It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Feb. 20 edition below.
Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.
Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.
Greg C. writes: Last year, we heard a lot about the Caps pulling on the rope together. Are things different this year? If so, why aren't they pulling on the rope together this year?
There are a lot of nervous Caps fans out there over the way this season has gone and that has led to some speculation like this, that the team isn’t all on the same page.
To answer your question Greg, there are two things that are different this year. First, this team is the defending Stanley Cup champions. Going all the way and returning almost the exact same roster made many believe Washington would blow through this season, but they haven’t. As a result, that has led to the assumption that there is some underlying problem with the team that’s holding them back, whether it be coaching, lack of effort, fatigue, etc.
In reality, the Caps are about on pace with where they were last year. In the 2017-18 season, the Caps were 34-19-7 through 60 games. This year, they are 33-20-7 through 60, just two points off from last year’s pace. It only feels like they are worse off and that leads me to the second thing that is different from last year and that is the seven-game losing streak.
When the Caps hit their low point last season, it came in consecutive blowout losses to the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. This year, it came in the form of a seven-game losing streak which made it feel much, much worse, like trying to delicately peel off a band aid instead of just ripping it off quickly.
From my talks with players on the team, the only thing I really get the sense that the team is frustrated about is the constant shuffling on the fourth line, but it sure seems with all the wavier news on Wednesday that problem is about to go away.
Not very. As I pointed out above, Washington is just two points off its pace from last season. Despite losing seven games in a row, losing Tom Wilson for 16-games due to suspension, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s slump and not having their full lineup until February, the Caps are still in second place in the division. Five points is all that separates them from Carolina, the first team out of playoff position, but I do not believe Washington is going to get passed by two teams in the division and two wild card teams in just 22 games.
I think there is definitely something to the “target on the back” theory. The thing that makes it so exhausting is that this was not something that teams think about just in the first month of the season and move on. It is Every. Single. Night. It does not matter to anyone that Washington had that losing streak, until they are eliminated they remain the team to beat. Now that we are in the latter part of the season, teams are still using the Caps as a measuring stick for the playoffs. Think Tampa Bay, far and away the top team in the NHL this season, doesn’t have those three games against Washington in March circled in their calendar? You can bet that is going to be a big talking point when these teams meet up.
Brian MacLellan has traded for at least one defenseman every year at the trade deadline so yes, I would expect him to add to the blue line this year given the team’s struggles on defense. As for shooting, Caps fans get frustrated by this theory, but Washington intentionally limits their shots on goal, focusing on shot quality over quantity. It can get frustrating to watch at times and there are definitely times when some players don’t seem to realize that a low-danger shot on goal is better than a turnover, but the team won a Stanley Cup with this theory so they are not likely to change now.
For more on how the Caps developed this shooting philosophy, you can ready my article on it here.
The answer to your question about faster players is maybe. Elliotte Friedman wrote in his 31 Thoughts column on Tuesday about teams that have checked in on Marcus Johansson and he said “possibly Washington.” Though I have my reservations about brining Johansson back, one thing he would certainly add is speed.
Jay Beagle was great on the faceoff and the Caps certainly miss him, especially on the penalty kill. In the playoffs, he took a majority of the team’s faceoffs on the penalty kill and won a whopping 64.3-percent of them. But I ultimately don’t think faceoffs are going to be a huge priority when it comes to the trade deadline.
Even with Beagle taking so many shorthanded faceoffs, he took 306 faceoffs in the playoffs last year, fewer than Nicklas Backstrom (323), Evgeny Kuznetsov (325) and Lars Eller (330). Ultimately the team’s issues at the dot are going to have to be figured out by their top three centers unless they can find a player who is both strong on the faceoff and a good penalty killer as well.
Not sure I agree with you on this one. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana are the two fastest players on the team and both are in the top six. Vrana in particular has been flying lately and drew two penalties Monday against Los Angeles because of his speed.
The fourth line has been constantly shuffled and the third line began clicking only recently so I do not believe Todd Reirden has enough faith in either line to give them larger roles.
As for switching out players in the top six, who would you move to the bottom six out of Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Vrana, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin? The only move I would consider there is moving Oshie down to the third. He and Eller have great chemistry and I believe Oshie would benefit from getting less ice time, but is there enough faith in either Andre Burakovsky or Brett Connolly to move either player to the second line? That seems doubtful.
I went back and ran the numbers and you are correct, Braden Holtby seems to face more shots than Pheonix Copley. Holtby faces about 31 shots per game, while Copley usually sees about 29 per game. The difference is relatively small, but still large enough to suggest the team plays a bit looser defensively with Holtby in net. It was the same last year as Holtby again averaged about 31 shots per game, but Philipp Grubauer faced only about 27.
There is nothing fundamentally different about how the team approaches the game with either netminder, I think this simply speaks to the level of confidence the players have in Holtby. They may be a tad more focused on keeping shots away from Copley than they are with Holtby knowing they have one of the best netminders in the league between the pipes.
Jimmy H. writes: Brooks Orpik is beloved in D.C. and he loves D.C. Do you see him possibly moving into a coaching position within the organization after he hangs his skates up?
I definitely see Orpik as someone who could coach or get into management. He is always very thoughtful with his answers whenever I speak to him and, when you talk to the other defensemen, it’s clear how much they respect Orpik’s knowledge of the game. Will that be in Washington? I can’t say. A lot of getting into the business is about timing and it may just be a matter of whether there is a position open for him or not. But a big thing for him in the offseason was that he wanted to stay put for his family which is why he chose to re-sign with Washington. When he does retire, I think his first goal will be staying in the area at least a few years while his daughters are still young so yes, I do think it is possible Orpik remains with the organization in some capacity when he decides to hang up the skates.
Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.
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