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Key Caps questions: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

Key Caps questions: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Can Dmitry Orlov eclipse 40 points?

Tarik: Orlov’s goal every year should be producing 40 or more points.

Two seasons ago, the Russian defenseman established a career-high for assists with 27 and ended up with 33 points. Last season, Orlov scored a career-best 10 goals and finished with 31 points.

Orlov’s goal output, in fact, made him just the fifth Caps defenseman since 2000 to hit double digits, joining Mike Green, Sergei Gonchar, John Carlson and Dennis Wideman.

What does that tell us? It tells us that 12 goals and 28 assists in 2018-19 shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Orly.

The area where I could see Orlov making the biggest jump next season is in the goal department.

He possesses a blisteringly hard shot. And, last winter, two things became apparent to me: No. 1, Orlov had started shooting to score rather than just put the puck on net and No. 2, he was beginning to do a much better job of walking the blue line, finding open lanes and delivering that big shot on net with more accuracy. Consider: he mustered 125 shots on goal each of the last two seasons but last season saw his goal total jump from six to double digits for the first time.

At 27-years old, Orlov still has a lot of runway in front of him. I think he’s going to continue to improve at both ends of the rink, particularly in the D-zone, where NHL defensemen often hit their prime around his age.

I’m a little less bullish on Orlov’s offensive upside for one reason: I think he’d need to skate on the first unit power play to really increase his goal and assist totals. And the point job, of course, is locked down by Carlson, and rightfully so.

The bottom line: I could see Orlov, who hasn’t missed a game in three-plus seasons, hitting 40 points. But I’m having a tough time seeing him amass much more without a bigger role on the PP. Last season, for example, Carlson racked up 32 points with the man advantage, while Orlov had four.

JJ:  Getting more time on the power play would certainly help Orlov, but I believe the issue that holds him back the most is his offensive instincts.

Last season, Orlov produced 10 goals and 31 points. His partner, Matt Niskanen, produced seven goals and 29 points. I think it's fair to label Niskanen as a two-way defenseman, but when you compare the skillsets of both players, there is no reason why Orlov and Niskanen's offensive point totals should be that close. Orlov's offensive ceiling is much, much higher.

So why did they produce at essentially the same rate?

Orlov has a great, great shot and is an incredibly skilled stick-handler, but he lacks the same offensive instincts of the opportunistic Niskanen who always seems to know the best time to creep up into the offensive zone. You just don't see Orlov score many goals like this.

Orlov does score some pretty amazing, highlight reel goals, but if he is not scoring off a great individual play or with his blistering shot, he's not scoring. He is not as effective at reading play in the offensive zone.

Though he does not play on the first unit of the power play, Orlov still got over 95 minutes of power play time last season and he registered a measly four assists. Even if you're not playing with the top unit, you are still getting time on a man-advantage. There's still more room to work with and a player with Orlov's skill should be able to muster more than four points.. But, for a player playing the blue line on the power play, Orlov is expected to be one of the quarterbacks of that unit and he just does not see the game the same way Niskanen or John Carlson do.

Another issue facing Orlov is his role. He and Niskanen used to be the Caps' top defensive pairing in almost every situation. The addition of Michal Kempny gives Washington a bonafide top-four. Orlov and Niskanen are the go-to in shutdown situations, but if you need offense, your first choice is going to be putting Carlson's pairing on the ice, not Orlov.

At 27, Orlov is really entering the prime of his career. If he hopes to take the next step offensively, it's now or never. He has tallied 29, 33 and 31 points in the past three season, so he is hovering around the same level of production. His skill set indicates he should be producing more. It's certainly possible he takes the next step, but I see 35 as much more realistic than 40.

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Caps invite fans to submit original art for new Capit-Ale design

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Caps invite fans to submit original art for new Capit-Ale design

A freshly brewed beer is making its way to Capital One Arena. 

In partner with Devils Backbone Brewing Company, the Caps announced on Monday that starting in September, Capit-Ale India Pale Ale will be available for purchase at Capital One Arena. 

Capit-Ale will be available in two can designs. The first design features the Caps mural installation at L'Enfant Plaza, designed by the Washington, D.C., based artists BroCoLoco.

In efforts to spark excitement for the 2019-20 season, fans are invited to submit original art for a chance to be featured on the second can design.

Designs can be submitted from July 22-Oct.18 and will be selected in January 2020 by Devils Backbone Brewing Company and the Caps.

The winner will receive tickets to a Capitals game, a framed version of their art autographed by Caps players and have their art hung up in the Capital One  Arena Devils Backbone bar. 

The new 16 oz. hoppy brew will also be available on draft at select retail locations in the DMV area. 

This is not the first time Devils Backbone Brewing Company has partnered with a D.C. team. In 2018, they partnered with the Redskins to launch the #ATTR Ale at FedEx Field. 

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: How will the contract situation affect Backstrom and Holtby?

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: How will the contract situation affect Backstrom and Holtby?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today, we look at Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby who are entering the final year of their contracts.

Will the contract situations hang over their heads all season and affect their play?

Professional athletes face pressure all the time. They have pressure to perform, pressure to make the playoffs, pressure to make a deep run and to win championships. Sometimes the greatest pressure a player can feel, however, comes when they are playing for a contract.

When you watch some of the greatest athletes in the world perform superhuman feats on the ice, it can be easy to forget that these players are also human. These are people with families. While contract numbers can be fun to play with on CapFriendly, we are also talking about people whose given career field has a limited window. They are quite literally playing for the future security of their families.

This brings us to Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, two players entering the final year of their contracts who also happen to be two of the best players on the team. Backstrom will be 32 by the end of next season and Holtby will be 30. Given their age, the next contract will likely be the last big one of their careers.

With no new update on their respective contracts and the calendar nearing August, it seems very likely, if not probably, that both players will begin the season without a new contract in hand.

One bad season or one bad injury could cause both players potentially millions of dollars. That is also tricky for the team because if the pressure of playing for their next contract messes with their heads, those are two of the team’s best players suffering rough seasons.

If Backstrom and Holtby struggle under the pressure of knowing every night they are playing for their next deals, they certainly would not be the first or last to do so. But let’s not forget who we are talking about here.

If you had to choose the two most unflappable players on the roster, Backstrom and Holtby would both be pretty high on that list. The mentally calm way in which they approach the game suggests both are well-suited to the pressures of a contract year.

While we have grouped both players into a single question as to how they will perform, both of their situations actually look very different.

Backstrom elected to go with security over money in his last contract for 10 years and $67 million. That deal has proven to be an extremely team-friendly contract. According to CapFriendly, Backstrom’s $6.7 million cap hit is only the 65th highest in the league. That’s a bargain for a future Hall-of-Famer in the prime of his career.

While he is certainly entitled to a raise, he also does not strike me as the type of player to hold the team hostage with an outrageous salary ask.

“This is all I know,” Backstrom said at the team’s breakdown day. “It’s crazy, but at the same time it’s a great feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything better from the fans and from the city of Washington.”

It is hard to imagine Backstrom and the team not being able to come to an agreement to keep him in Washington. He is still playing at a high level and, because he has never been an overly fast or overly physical player, he is likely to live up to new contract even in his mid-thirties. For him, there should be less pressure knowing he is likely to be back.

The same cannot be said for Holtby whose future in Washington is far more uncertain.

Much has been written on this topic of late and if you want a real deep-dive into why Holtby is doubtful to return to Washington, you can read my article here. To summarize, the high cost it will take to re-sign Holtby in both money and term as well as the looming Seattle expansion draft and the fact that the team’s top prospect is a goalie make it unlikely the Caps will be able to keep him. That puts even more pressure on Holtby as he faces the possibility of having to move on.

If there is one goalie who you should not worry about mentally, however, it is Holtby.

Holtby set a franchise record in April with his seventh postseason shutout. When asked what that did for his confidence he said, “Nothing. It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

When Washington was eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in a Game 7 double-overtime loss, Holtby said afterward, “Obviously it's disappointing. It's not where we expected to be. It's a hard-fought series and they just ended up making more plays than we did.”

Regardless of whether he is ecstatic or distraught, happy or sad, you can always expect a calm, monotone response from Holtby in the locker room. This does not strike me as a player who will spend the season sweating over a contract.

To say neither player will even think of their contract situations this season would be unrealistic. They are only human. But it seems unlikely that their future contracts will have any major impact on their play because of the personality of both players plus their respective situations. Backstrom in all likelihood will remain with the Caps while Holtby, even though it appears his future will be elsewhere, probably feels a lot better about his situation after seeing Sergei Bobrovsky sign a massive $70 million deal in the offseason.

Both players are level-headed and in good spots even if they do not have contracts beyond 2020.

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