Capitals

Quick Links

Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

usatsi_8176632.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

MORE CAPS NEWS:

Quick Links

Oshie is out, Smith-Pelly is in for Game 5: What that means for the Caps’ offense

smith-oshie-split-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Oshie is out, Smith-Pelly is in for Game 5: What that means for the Caps’ offense

ARLINGTON – The Capitals forward lines will look very different when they take the ice for Game 5 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. T.J. Oshie will be out after suffering an upper-body injury late in Game 4 while Devante Smith-Pelly, who was called up from the Hershey Bears on Friday, will be in.

“I do expect him to go right into the lineup,” head coach Todd Reirden said.

Smith-Pelly was one of the team’s playoff heroes in its 2018 Stanley Cup run, scoring seven goals in 24 games. After a rocky regular season, he was sent down to Hershey prior to the NHL trade deadline where he has scored six goals and eight assists in 20 games.

“To get his game back to where it was last year around this time, it was important for him to play a lot of minutes,” Reirden said. “He went down to Hershey, and he played a lot of minutes, helped them have success, helped them get into the playoffs. When an injury and a chance for him to step into our lineup was available, then we were going to recall him. That's been our plan all along. Now he'll get that opportunity."

Whether the Caps are getting playoff Smith-Pelly or the player who struggled this season remains to be seen, but his pending return seems to have provided a boost to the locker room.

“He was with us all the way last year, so that’s huge,” Chandler Stephenson said. “He knows playoff hockey.”

“He can step up in the important moments,” Jakub Vrana said. “He showed it last year and we’re happy to have him back.”

Getting that boost from Smith-Pelly is important for the team after losing one of its leaders and locker room personalities in Oshie.

Reirden said Oshie was still meeting with doctors and could not give a definitive timeline yet. He did say, however, that Oshie was out indefinitely and would not be playing Saturday.

"He's certainly, I feel, one of the top leaders in the entire league,” Reirden said. “Not just with how he plays, who he is as a human being on the ice, off the ice, role model. You can go on a lot of different ways with the type of person that T.J. Oshie is and not having him around your players is not great. That loss will be felt.”

The Hurricanes certainly will not be crying over the loss of Oshie, however, and it falls now on Reirden to adjust. That will be no easy task.

The Caps have been held to one goal in the past two games, have gotten virtually no secondary scoring in the first four games of the series and now will be without the team’s second-leading goal scorer from the regular season.

“It has been top heavy,” Reirden said of the offense. “Just even 5-on-5 scoring is not where we need it to be and particularly, obviously, the last two games. We've got to find ways to generate offense. It's always tougher to create in the playoffs. You know, teams don't give up quite as much on the rush. They're a lot more committed to not giving up odd-man rushes to the opposition. We've got to find a way to get in on the forecheck more and impose a little bit more of a physical style of play on their defense and that comes with our puck management and putting pucks in behind them. Then when we have space, we've got to use it.”

Friday’s practice was an optional skate meaning we did not get to see any lines or how Reirden may be planning to shift the offense. With Oshie out, this could give Reirden an opportunity to reunite the Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson line that was so effective in last year’s postseason. Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin, meanwhile, seem like the most likely candidates to move into a top-six role in Oshie’s absence.

Washington struggled immensely trying to replace a top-six right wing early in the season when Tom Wilson missed 16 games due to a suspension. Reirden tried to plug in Connolly, Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin, among others. Nothing seemed to work until Wilson returned.

The addition of Hagelin at the trade deadline means Washington is dealing with more offensive depth now than when Wilson was out. Plus, past experiences both from this season’s multiple injuries and last postseason give the team confidence that it can overcome any loss to the roster.

“We've been in situations where we've lost one of our leaders,” Vrana said. “We have a pretty good group of players here and anybody can fill-in and bring their A-games to the game."

“I think just a handful of games where we actually had our actual opening day roster that we wanted to have in front of us,” Reirden said. “It's something we've gone through a lot this year. We've done a good job, our team has of stepping up in those situations and taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Smith-Pelly will likely slot into the bottom-six upon his return to the lineup. Reirden acknowledged it had been a while since Smith-Pelly had played in the NHL and said he would ease him back in. But he is still expecting him to make a big impact, regardless of what line he plays on.

Reirden hopes that Smith-Pelly’s playing style can help improve the team in some of the areas it has struggled in the past two games.

"I don't think we've been as physical on our forecheck as we could have hoped after four games of evaluating,” Reirden said. “Some of it is that we're not getting in enough to forecheck and when we are, we haven't been as physical as maybe we have been in past series in a prior time. This is an impact that [Smith-Pelly] can have. They're a high shot-volume team as we talk about, so in D-zone coverage he's an excellent shot-blocker, pays the price that way. And when things get more difficult, he seems to relish in that and step up to the plate and obviously delivered some big goals for us. Those are some things we're looking for.”

But Washington’s success will not be dependent solely on the addition of Smith-Pelly. The rest of the forwards know they have to step up as well.

“I haven’t found the net lately, I know that,” Vrana said who has yet to score this series. “I’ve been working on it in today’s practice and tomorrow is a new game. Come with a positive mind and go period by period and focus on winning the game.”

“I think there's another level from everybody,” Reirden said. “Some guys have played better than others, but I don't think we're at our peak by any means yet.”

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Hurricanes tie series with Caps, Blues take series lead, Sharks avoid elimination

As the first-round starts to head into the final games, each matchup is getting more and more critical, as was evident Thursday. Not only did the Carolina Hurricanes have the chance to even up the series with the Washington Capitals in Game 4, but the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets were playing for the 3-2 series lead and the San Jose Sharks found themselves in a must-win situation in order to avoid elimination against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Thursday's slate of games proved to be crucial and ultimately, played out well for the Hurricanes, Blues and Sharks. Here's how each series stacked up Thursday.

Hurricanes tie series against Caps with narrow 2-1 win

It was a close matchup between Washington and Carolina Thursday, but thanks to a couple of key goals and a big night for Petr Mrazek between the pipes, the Hurricanes were able to take Game 4 with a 2-1 victory.

Warren Foegele opened the scoring for Carolina just 17 seconds in, crashing the net and scoring on a lay-up that beat Braden Holtby. It was his third goal of the playoffs and the fastest playoff goal for Carolina in franchise history.

Alex Ovechkin was able to even the score in the second period with a one-timer on the man advantage, putting an end to 11 straight penalty kills for the Canes. The goal was Ovechkin's second of the playoffs, with both tallies coming on the power play. However, just before the second period came to a close, Teuvo Teravainen returned the lead for Carolina to make it 2-1.

Petr Mrazek made 30 saves on the night, including eight in the third period to guarantee the victory for the Hurricanes, while Holtby made 22 saves on 24 shots. Washington also lost T.J. Oshie to injury late in the game after he was hit from behind by Warren Foegele. The series is now tied 2-2.

Blues edge Jets with comeback victory, take series lead

Although the Jets were up 2-0 over the Blues heading into the third period, Winnipeg surrendered three unanswered goals as St. Louis took a 3-2 victory.

Adam Lowry scored just 12 seconds into the opening frame for the Jets' fastest playoff goal in franchise history to make it 1-0, and Kevin Hayes added a goal a little over halfway through the first to make it 2-0.

The lead would carry over until the final 20 minutes of regulation, where the Blues kicked it into full gear. Ryan O'Reilly beat Connor Hellebuyck on the power play a little over a minute into the third to pull the Blues within one. With about seven minutes to go, Brayden Schenn would tie the game at 2 with his first goal of the playoffs.

With the final minute winding down, it appeared that the game would be headed to overtime; however, Tyler Bozak was able to knock the puck loose and find a wide-open Jaden Schwartz in front, who fired the puck past Hellebuyck with just 15 seconds remaining to make it 3-2.

With the victory, the Blues now hold a 3-2 series lead and can eliminate Winnipeg in Game 6 Saturday.

Sharks stay alive with statement 5-2 win over Golden Knights

Thursday's game was a must-win for the Sharks, and thanks mainly to the effort of Tomas Hertl, they were able to dominate on home ice with an impressive win over Vegas.

A little over a minute in, Tomas Hertl jumped on a pass from Erik Karlsson and scored his third of the playoffs to make it 1-0 early. Later in the period, Logan Couture would beat Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Sharks up by two, but with 30 seconds to go in the opening frame, Reilly Smith was able to pull Vegas within one with his first of the postseason.

While it looked like Vegas would be able to shift the momentum with their end to the first, Barclay Goodrow redirected a Justin Braun shot past Fleury and the Sharks regained their two-goal lead.

Jonathan Marchessault would strike for the Golden Knights on the power play over halfway into the third to cut the lead to one, but Hertl soon after scored his second of the night on the rebound of a Joe Pavelski shot to make it 4-2. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, Pavelski scored on the empty net for his second point of the game, which ultimately sealed the deal for the Sharks.

Martin Jones, who had been struggling but was given the start regardless, proved his worth with 30 saves on 32 shots, and Erik Karlsson also put up a multi-point performance for San Jose in the win.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: