ultimately does not make the team better. That's frustrating.

Martin Erat and Dustin Penner added literally nothing to the Caps and that reflected a disconnect between the coach and general manager. People may not believe it, but Erat was actually a good player in Nashville. Adam Oates just wouldn't use him. I'm not sure he ever could have done enough to make that deal worth it given how good Filip Forsberg is, but that trade was made worse and the team was made worse by the coach refusing to effectively use the player the team acquired.

There are also chemistry issues to think about. Jason Arnott should have been a home run acquisition, but he did not fit in well at all with the coaches or the team. I think that's partly why the team puts such a high premium on good locker room guys. That's not to say Arnott was a bad guy or bad for the locker room, what I mean is that if you have a locker room full of character guys in which everyone feels welcome, it's easier to add in players without anyone getting rubbed the wrong way.

And just so you don't think I'm picking on the Caps, Pittsburgh got worse at last year's trade deadline when they added Erik Gudbranson. If a good trade isn't available, a general manager is better off making no move at all.

Fred Edeson writes: Assuming the Caps make a trade prior to the trade deadline for a 2nd line defenseman and do not give up a defenseman in the process who becomes the odd man out of the rotation?

Obviously this came before the Dillon trade, but it is an important question. For Thursday's game, that player is Jonas Siegenthaler, but I would expect to see players rotate in and out as Reirden experiments. The three most likely players are Jensen, Gudas or Siegenthaler. If the team does experiment with Orlov on the right (or even Siegenthaler as European players have an easier time playing on the off-side) on the second pair, then either Jensen or Gudas are the most likely.

Mr. Murphy writes: Are you sticking to your earlier prediction of a “lull”, or “slump”, during the season (as is the case now), only to see the team go on a deep postseason run? If so, what’s your reasoning and basis for that pipe dream?

I've gotten a lot of these the past few weeks. Evidently, I'm not getting my point across.

It is my job to give my opinion about this hockey team every day. Because of that, sometimes I'm going to be wrong and sometimes I'm going to be right. No one ever seems to remember when I'm right, but boy do people like telling me when I'm wrong. Ultimately my opinion is going to change multiple times over the course of the season because it would be stupid not to. Every game, every slump, every hot streak, every injury, every trade, every goal affects what I think about this team. If there is an analyst out there who sees a bad game in October, concludes the season is over and let's that opinion color their analysis for the rest of the season, that's just plain foolish.

Making a definitive declaration on a team in October is ridiculous. Making a declaration on a team in November is ridiculous. Making a declaration on a team in December, January, February or March is ridiculous. Have you guys been paying attention to the league the last 20 years? How unpredictable hockey is? How many eventual Cup champs would you have declared pretenders and a long playoff run a "pipe dream" before they won? The 2019 Blues who were in last place in the NHL in January? The 2018 Caps who were a mess in February and early March? The 2017 Penguins who lost their best defenseman for the entire postseason? We don't know injuries, we don't know playoff matchups, we don't know trades, we don't know how a team will be playing heading into April, etc.

What do I think of the Caps now? The defense prior to the Brenden Dillon trade was not good enough to win. That's an issue that has to be addressed and I'm not sure Dillon will prove to be the right fix. Maybe he will be, but I don't know considering I thought right defense was the biggest issue. The forward depth is thinner than I originally thought and I don't know how far the top-six can carry it. If the playoffs were to start today, I would not have high hopes for their chances.

But, guess what? The playoffs don't start today so I'm not going to declare them dead in the water. They are not as bad as they look right now because they are making defensive mistakes that would get a kid benched on a high school hockey team. They didn't just forget how to play defense, frustration is affecting every aspect of their game right now and making it look ugly.

If I refused to change what I thought about this team over the course of the season despite wins, losses, injuries, trades, adjustments, etc., good or bad, then my analysis would not be worth reading. If people want to keep pointing out to me how bad the Caps are and that you think I'm an idiot for saying they were good when they were doing things like leading the league in points, then go ahead, I'm not losing any sleep over it. And by the way, it's really easy to say a team won't win the Cup. You can say that about every team and be right 30 times out of 31.

Richard Woitkowiak writes: Why won’t Coaches run more trap when that’s what they used to beat the Penguins in ‘18?

That's a better question for Reirden than for me, but two issues I can think of off the top of my head are physical play and the aggressive defense. The Caps are set up to be a physical team and now have five of the top 21 hitters in the NHL on the roster. Physical hockey lends itself much more to playing the forecheck than the trap. Second, I think the way the defense is allowed to aggressively step into the offensive play, that makes it hard to play a trap style. It's hard to quickly set up the trap in the neutral zone when John Carlson is up by the crease and T.J. Oshie is one of the two defenders on the blue line.

Coaches have their own systems and styles they want a team to play and rosters are set up to accommodate those styles. Again, better question for Reirden, but playing the trap would mean not using the team's physical players as effectively as they could.

Tim K. writes: Do you have any thoughts on the brief appearance of the power play line with Tom Wilson down low, T.J. Oshie in the slot, Nicklas Backstrom on the half boards, and John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin in their spots?

I like the idea of Wilson playing that role as it gives the team another break-in choice. Wilson is good at board battles and puck retrievals so the dump-in becomes more viable with him on the ice. Playing the goal line requires a strong puck distributor, however, and there is definitely a drop-off from Evgeny Kuznetsov or Jakub Vrana to Wilson. But having Vrana on the second unit actually gives Kuznetsov something to work with so I wouldn't be opposed to getting more looks at this to see how both units respond.

Joshua Leggette writes: What is the deal with the Caps power play zone entry? It’s the same thing over and over of skating the puck up the middle then passing it to one of two behind him who skates up to the blue line and, more often than not, dumps it in.

If you're mad this year, that's nothing compared to last year when the Caps were seemingly incapable of trying any other entry method other than the drop pass. I promise you they use it far less this year than last. The power play still has its issues -- a lot of issues -- but at least getting the puck into the offensive zone isn't as "makes you want to bash your head against the wall" frustrating as it was last year.

The drop pass can be very effective when done well, I just don't think the Caps have ever really done it well or with the speed that it requires to be effective.

Greg Christian writes: Why do you think the NHL continues to use points as the first factor in determining standings when points percentage is--at least from my perspective--a far better measure?

Because the standings will ultimately be determined by points and not points percentage. Points percentage matters a lot more in the AHL since teams do not play the same amount of games, but in the NHL everything will ultimately be decided by points once every team plays 82 games. I don't think it would make sense for the most important column in the standings to not matter until the last day of the season when it suddenly not only matters but becomes more important than anything else.

Michael Fleetwood writes: I'm writing this on the sixth-year anniversary of T.J. Oshie's heroics. Regarding the international shootout rule, do you think the NHL will ever consider moving to that format for the shootout?

No, I don't. That created great drama in an Olympic event between two countries, but just imagine a Tuesday night in February and seeing Oshie come onto the ice for his fourth attempt in a shootout in a 2-2 tie with Vancouver. It doesn't quite have the same feel, does it?

That also puts a lot of pressure on the shooters. Goalies scout shooters for the shootout and I don't think it would take them very long to figure out the top shooters in the league if they are the only ones making the attempts.

Hamilton Quant writes: For the Caps away games, do you travel with the team on the same charter flight and the same bus(es) to get from the airport to the hotel and to the ice rink? Or do you have to provide your own logistics (transportation, lodging)? Do you have meals on the road with the players/coaches? Or have time to explore the city you're in? In general, what is it like to cover the team on a road trip? What's a "typical" day/week like for you?

This is a better question for Sam Pell (Washington Post) or Tarik El-Bashir (The Athletic) as they travel a lot more than I do. No, we do not travel with the team. Travel for the media is handled by each outlet individually. Our only interaction with the team on the road is the standard media availability just like at home.

There actually is not much time to explore the city you're in. For a typical trip you usually fly in the night before, go to morning skate, go to the game, and then fly back early the next morning. The best time to explore is if you're on a road trip with the team because instead of getting there the night before a game, you just follow them to their next destination. Maybe they have a day off somewhere or a practice but then the rest of the day is yours. Otherwise there's not much time to be a tourist.

I went to St. Louis for the All-Star game, got there on Thursday and I left Sunday. I saw nothing of the city. I had about three free hours on Saturday and tried to go to the aquarium, but the tickets were sold out. Luckily I had been to St. Louis before and already been in the arch so I didn't feel like I just totally missed out, but those trips are a lot busier than you may think.

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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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