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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are leaving a lot of points on the table because of penalties

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are leaving a lot of points on the table because of penalties

Penalties have been an issue for the Capitals all season long, but the issue has gained a lot of attention recently after Todd Reirden benched Dmitrij Jaskin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the first period against the Boston Bruins on Feb. 3.

Washington is tied for second in the NHL with 199 minor penalties this season and it is really starting to cost them.

Saturday’s game against the Florida Panthers turned on a first period offensive zone trip by T.J. Oshie. A strong start for Washington was erased as the Panthers scored one second after the penalty expired. The Caps ended up giving the Panthers’ second ranked power play four opportunities on the night, including a brutal penalty by Brett Connolly late in the game.

With four seconds left, Connolly chopped Aleksander Barkov’s stick out of his hands in the offensive zone. Barkov is not going to score with four seconds left and the puck on the wrong end of the ice. It was an unnecessary penalty and Florida scored on the resulting power play in overtime.

After a disastrous start to the season, Washington’s penalty kill has not been terrible. If you take out October, the Caps are killing off 79.9-percent of the penalties they face, good for 18th in the league. 

That’s not great, but at least it’s average. During that same stretch, however, Washington has given up 29 power play goals, the eighth most in the NHL.

Taking as many penalties as they are is stressing the penalty kill to the point that it has negated the team’s improvement in that area.

The playoff race is still pretty close. Washington is in a good position sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but they are leaving points on the table with these penalties. That is something they will have to clean up to stay out of the wild card battle below them and have a run at the red-hot Islanders at the top of the division.

SEE THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • What do you do with Andre Burakovsky? He is playing his best hockey of the season and the third line is clicking, but we have seen this play out before. Burakovsky’s talent level is not in question, the problem is consistency. Do you hold on to him and hope he continues this level of play into the playoffs in which case you have an incredibly formidable top-nine? Or, do you assume this is just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys and trade him before you get burned yet again by his inconsistent play and try to bring in someone else who can play on the third line?
  • If you are among those who are upset that Jonas Siegenthaler was sent down to Hershey, don’t worry. He is not going to be there very long. Siegenthaler was the odd-man out when Christian Djoos returned because the Caps had the maximum of 23 players on the roster and Siegenthaler was the only player on the team who was waiver exempt. That’s why he was sent to Hershey. The roster maximum no longer applies after the trade deadline so if the Caps can make the money work, they will recall him. Otherwise, he will be back for the playoffs when teams no longer have to adhere to the salary cap. Either way, he will be back in Washington sooner rather than later.
  • We have seen a lot of shuffling on the fourth line pretty much the entire season. I asked Reirden this week when he would look to get some consistency with his lines and he said after the trade deadline. “It should be coming up for me on the last 20 games,” he said, “Continuing to see what happens with putting guys in different spots and hoping to get positive results that we're looking for and then obviously a deadline coming up as well so there's possibility of something different there as well. For me, until that deadline passes then you're not really married to anything because as we know things can change in the game. But after that, at that point then you want to try to get something pretty consistent.” For my money, if I’m choosing the best fourth line, I would go with Jaskin, Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd.
  • You can take the above quote from Reirden in one of two ways. One, either Reirden was talking generally about the deadline and how there’s always a possibility of teams making moves or two, Reirden is expecting the team to make some type of trade.
  • Please, let’s not start the Brooks Orpik debate again. He’s been fine this season. Not good, not horrendous, just fine. He is what he is at this point and the deficiencies in his game are the same deficiencies that he had last year before playing a key role in a Cup run. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you do with the third pairing if the second pair is going to play as badly as they have, Matt Niskanen in particular. To me, that’s a far bigger issue than the fact that Orpik has bad analytics again.

The Caps have been warming up since returning from the All-Star break going 3-1-1 in five games. Find out where Washington lands this week here in the latest NHL Power Rankings.

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Tom Wilson gets into fiery back-and-forth with LA Kings mascot

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Tom Wilson gets into fiery back-and-forth with LA Kings mascot

Washington Capitals right winger Tom Wilson is used to getting into it with NHL players, but now he's moving on to NHL mascots?

During Monday's 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, Wilson was sent to the penalty box after taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with Kings' Kyle Clifford. Conveniently, the Kings' lion mascot Bailey was stationed right next to Wilson and the two started to engage in some fun back-and-forth.

As pointed out by Russian Machine Never Breaks, Wilson appeared to tell Bailey that the mascot and Clifford were twins and he was hanging out at the wrong penalty box. While Wilson and the Capitals walked away with the win, Bailey won the fiery Twitter response award. 

Back in December, Vegas Golden Knights' Ryan Reaves injured Wilson with a late blindside hit, and after the game said Wilson 'ran into a lion in the jungle.' While the controversial hit got Reaves ejected, no suspension became of it and Reaves even signed pictures of the hit that he had later removed from being sold by local memorabilia company.

No wonder Bailey's Twitter bio says he's, "the world's sassiest Lion with a little attitude on the side!"

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How a minor trade for an unknown defenseman proved to be the biggest move of the 2018 NHL trade deadline

How a minor trade for an unknown defenseman proved to be the biggest move of the 2018 NHL trade deadline

As the dust settled after the 2018 NHL trade deadline, there were a number of key moves made to change the landscape of the league and the Stanley Cup race. The biggest move made was by the Tampa Bay Lightning who added the top defenseman on the market in Ryan McDonagh. But there was also a number of other big moves with players like Evander Kane, Paul Stastny and Rick Nash all headed to new teams.

A minor trade by the Capitals stood as barely a footnote amid all the flurry of moves. On Feb. 19, Washington sent a third-round draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a little known defenseman named Michal Kempny.

“I find out before the morning skate so I just packed two suitcases and I had to catch the plane,” Kempny said. “And that's it.”

On Feb. 17, the Caps were obliterated by the Blackhawks 7-1 in Chicago. Washington still maintained first place in the Metropolitan Division, but that game highlighted the Caps’ weak defense.

Washington had two rookies playing on their blue line regularly in Christain Djoos and Madison Bowey. Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen were a fine defensive pair, but there was no clear partner for the team’s best defenseman, John Carlson. The result was that the Caps dressed a defense with one set tandem and a mishmash of four other players including two rookies joined together into ill-fitting pairs.

The Caps desperately needed another top-four defenseman if they hoped to make a deep playoff run. Finding one midseason, however, is easier said than done.

A top-four defenseman is a valuable commodity and most teams are loathe to give those players up. When one is available, they don’t come cheap.

The Caps made the big splash move in the prior season with the addition of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The trade did not work out as Shattenkirk never seemed to fit in with the team and ended up playing primarily on the third pair.

Washington did not have a first, second or third round draft pick in the 2017 draft. Giving up a similar haul for a second consecutive season was not an option. In terms of players and prospects, Washington simply did not have the assets needed to land an established defenseman. They had to look at other, cheaper options.

Kempny was a 27-year-old Czech defenseman in his second season with Chicago. His NHL career was not going the way he had hoped. Kempny struggled to earn the trust of Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville playing only 50 games the prior season and was again used sparingly in 2017-18 with only 31 games. He needed a change.

“My situation in Chicago wasn't good,” Kempny said.

Before the trade deadline, general manager Brian MacLellan asked then associate coach Todd Reirden to watch some video on the Czech defenseman.

“Michal I watched play I'd say probably eight games before we acquired him, so it was someone that we were kind of looking at early in the season,” Reirden said during training camp. “As our team was progressing and in some areas not progressing, we needed to look outside for some different options, particularly a guy that was extremely mobile, good skater and could potentially be a good compliment for John Carlson. That was what we saw in him. I thought in particular, comparing the way our system, what we do systematically with our defensemen, his skating ability would really be brought to the forefront with how we do things as a team and I thought that he could excel in that regard with how our team plays. He seemed like a perfect fit.”

On Feb. 19, MacLellan made the trade. It didn’t take long for Kempny to work his way up the depth chart.

“He's obviously a really good skater, one of the best skaters on the team I would say,” Carlson said. “He plays defense quick. He's in people's faces, he's high pressure onto the puck kind of guy.”

“Obviously a great guy that took to everyone else really well as well,” Carlson added. “He just fit in and that was kind of one of the turning points for us as a team getting going, getting ready for the playoffs I would say is right after he got here.”

Kempny played in just 22 games for the Caps before the playoffs. In that time, he quickly found a place in the lineup alongside Carlson. With Kempny and Carlson together, they soon became the top defensive pair on the team. Suddenly a team that could not establish its top four on defense not only had a top four, but a newly established top pair that proved critical to the team’s run to the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously he fit in perfectly,” Carlson said. “There was more to our success than that I think, but certainly that was a key moment for us in terms of filling a need that he was perfectly suitable for.”

It wasn’t McDonagh, Kane, Stastny or Nash who proved to be the biggest acquisitions of the 2018 deadline, but a relatively unknown defenseman who could not stay in the lineup in Chicago. It proved to be the biggest trade of the 2017-18 NHL season.

“Certainly it was the perfect move for us,” Carlson said. “Sometimes you try to just get the best player vs. the best player for your team. He fit perfectly.”

Said Kempny, “I was living my dream last season and I'm living dream right now so I really appreciate that I can be here in this league and this team.”

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