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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Lightning


AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Lightning

The Capitals (22-6-2, 46 points) will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3, 35 points) tonight at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Free Willy: Caps right wing Tom Wilson will be in the lineup tonight after his match penalty for blindsiding Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar was rescinded by the NHL earlier on Friday.

“The league always does what’s right,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “They looked at it and said that was a little bit of a mis-call. We talked to Tom. The one thing about Tom is he’s going to be a physical player, that’s his DNA. That’s what makes him very effective.

“Twenty-nine other teams would love to have Tom Wilson. They’ll complain about Tom Wilson but they’d love to have him. I know he can get frustrated because sometimes he feels like he’s being targeted, but he can’t change his game.

“He has to understand that player safety comes first and sometimes they overreact on player safety. You have to keep your head about yourself and recognize the situation and he does. He’s a bright young man and I don’t think it’s going to affect him at all. I think he was more worried I’d lose trust in him late in games and I said, ‘No, I have total trust in your game. Don’t change it. Just make sure that you’re within the rules and understand that player safety is paramount.’”

Down goes Brown: Right wing was place on waivers by the Capitals on Friday. If he clears he will be assigned to the AHL Hershey Bears.

“He needs to play,” Trotz said. “He’s played in one game and it’s Christmastime already. He got hurt in training camp. There was no guarantee he was going to be with our hockey club to start. From our standpoint he just needs to get playing.”

Trotz said the Caps will keep Stan Galiev as their only extra forward, and Connor Carrick as their extra defenseman.

No morning skate: With back-to-back games in New York and Carolina Sunday and Monday nights, Trotz canceled the team’s morning skate on Friday and will practice Saturday at Kettler.

“We’re in a seven in 11 nights (actually, 7 in 12 nights) and we’re not going to skate in New York,” Trotz said, “so I want to see it as a litmus test to see how we react. We’ve had enough morning skates already. We’ve just gotta play the games and get to Christmas.”

The Caps will have four days off following Monday night’s game in Raleigh.


Orpik update: Trotz said not much has changed with defenseman Brooks Orpik and his lower body injury. Orpik has missed 16 of the Caps’ first 30 games and has not played since Nov. 10.

“He’s working out every day,” Trotz said. “He’s not skating. It’s just rest and therapy. I don’t have a time frame. Only Brooks will be able to give us a time frame when he starts to feel he can push it more and we’ll go from there.”

Praise for Kucherov: Tampa right wing Nikita Kucherov has made a fan out of Trotz. Through 32 games the 22-year-old Russian leads the Bolts in goals (12) and is second behind Steven Stamkos in points (20).

“Every time we play the Lightning I come away from that game going, ‘That guy’s a top-end player.’ He’s a dynamic player. He’s definitely a top six forward for sure and he’s dangerous. When he’s on the ice something happens and you have an appreciation for those type of guys.

“He’s got some bite to him. He doesn’t back off if you come at him physically. I’ve got a lot of admiration for him. I think he’s a hell of a player. He’s got tremendous instincts and skill and he can really rip the puck, too. He shoots darts.”

Here are the projected lineups for both teams:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks LaichMichael Latta - Andre Burakovsky

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Stanislav GalievConnor Carrick


Forward lines

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan

Alex Killorn - Brian Boyle - Jonathan Marchessault

Yanni Gourde - Erik Condra - Mike Blunden

Defense pairs

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Matt Carle

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr


Ben Bishop (starter) - Kristers Gudlevskis

Injured: Joel Vermin (hand), Cedric Paquette (upper body), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Jonathan Drouin (lower body),Ondrej Palat (undisclosed)

Scratches: Mike AngelidisNikita Nesterov


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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz


MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.


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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season


Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.