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Grading the Caps' new additions

Grading the Caps' new additions

After trying to keep the band together after the Stanley Cup run in 2018, Brian MacLellan changed tactics in 2019 making several new additions to bolster a contending roster. In came Radko Gudas, Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipsic and Richard Panik.

Adjusting to a new team takes time. Hockey systems are complex and require practice. Plus, relationships have to form in the locker room. Trying to judge these players a week into the season serves no purpose. Thanksgiving, however, seems like a reasonable time to check in and see how eacy player has fared thus far.

Radko Gudas

Gudas was a surprise pick up off the Matt Niskanen trade. With the salary cap situation being what it is for Washington, it was widely just assumed that MacLellan would trade away the veteran defenseman for draft picks or prospects. Instead, he got Gudas, a defenseman whose solid play last season was overshadowed by the reputation he developed through the multiple suspension he has taken in his NHL career.

Stats: 26 games played, 0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, 25 PIM, 17:09 time on ice per game

Gudas on the Caps

It's nothing but positives. The team's playing well, I thought I fit in pretty good right away. Obviously we got some teaching points learning new system. Everybody's still getting a little bit used to it. I think it's going to take a couple more games, but so far I've been amazed with everything around me.

Todd Reirden on Gudas

He's been a great add to the team. Certainly still getting used to some things we're doing systematically that are different than how they did them in Philly. That's for certain. He's probably been one of the biggest changes we've brought over from another team in terms of some of the things we ask from our defensemen that are new to him. So I think he continues to go through some growing pains on that. But in terms of how he fits into our room is he's been outstanding, fits in great with the guys, good leadership qualities already. A number of times he stands up for his teammates when he's in these scrums. I put a big value on that. There's certain situations like that, he's always the first one to jump in there for a teammate if there's a hit that's dirty or bad so I think he's done a great job of that. I think he's been a big part of why we've had success on the penalty kill. Him and [Jonas] Siegenthaler are the first two over the boards right now for us and they're really are willing to block shots and pay the price in battle and they've done 

Grade: A-

When MacLellan traded for Gudas, he knew he was getting a high-end third-pair defenseman. Nick Jensen's struggles on the second pair allowed for Gudas to have a shot there. Had he been able to stick and establish himself as a top-four defenseman, this move would have been an A+ as MacLellan would have solved the team's main weakness without even knowing it. Still, even if he can't fill the hole on the right next to Dmitry Orlov, Gudas has proven himself to be every bit the strong, physical defenseman and penalty killer the team hoped it was getting.

Garnet Hathaway

Looking to make the team more difficult to play against, MacLellan managed to sign Hathaway away from the Calgary Flames, the only NHL team he had ever known. Hathaway instantly brought a physical edge to the lineup. He has proven productive as well and has seven points in his first 23 games, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 14 points.

Stats: 23 games played, 2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points, 30 PIM, 11:38 time on ice per game

Hathway on the Caps

I think they built this team so well, I don't think there's a void that you can really point at. I want to go and I want to compliment the guys that are there right now. They have a lot of skill, they have a lot of scoring and they have guys that are tough and play a physical game. So, I want to continue on the growth I have in my career right now and I want to continue to be hard to play against.

Reirden on Hathaway

He’s a special guy in terms of his compete, his battle, his character. It’s really high-end. And when you have a guy that has a broken nose and comes back and then gets into a fight and draws a penalty which we score on the power play and then ends up scoring an empty netter that’s how it should work out. For a sacrifice like that, if you’re willing to do those things that’s what to me being a Washington Capital is all about.

Grade: B

You can't be effective if you aren't on the ice. Hathaway was suspended three games for spitting which is just so far off the grid from what you expect from an NHL player, you have to ask if he can keep his emotions in check. Beyond that limited incident, however, I love what Hathway brings. The type of player he is can be summed up in the sequence he had against the New York Rangers in which he broke his nose, came back, drew a penalty, got into a fight, the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway scored an empty netter at the end of the game. When you have a player like that, that's a big addition.

Brendan Leipsic

Leipsic is Washington's latest reclamation project. A player on his fourth NHL team who the team signed on a whim to a cheap contract in the hopes he could turn into a team contributor.

Stats: 26 games played, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, 4 PIM, 9:17 time on ice per game

Leipsic on the Caps

It's never really easy coming into a team that's won, especially prett recent. I did in L.A. and then here. But everybody kind of welcomes you really well. Everybody gets treated the same from the top to the bottom, first line, fourth line, backup goalie. Great group of guys, I can see why they've had a lot of success here.

Reirden on Leipsic

He's helped us a couple different ways. We're looking for someone to play with a lot of energy and speed and also had a little bit of edge to his game. I think that he's been able to provide that through the first quarter of the season for us. Primarily played on the fourth line but I haven't been afraid to slot him up at times with some other players. He has the skill to play with some top-end guys as he showed probably more so in LA then with Van. He's fit in nicely and I think when our fourth line's at it's best, it has him on it to be able to create offense. Also, he's not really all that fun to play against. He's a tenacious player that hunts pucks and has a physical element to him. I think he's allowed us to play a more aggressive skating game that we were seeking to play when we looked to sign him this summer.

Grade: B+

It seems early to slap a grade on Leipsic because it seems like he has just started to really hit his stride. It was evident immediately how fast he was, but it took time to show how skilled and physical he was as well. He is a very high-end fourth-line player who presents a very difficult matchup for teams, much more difficult than you would anticipate for a fourth-line player. I'd like to see him perform the way he is now for an extended amount of time so I'll give him a B+ with the caveat that I feel this will go up by season's end.

Richard Panik

Of the four new acquisitions, Panik was expected to take on the biggest role as a two-way, third-line forward. He was expected both to be strong in his own end, while also a strong goal-scorer on the other. He also happens to be the player who has struggled the most adjusting to his new team.  A shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games certainly did not help.

Stats: 16 games played, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points, 4 PIM, 11:53 time on ice per game

Reirden on Panik

He’s more than just a scorer for us. That’s why we targeted this player in the summer and our organization went after him. I’m just happy to see him get rewarded with some offense. That line, it’s been much talked about trying to get a little something offensively from that group.

MacLellan on Panik

It hasn't been a seamless transition for him. We haven't seen that line together much. As we get healthy, I think we'll have a better indication of whether it works or it doesn't work. For [Panik], it's been up and down. His performance has been good and it's been not so good. But we've got to give him some time to fit in and to play with his normal linemates for a stretch during the season.

Grade: C-

Two goals aren't going to cut it, but there's no denying that Panik has played remarkably better since returning from his upper-body injury. The Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Panik third line has also played together less than 24 minutes at 5-on-5 this season thus far so there really is not enough sample size to call this signing a bust yet.


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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.