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What we learned: Capitals drubbed by Hurricanes in Game 3

What we learned: Capitals drubbed by Hurricanes in Game 3

RALEIGH — The Capitals were ahead in this Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, but not in control. 

Monday night’s Game 3 proved that as the minutes came and went and Washington couldn’t so much as put a shot on goal against Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek until well into the second period. Here are some things we learned about both teams heading into a critical Game 4 here in Raleigh. 

This is unsustainable

The shot totals were always going to be out of whack in this series. The Hurricanes put shots on goal from all over the ice. They’ve been doing it all year. Hell, they’ve been doing it for a few years now. And their goal results never quite live up to what you’d expect. That’s lack of skilled depth more than anything. The Capitals are the opposite – a group of skilled snipers up and down the lineup who are selective, maybe to a fault. They possess the puck less than most title contenders and yet score just fine. But this series is testing the limits of that strategy. Carolina has 81 shots at 5-on-5 play. The Capitals have 45. Again, some of that is by design. But much of that is the Hurricanes dominating puck possession. 

Special teams struggles

In Game 1, special-teams play saved the Capitals, who only had 12 shots during 5-on-5 play. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each scored on the power play in the first period and it was 3-0 before you could blink. That has slowly changed and you wonder if the series is changing with it. 

Washington is 0-for-10 since Ovechkin scored at  18:05 of the first period of Game 1. The Capitals have only 15 shots on goal in those 10 chances and looked especially shaky in Game 3 on Monday as the Hurricanes pressured the puck all over the ice. They need quicker puck movement because their skill players are getting smothered right now. They also need to hit the net. Too many shots are rushed and going wide. There won’t be many more easy one-timers for Ovechkin from the left circle. 

And if Carolina is going to continue to dominate 5-on-5 play, Washington sure can’t allow the penalty kill to slip. Hurricanes defensemen Dougie Hamilton scored twice on the power play to put Game 3 out of reach. These are small sample sizes, but Carolina has scored on 3-of-10 power plays since getting blanked in Game 1.   

Blueline adjustments

Reirden talked about getting defenseman Christian Djoos more playing time after he was under 10 minutes in both Games 1 and 2. But after an early turnover led to a Carolina goal, you wonder how much more of a leash Djoos has. The truth is the blueline has been in flux since Michal Kempny’s March 20 season-ending hamstring injury. He was the perfect complement to John Carlson and now the Capitals are left struggling to fit their pieces together. Nick Jensen isn’t comfortable on the left side, but playing Carlson there isn’t ideal. 

Reirden will say in this system players are used to crossing sides of the ice, that it shouldn’t be an issue, that the adjustments are minor. And that’s certainly true. But THESE players don’t have much ice time together and you can’t predict chemistry and communication and all the rest. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. The Capitals still have Braden Holtby playing pretty well in goal and they did win the first two games. But maybe roles become a little clearer if Dmitry Orlov plays with Carlson and Brooks Orpik plays with Matt Niskanen and Jonas Siegenthaler jumps into the lineup with Jensen. That’s a tough ask of Siegenthaler against an opponent that can skate like Carolina so maybe Djoos gets a reprieve. But Reirden needs to find an answer here. The Capitals couldn’t escape their own zone for long stretches of Game 3 and while the Hurricanes deserve great credit for that, an adjustment needs to be made. 

No panic

There’s no question that was an unsettling loss. Probably Washington’s worst since Game 7 against the Rangers in the first round, a 5-0 blowout. But maybe the 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2 at home in 2016 is a better example. That left them down 0-2. Yet many of these same players responded with an overtime win in Game 3. It’s the same team that trailed in every series last year and faced elimination twice. It is a great advantage to have a team that knows it can shake off a loss like that one, with the mental toughness to handle playing on the road in front of a roaring crowd. PNC Arena was blisteringly loud for Game 3 and you can expect more of that on Thursday. There was little outward panic of frustration in the locker room after the 5-0 loss, just resolve. We’ll see if that holds, but it’s nice to draw upon. 

“You just don’t think about it,” Ovechkin said. “I think we learned from last year. We’ve been in bad situations. We’ve been in worse, but we stick together. Game by game. Win or lose, we forget it and move forward.”

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: How the Matt Niskanen trade sets up the rest of the Caps’ offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

There usually is no rush in re-signing restricted free agents since teams own their rights. Having said that, I thought the deal for Jakub Vrana would get done quickly so that Brian MacLellan would know how much money he had to work with under the cap. It would make sense for Vrana too because, with every signing, there is less money for him. Yet, we are still waiting.

This issue may get a little complicated with reports saying the salary cap could actually be lower than initially expected. Still, that probably does not affect Vrana’s final number, it just affects how much money the Caps will have to spend on other players. Whatever moves MacLellan still wants to make, he will have to leave enough room to get Vrana re-signed. I expect this deal to get done soon after the cap is finalized, but long before July 1.

As for Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby, we could see a bit of momentum on the Backstrom front. Moving Niskanen did not just save cap room for this season, but for the following year. Gudas has only one year remaining on his contract while Niskanen had two. There is zero chance Holtby gets extended this summer, however. With the expansion draft looming and goalie Ilya Samsonov as the team’s No. 1 prospect, all decisions regarding the team’s future in net will be on hold until we see how both players perform this season. If Samsonov looks ready to step into the NHL, it may ultimately not make sense to re-sign Holtby at all. That’s just the reality of the business.

Darren L. writes: With the trade of Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas and the subsequent signing of Carl Hagelin, do you think there is still a chance, however slim, that Brett Connolly can be re-signed?

Benjamin C. writes: Now that we’ve sign Carl Hagelin does that basically end Connolly’s time in Washington?

Before the offseason, I was not sure it would be an either/or scenario between Hagelin and Connolly. When the realities of the salary cap set in, however, it seems pretty clear that re-signing Hagelin means Connolly’s tenure in Washington is over. The one caveat is that I did not expect Hagelin’s cap hit to be under $3 million as I thought there would be a market for him in free agency. He wanted to stay, however and was willing to take less per year for term. Kudos to MacLellan for getting Hagelin’s cap hit down to $2.75 million.

Connolly is coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals in a third-line role and limited power play time. Hockey-Graphs projects him to get a deal worth just over $3.5 million per year. To me, I think he could get more than that. I am of the opinion that there will be teams out there willing to offer Connolly more money and a bigger role than what the Caps can which will make it hard to keep him. If the offers all end up in the $3.5 million range, however, Washington could potentially afford that. So there is a chance, more than I would have thought, of keeping Connolly at $3.5 million per year. That’s about the limit I think they could afford and if his price tag goes up, that will be the end of that.

Darren L. writes: I keep reading that the Caps are very aggressive in the trade market. Do you think that there is an under the radar move that we, as fans, don’t know about yet?

In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

The Niskanen trade was one we all saw coming, maybe not for Radko Gudas, but Brian McNally and I have been saying pretty much since the offseason began that Niskanen was going to get traded. I also wrote Tuesday on why the Caps could be players at the draft to move from their 25th pick. Anything beyond that, whether it means bringing in someone or sending someone out, I think we could label as unexpected.

Sure, there are players like Andre Burakovsky who it would be a surprise but not be shocking to see moved. If the Caps are as big a trade player as Friedman reports, I think we could be looking at a surprise move especially considering they would have to ship out cap space to get someone of significance.

Tyler A. writes: With Brett Connolly likely leaving Washington, how can the Capitals add some more offensive power to the bottom six this off-season?

Good question and it is an important one as depth offense is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. The Caps probably have enough cap room for one significant third-line signing in the $3-4 million range depending on the salary cap. They could probably get a Joonas Donskoi, Micheal Ferland type for that amount.

But it is also important to remember that the fourth line needs a boost as well. The team just did not seem to find the right combination for that bottom line. For most NHL caliber RFAs, there is usually little question as to whether they will be re-signed. For Washington, however, the questions needs to be asked if it makes sense to bring back Chandler Stephenson or Dmirij Jaskin when the offensive upside looks pretty limited. Do the Caps have enough money to go after free agent fourth liners like Noel Acciari or Brian Boyle? And then, of course, what do you do with Andre Burakovsky and that leads to the next question….

Benjamin C. writes: Do you think we can get Andre Burakovsky back?

Eric C. writes: With the signing of Gudas and Hagelin what do you think this means for Burakovsky and his future in D.C.?

This depends on whether Burakovsky will be willing to sign for less than the $3.25 million the Caps would have to offer to qualify him. To me, there is definitely room for Burakovsky with the probable loss of Connolly. He can be an asset to the bottom-six so long as he gets paid like a bottom-six player.

After three straight seasons of scoring 12 goals, at this point, it is time to view and judge Burakovsky like a bottom-six player. We saw in the playoffs that he boosts the fourth line as he provides more talent than most teams see when facing an opponent’s fourth line. But you cannot afford to spend $3.25 million on a fourth line wing. That’s the key.

Bob C. writes: Why do you and some others maybe feel that Andre Burakovsky deserves to come back to the team? Myself and other fans feel he will never develop any more than what he has been.

“Deserve” has nothing to do with it. I have been pretty consistent in the fact that I think the Caps should bring Burakovsky back only if they can get him for less than what it would take to qualify him. That is too much for a player who has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play throughout his career and who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

With Connolly likely on his way out, that’s 22 goals coming off the third line. Washington’s bottom-six accounted for five goals in seven games in the playoffs. That’s not enough. In this day and age, you need players who can produce on the third and fourth lines. Burakovsky provides a dangerous offensive option in the bottom six, his skill set still has a high ceiling and the team is running out of options and cap space to improve depth scoring.

Lower the bar for Burakovsky and assume he is a bottom-six producer at this point. If he exceeds that expectation, great. If not, well then you paid a bottom-six forward a bottom-six salary.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

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Capitals' National Anthem singer Caleb Green auditions on America's Got Talent

If you've been to a Caps game, you've definitely heard the incredible voice of Caleb Green singing the National Anthem.

Behind his impassioned voice is an undeniable patriotism, as Green is a retired Master Sergeant of the United States Army.

Beloved by Caps fans, Green decided to take his talents to the biggest stage in the world: America's Got Talent (AGT).

"Voices of Service" is an acapella group comprised of Green and three other servicemen and woman that have found music as a way to provide music therapy to servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Tuesday night on AGT, Green and the "Voices of Service" delivered an incredible acapella rendition of Katy Perry's "Rise," resulting in a standing ovation from the crowd and a resounding "YES" from the judges to advance to Hollywood.

 

The Washington Capitals gave their own shout out to Green following his performance.

As did Capitals commentator, Craig Laughlin.

America's Got Talent airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.

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