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Will the Capitals find a seventh defenseman at development camp?

Will the Capitals find a seventh defenseman at development camp?

Development camp offers a glimpse of some of the Capitals’ future stars and the future could come as early as next season for some of the young defensemen.

Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs are considered three of the team’s top defensive prospects and it did not take long for them to emerge as the three of the top players at this year’s camp.

“You can tell the guys that play pro are ahead of everybody else,” director of player development Steve Richmond said Tuesday. “Those three guys, [Siegenthaler] and [Johansen] and [Hobbs] are I think way ahead of the other guys right now, as they should be.”

All three players are coming off their first full season in the AHL and it’s not a stretch to believe they will be in contention for an NHL promotion come the fall.

The Capitals will most likely want seven defensemen on the roster, as most teams do. John Carlson re-signed with the team on Monday joining a blue line that already has Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov under contract. The team has also made an offer to Michal Kempny to re-sign. Assuming he comes back, the team’s top four on defense should be locked in. Youngsters Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos will be back as well, but that still leaves one opening left after the team traded Brooks Orpik.

General manager Brian MacLellan could re-sign Jakub Jerabek or look to the free agent market to fill that spot. He perhaps could even bring Orpik back for one year.

Or MacLellan could look internally for the answer.

If the Caps are hoping to replace Orpik with a like-minded player, Siegenthaler would be the pick.

“I'm actually a stay at home defenseman so I try to get better at where I'm good at,” Siegenthaler said after Tuesday’s practice. “I always look be able to work on my D-zone and that's what I'm going to do.”

Siegenthaler certainly boasts the size and defensive acumen to be a talented defenseman and he is a much more mobile player than Orpik. For all the criticism Orpik took over the years, if you had a chance to have a younger, more mobile version of him on the roster, most would jump at that opportunity.

“There's going to be a spot open and I think everybody will try to fight for his spot,” Siegenthaler said. “Hopefully everybody's going to be ready for main camp. It's going to be a fun battle I think.”

The most skilled of the three would be Johansen, the team’s first-round pick in 2016.

A two-way player, Johansen tallied 27 points in his first season with the Hershey Bears, second in points only to Aaron Ness among the team’s defensemen.

“He became more offensive,” Richmond said. “I think he'll be better on the power play so when he steps in here he's ready to play.”

Johansen has managed to bulk up to about 189 pounds which has been a major focus for him and now wants to work on his skating, something that has become a point of emphasis within the organization.

“I want to come into camp a little better skating shape,” Johansen said. “There's a difference between when you're in really good physical shape from the gym and then there's skating shape. I want to skate a little more before I come into camp because when it comes down to it, you've just got to be good in the games.”

But don’t make the mistake of thinking Johansen may have a leg up because of where he was drafted. That only got him in the door. He is going to have to prove himself.

“Everyone wants because you're a first-round pick, you're going to step right in after a year of pro,” Richmond said. “It's not that easy. Especially we've got a pretty good team here. And we don't rush guys as you can tell.”

Hobbs is a more offensive-minded blueliner who boasts a deceptively good wrist shot and an incredible slap shot. With his skill set, he should essentially be penciled in at the point of the Caps' power play in the future.

For now, however, he needs to focus on his play in his own end, as well as his skating.

“I've got to become a more efficient skater,” Hobbs said Tuesday. “I skate very awkwardly in the way that my knees work and can't ever change that, but I can change how fast I get from Point A to Point B. So that's something that needs to change this summer.”

There’s no question that all three players still have aspects of their game they need to improve on, but after committing $8 million per season to Carlson and depending on how their remaining free agent signings pan out, the Capitals may again find themselves in need of cap relief again this season.

Looking internally to Siegenthaler, Johansen or Hobbs could be a cheap way to fill out the team’s blue line.

“I think they have a chance to [play],” Richmond said. “They had a good year last year, they've improved. I can see improvement already out here even though it's summertime. Obviously we'd like to keep it in-house if we can. I think they have a shot to play."

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TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

TJ Oshie snipes, the disconnect on the breakouts and is it time to shuffle the lines?

The Capitals tried to win a 60-minute game with only a strong 20 minutes of play in the third period on Monday, but they ultimately lost to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 after spotting Vegas a 3-0 lead.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

Puck management

Here's a summary of Vegas' first goal. A stretch pass caught two Caps defensemen on the left side of the ice, allowing William Carrier in on the breakaway. Braden Holtby slowed down the puck and John Carlson was able to sweep it off the goal line. Vegas won the loose puck, cycled the puck, Tomas Nosek had all the time in the world to find an open Carrier who set up Nick Holden who was open in front of the crease.

How many ways can a team screw up on one play?

Carlson was the right defenseman on the breakaway. I don't know why he was all the way over on the left. I thought at first he got caught trying to make a line change, but his total shift after the goal was scored was 40 seconds so it was unlikely he was trying to get off the ice. The loose puck after the breakaway was immediately picked up by Vegas. If the Caps win that puck battle, there's no goal. While Vegas was able to quickly set up its offense off the rush, the Caps defense scrambled badly and never got settled.

This was really how the first 40 minutes went. Vegas managed the puck well and won puck battles. Washington did neither of those things.

There's a disconnect between the defense and offense on the breakout

Washington is awful at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone on defense. If the offense is not carrying the puck up the ice on the breakout, it leads to a turnover far too often.

There are three recurring issues I keep seeing on breakouts from the defense. First, the defense holds onto the puck and holds it...holds it...holds it until the forecheckers attack, cut off all the passing lanes and suddenly there is nowhere to go with the puck. The second thing is the passing back and forth between the defense deeper and deeper in the defensive zone until they get hemmed in by the forecheckers and turn the puck over. The passing back and forth behind the goal line without any hope of advancing the puck drives me nuts. The third recurring issue is a stretch pass that has literally zero chance of being successful. A defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, look up ice and try to throw a pass cross ice to the offensive blue line which easily gets cut off in the neutral zone.

What's the recurring issue in each of these situations? The forecheck or trap cutting between the offense and the defense.

When you get get a good stretch pass through the forecheck/trap, it can lead to breakaways. Vegas got two in the first period doing that, but those passes have to be open. The Caps are not attempting those passes because the seas are parting and there's a passing lane, these passes are getting thrown into traffic with almost no chance of success. Watching the defense pass back and forth behind the goal line is just as infuriating to watch, and both of these things happen because the three forwards are zipping up ice leaving the defense with few options while trying to get past the forecheck.

There's a disconnect here between the offense and defense in that the forwards are not giving easy passing options to the defensemen and the defensemen are taking too long to distribute the puck.

Time to change the lines

The offense has gotten stale, it's time to change things up. I know coaches like to get their lines in place later into the season, but the Caps are now 11-11-0 in their past 22 games and 4-6-0 since returning from the all-star break. The time to let them just play their way out of this has passed. Changes are needed to find a spark.

To his credit, Todd Reirden does shuffle up lines and pairings within a game, but there was none of that at least among the forward lines on Monday. Michal Kempny missed much of the first period which forced some defensive shuffling, but that was about it. It's time to shake things up to get the team out of this rut.

Turning point

There are several universal truths in the game of hockey and one of them is that if a team botches a big scoring chance on one end, it usually leads to a goal on the other. T.J. Oshie may have scored twice on Monday in the third period, but he should have scored in the first period with an empty-net yawning. Marc-Andre Fleury made a save on a shot from Nicklas Backstrom and the rebound bounced right to Oshie who swung at the puck twice and missed as he was falling to the ice. Vegas broke the puck out of the zone and on the resulting cycle scored to make it 2-0.

Washington was not playing well at all to that point, but Oshie still had a chance to tie the game on his stick. It could have been a completely different game if he buried it. He could not capitalize, but the Golden Knights could as Reilly Smith made it 2-0.

Play of the game

Both of Oshie's goals deserve shoutouts because both were fantastic snipes.

Stat of the game

Washington has looked like a completely different hockey team since Dec. 23 and not in a good way. Here are some stats from NBC Sports Washington's Caps Postgame Live:

The offense is still producing fairly well, but defense and special teams have been absolutely atrocious.

Quote of the game

T.J. Oshie was asked about why so much of the offensive has been one-and-done lately. His full answer on the struggles on the forecheck and the limited offense that comes with it was very good, but this was my takeaway:

"It's amazing how much starts from our D-zone...for the most part we know how to play in the O-zone, it's just we've got to enter the zone as a group of five whether that's carrying the puck or chipping it in so that we have speed and we can support each other."

See above about the disconnect between the offense and the defense.on the breakouts. They are not playing like a five-man unit in sync with each other. They look like a three-man forward line and a two-man defensive pair playing together and neither knows what the other wants to do.

Fan predictions

Sure felt like that's where this was headed after two periods.

Almost. I especially like the Game 4 callback on that second one.

Maybe Ovechkin was waiting for little Alexander. Congratulations!

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Caps make furious comeback attempt, but it's too little too late in Vegas

Caps make furious comeback attempt, but it's too little too late in Vegas

WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored twice in the third period on Monday, but it wasn't enough in a 3-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Washington spotted Vegas a 3-0 lead after an awful first two periods. Oshie tried to put the team on his back in the final frame, but it was too little, too late.

Once again, Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal and remains stuck at 698.

Here is how Washington lost.

A bad start

Coming into Monday's game, the Caps had allowed the first goal in five straight games. You can make that six now as the trend continued on Monday.

Nick Holden got Vegas on the board less than four minutes into the game and Reilly Smith added a second goal late in the second period. Washington just did not look ready at the start.

Miss on one end, a goal on the other

There are several universal truths in the game of hockey and one of them is that if a team botches a big scoring chance on one end, it usually leads to a goal on the other. That was certainly the case on Monday as Oshie had a golden opportunity to tie the game at one late in the first, but missed an open net as he was falling to the ice. Vegas broke the puck out of the zone and on the resulting cycle, scored to make it 2-0.

Washington was not playing well at all to that point, but Oshie still had a chance to tie the game on his stick. It could have been a completely different game if he buried it. He could not capitalize, but the Golden Knights could as Smith made it 2-0.

Puck retrieval and management

This was the biggest problem for the Caps.

To put it simply, Vegas managed the puck well and beat out Washington for loose pucks in Caps' defensive end. When Washington actually did get possession, the team did not manage the puck well at all.

After a breakaway save by Holtby, Vegas managed to retain possession of the puck, set up the cycle and the resulting offensive rotation ended with Holden putting the puck into the back of the net from just outside the crease. On the second goal, Jonathan Marchessault carried the puck into the offensive zone and had a shot blocked by Dmitry Orlov. Marchessault immediately followed after his shot and retrieved the puck in the corner and fed it to the front to Smith who scored.

In the second period, William Karlsson stole the puck away from Radko Gudas behind the net. Gudas was trying to skate the puck out to Holtby's right so that's the post he was covering, Karlsson took the puck and quickly passed it to Max Pacioretty on Holtby's right who shot into the open net.

The Golden Knights had two early breakaways early thanks to stretch passes the Caps could not cover, Washington had trouble against the forecheck as the defense would wait too long to distribute the puck and the passing lanes would close up, the forwards would take too long to figure out what to do with the puck in the offensive zone resulting in turnovers, etc., etc., etc.

Defense can mean a lot of things and the team's inability to make good decisions with the puck, win puck battles in the defensive zone or properly distribute the puck when they did have possession was the real difference in Monday's loss.

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