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Former Capital John Erskine charged in driving accident

Former Capital John Erskine charged in driving accident

Former Capitals defenseman John Erskine has been formally charged by the Ontario Provincial Police for his role in a car crash in May.

According to the Kingston Whig-Standard, the charges against Erskine include dangerous driving, impaired driving and driving a vehicle with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

The accident, which occurred in May, left Erskine severely injured after reports surfaced of a pickup truck driving the wrong way and crashing into a transport truck on Highway 401 in Ontario. The driver of the transport truck was not injured. Erskine is scheduled to appear in the Ontario Court of Justice in Napanee on Nov. 19.

Erskine scored 49 points and spent eight seasons with the Caps from 2006 through 2014 and played 350 of his 491 career NHL games with Washington.

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

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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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The Caps can't beat the post, Malenstyn impresses and the defense struggles

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The Caps can't beat the post, Malenstyn impresses and the defense struggles

The Capitals got five pucks past Henrik Lundqvist, but only one past the post in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

You can read the recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

Feeling the losses

You always hear in sports "next man up," but clearly the Caps were struggling to overcome all the players missing from their lineup. Nicklas Backstrom, Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway were all out and that was just too many losses to overcome. Mike Sgarbossa and Beck Malenstyn did not look out of place at all, but the team just looked out of sync.

Hagelin, Dowd and Hathaway have all logged a lot of time on the penalty kill this season and Artemi Panarin scored two power play goals. That was no coincidence.

Not quite 2018 Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the Caps' lone goal on the night, showed some fancy stick work and generally had a good game. But on a night when the team was without Backstrom and needed him to be one of the best players on the ice, he was not able to take over the game the same way he was in the 2018 postseason.

Kuznetsov has certainly played better this season than last, but I think it is fair to say his play is still not at that level that we know he can reach.

Good performance from Beck Malenstyn

Malenstyn stood out in the preseason and he did again on Wednesday in his NHL debut. In 9:43 of ice time, he recorded three shots on goal and had another two missed attempts. He had two scoring opportunities including a short breakaway on Henrik Lundqvist. He may have a future as a bottom-six, most likely fourth line player in the NHL.

Defense is a weak spot

The Caps were out of sync on offense which is understandable with all the losses. But there is really no excuse for a mistake like this:

This was not a case of a miscommunication with some of the new additions to the lineup either. Here are the Caps players who were on the ice: Nick Jensen, Michal Kempny, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson and Kuznetsov. You can't blame this on Malenstyn or Sgarbossa.

Turning point

A 1-0 deficit heading into the third period? Caps laugh at one-goal deficits. Washington started the third period on the penalty kill, killed it off, but Dmitry Orlov was called for high-sticking just 40 seconds later. Back on the power play, Artemi Panarin scored his second of the night to make it 2-0 and put the Caps in a real hole.

Play of the night

If you give Kuznetsov this much room on the power play, even he is not going to turn down that shot.

The goal was great and all, but the actual best moment of the night came in the second period and had all the feels.

Stat of the night

The Caps beat Henrik Lundqvist five times on Wednesday, but only managed to get one past the post. Washington hit the post four times and that was the difference between winning a losing as the Caps fell 4-1.

And of course, the nightly John Carlson stat:

Quote of the night

Malenstyn did not just play in his first NHL game on Wednesday, it was at Madison Square Garden, one of the most iconic arenas in the world. Yeah, Malenstyn had a few nerves beforehand:

"I was just trying not to puke."

Also, Hathaway spoke with the media following the game and said he will not appeal his three-game suspension:

"It was tough to swallow because I want to be out there with the guys. you know, I felt helpless tonight and I let the guys down in the room and I let the organization down. in the end, I respect the league's decision and I had a fair opportunity to explain my side of things and how I saw the events unfold and you know I don't plan on appealing anything. In my view, it was a hectic situation. Coming out of a fight there was a second, third and fourth man that came in and I got sucker-punched a few times and I let my emotions take over. I had an emotional reaction that I regret and I wish it didn't happen. No one regrets it or is more disappointed than I am."

Fan predictions

Nailed it.

It is going to be one hell of a night when Gudas finally does it.

The offense just could not beat Lundqvist or the post in this one.

Had the Caps' lone goal!

Malenstyn came really close twice.

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