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Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

Message received: Boyd, Stephenson know they are in a fight to keep their jobs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Capitals forwards Travis Boyd and Chandler Stephenson were given a very clear message in the offseason. It came in the form of the team signing free-agents Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic.

Both Boyd and Stephenson held depth roles last season, but the addition of two fourth-line players made it clear that the team was not satisfied with their play last season. Now in training camp, they find themselves in a position where they have to compete to earn the roles they played last year.

“It's a competition,” head coach Todd Reirden said at media day. “They know it's a competition. They're well-informed. It's a very clear message. No one in situations where there's competition are wondering what's going on.”

But even before camp started, both players understood what those signings meant for them and why they were necessary.

“I wouldn't sit here and say I wasn't disappointed or a little frustrated I guess watching the signings that we had here,” Boyd told NBC Sports Washington, “But at the same time I think all those signings help the team and I think definitely makes the team and this group of guys obviously a super dangerous group.”

Last season was Boyd’s first full year in the NHL. It got off to a rough start as an injury kept him out for several weeks. When he finally did get into the lineup, he struggled to stay in and found himself cycling in and out for the rest of the season. He finished the season with 53 games.

Boyd said that overall he felt he had a good season and showed he could contribute offensively with five goals and 15 assists in those 53 appearances. He did acknowledge though that the constant cycling in and out wore on him mentally which affected his play.

“There would be times where you would go a week, week and a half in between games,” Boyd said. “You don't really realize how tough that is until you're in that situation. Your ability to create offense in those situations is a lot harder because if it's your first game in a week and a half, for me personally, I probably wouldn't have came out (sic) there in the first period and been trying to make maybe some sort of a skill play at a blue line. You end up taking kind of the easy way out because it was your first game in a week and a half and you don't want to turn a puck over and then all of a sudden as soon as you turn that over a coach is like alright. It doesn't look good.”

That sentiment of the mental grind of trying to stay in the lineup was echoed by Stephenson who saw his production decline from 18 points in 2017-18 to 11 last season.

“I wasn't really just kind of going out and playing, playing freely,” he said. “Just felt like every game it was kind of a mind game for myself just with trying to stay in the lineup. Just wasn't playing and that's the biggest thing that you can't let yourself get to that point. Once you start thinking instead of just playing, it's usually not going to end well.”

If a guy like Alex Ovechkin or T.J. Oshie has a bad game, it does not come with that fear of wondering whether it means you will be out of the lineup. They can move on, but it is more difficult for Boyd and Stephenson who knew one bad game or even one bad play could be the difference between playing or getting scratched and not knowing when your next game will come.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that with so many depth players, that is not going to change this season. Even if they both do make the team, with so many depth players they are going to have to justify their spot in the lineup.

The experience of fighting for playing time last season should help both players with knowing how to deal with that mental grind, according to Boyd.

“Going in and out and playing on the fourth line was something I haven't done,” Boyd said. “I couldn't really tell you how long it's been for me there. Just being comfortable in that situation I think will help. For me, just put a little bit more effort and a little bit more focus on the practices, especially when you get into the grind of the season and once you actually get into the midpart of the season where a lot of days you can come here and really not be feeling that fresh. You might be able to sneak through a practice without really working hard or as hard as you could, but someone who's going in and out of the lineup trying to go 100-percent every day and trying to keep not only your body in that game shape, but also trying to get your mind into making quick decisions still and just trying to be ready for whenever you do get that chance again.”

First, however, both Boyd and Stephenson have to make the team which is not guaranteed.

Washington’s salary cap situation means general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to find a way to shed salary. That means either Boyd or Stephenson, or perhaps even both players could find themselves on the move. Training camp and the preseason offer them the chance to show the team they still deserve to be in Washington.

The suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov could also provide Boyd specifically a chance to impress.

With Kuznetsov out, Lars Eller is expected to move to the second line to replace him. That leaves an opening at third-line center.

This training camp was already important with Boyd fighting for his job. Now here is a chance to earn a third-line role to start the season and perhaps exhibit himself for the first three games until Kuznetsov returns.

“I can't even tell you how big it is,” Boyd said. “A chance to be in a role other than the fourth line if I am in that spot for these first three games, I'd love that. I'd love the chance, I'd love the opportunity. It's just a great opportunity for myself to showcase that I'm back from last year. I put on 10, 11 pounds over the summer so I've got some more weight to me this year, I feel like I'm moving well, I'm skating well I just want to go out there and, if I do get the chance in the first three games, go out there and show what I can do and hopefully show the coaching staff that hopefully I can play.”

As for Stephenson, he is taking a more relaxed approach to camp. If the pressure of staying in the lineup affected his play last season, he is determined to make sure the pressure of a competitive training camp does not drag him down.

“That'll just handcuff yourself and put you in a bad spot because you might be expecting something when it's not happening,” he said, “But for the most part, it's just a competitive camp. Come in, have fun, do what I can do and just do everything I can to stay here. I want to be here.”

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Why are abusive coaching tactics tolerated?

Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Why are abusive coaching tactics tolerated?

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.

Nathan S. writes: Why have abusive coaches such as Bill Peters, Marc Crawford, and to some extent Mike Babcock been tolerated as it's clear that front office people and players knew about this type of abuse for years?

Because I do not believe players have felt empowered enough to speak out. While some people knew somewhat what these coaches were doing, I do not believe they knew to what extent. Who in their right mind would have hired Peters if they had known he had shouted the N-word in a locker room? They wouldn't have. Even if Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving had known Peters could get after his players, had he known to what extent he never would have done it.

To me, it's a culture thing. I am not saying the culture of hockey is rotten, far from it. What I am saying is hockey players have a mentality of not wanting to speak out about...well, anything. That has to change.

The position of authority these coaches hold over players is a factor as well. A coach does not just get to the NHL and decides he wants to be a hard-ass. He has been doing it at every step of his career meaning in the junior leagues, in college, in the minors. If you're a player in one of those leagues and hope to make it to the NHL someday, it is hard to speak out against your coach who you feel controls your future. Your coach has contacts at the next level, he has friends in the organization, he has a history, he has fans, he has influence. Plus, who are you going to talk to? The general manager? The guy who hired the coach in the first place who, if the coach fails, reflects negatively on him? Players find believe they have a choice of speaking out and risking their careers or staying silent and just dealing with it.

Players have to have some sort of outlet outside of a team to report these things so that it is clear this will not come back to negatively affect them.

Nick Crawford writes: With the upcoming contract negotiations for Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, is it at all possible that the Caps will be able to sign all three?

Not without significant cuts to the rest of the roster.

Look, never say never. I thought there was no way the team could afford to re-sign T.J. Oshie. I thought there was no money for the team to make any offseason additions this year. If Brian MacLellan wants to sign all three and all three want to come back, then he will find a way to get it done.

My point through all of this is that I don't think Holtby will be re-signed because I don't think it makes sense. You can only protect one goalie in the Seattle draft, Holtby is going to command a gigantic cap hit and keeping him means making a lot of cuts elsewhere on the roster and selling the 22-year-old Ilya Sasmonov because you can't keep both. Does it really make sense to do that for a 30-year-old Holtby?

Can the Caps re-sign all three? If they really want to, sure. Will they? I highly, highly doubt it.

Craig Boden writes: Alex Ovechkin is now 34 years old, he's got to start slowing down soon. Does the big man get to 50 goals again this year and what's the chances of him getting even close to Gretzky's record?

Ovechkin very well could get 50 goals again this season. I have been consistent in my belief that he will fall just short of 50 this year, but it is not because I see him as slowing down. Getting 50 goals is hard to do consistently and I just think he falls short this year. He is currently on pace for about 54 so we will see.

Catching Gretzky's record remains a long shot.

Let's say Ovechkin stays on this pace all season and finishes with 54 goals. That will give him 712 in his career. He would still have to score 185 more goals to pass Gretzky. If he plays five more seasons, he would have to average 37 goals per year to get there. Yes, that sounds low for Ovechkin but at some point he is going to slow down and I don't see a 38, 39-year-old Ovechkin scoring 40 goals.

Ovechkin will probably have to have another big season -- 50 goals or close to it -- after this year to really make a run at it.

Even if he doesn't get there though, the fact that we are even talking about this is remarkable. Gretzky's goal record is one of those records I thought to be untouchable. Ovechkin has made this record impossible to beat to improbable which is a mammoth achievement.

Emily Fon-Kats: What are some pre-game rituals?

Hockey superstitions can be bizarre. Some players guard them very closely while others are more open about it. I wrote about this in January, check out the story here.

Andre Burakovsky was the weirdest. And of course, there's also the Oshie butt taps

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way. There are so many more that we never see or hear about.

Richard Strickland writes: Does Braden Holtby get bored during a slow game?

Bored is not the right word. Going "cold" is a real thing for goalies and Holtby is someone who prefers to be busy. He definitely feels like he does better against more shots. Even if he knows he is not playing that night, he will take more shots in practice.

I would not say bored. Perhaps antsy would be a better way to describe it. It is is just how he is wired.

Jason Woodside writes: I don’t see why a team that scores on a delayed penalty doesn’t still get awarded a power play. Any chance the league ever looks into changing this?

Actually yes. You are not the first person I have heard suggest this. In the league's endless pursuit of more offense, awarding a power play after a goal is scored is a pretty simple change that would not dramatically change the game. I am not sure how much it would actually impact goal-scoring league-wide as it does not happen very often, but this would be a minor change in the grand scheme of things.

I would not at all be surprised if we see a change like this to the rules.

I recently read an article about hockey dentists. How many behind the scenes coaches/staff are present for games vs the amount that would be there for a practice day? Are these roles only there for home games or do they travel?

If you are referring to the ESPN article on hockey dentists, I saw that too. It was a great read.

This is not a subject I am too familiar with, but I will tell you what little I do know about it. First, the Caps list eight team doctors as members of its medical staff. There is a head team physician/orthopedic surgeon, another orthopedic surgeon, two internists, an emergency physician, an emergency medicine physician and internist, an ophthalmologist and a dentist. These "team" doctors are all full-time doctors who just have a relationship with the team. The only medical personnel who are full-time employees of a team are the athletic trainers. In fact, most team doctors around the league don't get paid. They get to say they are the official doctor, dentist surgeon, etc. of whatever team they work with and go to the games, but most are not paid. I do not know the specific relationship between the Caps and their medical personnel so I couldn't tell you if they are paid or not.

Because of that, unless there is a reason they need to be there they are not on hand for practice. They have their own jobs they need to tend to. The same goes for travel. It is not as if every road trip the Caps pack the plane with a dentist, a physician, a surgeon and other personnel. That's not really how it works. If there is a medical emergency on the road, they would rely on whatever medical personnel are at the arena they are visiting.

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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Capitals at Ducks Game 31: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Capitals at Ducks Game 31: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

These teams faced off just two weeks ago, and things got a little crazy. Fists flew, punches were thrown, and tensions were high. 

The Washington Capitals are eager to seal this road trip with what would be their sixth consecutive victory (and ultimately staying 1.00 on this trip westward). 

Atop the league standings and sitting seventh-to-last respectively, the Capitals and Ducks are at very different points nearly two months in to the 2019-2020 NHL season.

Anaheim is 12-12-4 after beating the LA Kings 4-2 Monday night, the only team they are doing better than in the Pacific Division. The Ducks face a crucial point to spur some upward momentum, but will be met by swift Capitals offense (+26 differential so far this season) as well as Norris contender John Carlson, who scored his 100th and 101st career goals in Los Angeles Wednesday night against the Kings. 

CAPITALS-DUCKS GAME 31: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Anaheim Ducks

Where: The Honda Center, Anaheim, CA

When: Friday, December 6, 2019 at 10 PM ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Ducks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. (NBC Sports Washington channel finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Ducks game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS-DUCKS TV SCHEDULE:

9:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live (LIVE)
9:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live (LIVE)
10:00 PM: NHL: Capitals @ Anaheim Ducks (LIVE) [NBC Sports Washington Plus]
12:30 AM: Caps Postgame Live (LIVE) [NBC Sports Washington Plus]

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