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After selecting a goalie, Capitals bolster blue line

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After selecting a goalie, Capitals bolster blue line

After taking Russian goaltender Ilya Samsonov in the first round of the NHL draft on Friday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., the Capitals set their sights on bolstering their blue line by selecting three straight defensemen in Rounds 2, 5 and 6 on Saturday.

The four draft picks match the fewest taken by the Capitals in any draft year. They also made four picks in the 2011 draft. Unlike that year, when the Caps did not pick until the fourth round, the Caps traded away their third- and fourth-round picks on Saturday to select Swiss defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler at No. 57 overall.

After sitting out Rounds 3 and 4, the Caps made defenseman Connor Hobbs their fifth-round pick at No. 143 and defenseman Colby Williams in the sixth round at No. 173.

Hobbs, 18, is a puck-moving 6-foot, 187-pound defenseman from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who plays for the Regina Pats, the same childhood team of Capitals coach Barry Trotz and the hometown of Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney.

Hobbs used the word “super pumped” at least four times in his interview with reporters and said he had an “awesome” pre-draft chat with the Capitals.

“I’m super happy, super pumped,” he said. “I thought I’d go somewhere in he middle-ish to late rounds I can’t say enough. I’m super pumped, super excited.”

Hobbs recorded one goal and 15 assists, along with 31 penalty minutes, in 33 games for Regina last season after being traded from Medicine Hat, where he had one goal and one assist in 12 games.

He said he has a hard shot and likes to “rip the puck,” saying he strives on making hard tape-to-tape passes out of his defensive zone.

MORE CAPITALS: WHAT OTHERS THINK ABOUT SAMSONOV

He grew up a Maple Leafs fan and said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty is his favorite player. Along with the Caps’ other draft picks, he is expected to attend the Caps’ development camp from July 7-11.

The Caps took Hobbs’ teammate, Colby Williams, with their final pick of the draft at No. 173. Considered more of an offensive threat from the blue line, the 5-11, 191-pounder from Regina, Saskatchewan recorded 11 goals and 30 assists with 95 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Pats.

Here are some thumbnails on the three defensemen taken by the Caps:

Jonas Siegenthaler, 6-2, 220, Zurich, Switzerland

- Siegenthaler spent the majority of the 2014-15 season with Zurich in the Swiss League under former Stanley Cup-winning coach Marc Crawford. A physical, two-way defenseman, Siegenthaler led the Lions with 39 penalty minutes.

- Internationally, Siegenthaler registered four assists in seven games and was named to the tournament all-star team at the 2015 Under-18 World Championship, helping host Switzerland to a fourth-place finish. Siegenthaler has also represented his country at the 2015 World Junior Championship and the 2013 and 2014 Under-18 World Championships. 

- In 2012-13, Siegenthaler was part of two championship teams. He registered 2-12-14 in 34 games for Zurich’s junior team to win the Swiss Elite Jr. A Championship and also helped the under-17 team to a title with two assists in five postseason contests. 

What they’re saying: Jonas Siegenthaler is a smooth skating defenseman with a tremendous combination of size and mobility. Keeps his game simple, by not risking too much and always looking to make a short safe pass. Needs to improve his shoot, despite most of the time being on target, his release is poor and it lacks power. Has fine hands and puck handling and his passes are soft and accurate, but like his shot they lack power. Stands his ground along the boards and is not afraid to use his body, while playing a reliable defensive game. – Elite hockey prospects

Connor Hobbs, 6-0, 187, Saskatoon, Sask.

Favorites:

NHL team: Toronto Maple Leafs

NHL player: Drew Doughty
Movie: Boondock Saints
TV show: That '70s Show
Actor: Will Ferrell
Musician: George Strait
Sport (other than hockey): Football
Athlete (non-hockey): Derek Jeter, Roy Jones Jr.

What they’re saying: "He does a lot of things really well. He's big, he's got good skills, he moves good on the ice. He's everything we hoped for. For somebody who shoots the puck like him, you hope there's going to be more offence. I think there will be. More than anything, he's 17. Last year he was playing midget hockey. When he's 18 and 19 years old, he's going to be a really high-end defenseman." – Pats coach John Paddock

Colby Williams, 5-11, 191, Regina, Sask.

- Set career highs with 11 goals, 30 assists and 41 points in 2014-15. Added 3 goals, 5 assists in nine playoff games. Named defenseman and player of the year for Pats.

 

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Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Capitals will look to snap their losing skid on Sunday and avoid their first five-game losing streak since 2014 as they face the Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

In four straight losses, Washington has scored only four combined goals. To spark his team, Todd Reirden is bringing a new-look lineup with him to the Windy City.

"I just think from top to bottom we need to be better,” Reirden said. “Over the last 10 games, we haven't been at our best, and there's probably no real reason to single out anybody. I just think that we have another level in our game, and part of my job is to put people in situations where they can have success. Sometimes things need to be adjusted and maybe that helps. Maybe it'll work for one line and maybe not for another and then we'll work from there.”

Based on Saturday’s practice, here are what the lines will look like on Sunday:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey/Jonas Siegenthaler

The biggest change to the lineup is the move of Kuznetsov down to the third line.

On the surface, Kuznetsov is having a fairly good season with eight goals and 38 points in 41 games, but he has not been a dominant playmaker since the first month of the season. His production has also dried up significantly of late as he has only one goal and one assist in his last six games. In fact, Kuznetsov still has only one five-on-five goal for the entire season.

“Even-strength goals from him are not where they're used to being and have been in the past,” Reirden said. “For me, it's getting his game back to where it was to start the year. In talking to him, it's finding a way to do that. He obviously got off to that tremendous start and then was continuing to play fairly well and then has the injury, and I just don't really feel like he's gotten back to how he's started the year yet.”

The team’s sudden offensive deficiencies certainly do not lie solely at the feet of Kuznetsov, but given how dominant he was in the postseason and to start this season, his sudden drop off since then seems more glaring.

Kuznetsov declined to talk specifically about his own struggles, but did say about the team’s collective offensive struggles that “we just don’t execute those chances we had and some other games we have couple breakaways, we did not score. The hockey going this way right now it’s about two or three chances only during the games. Used to be like you can give up like three, four, five chances and you know you gonna give back, but right now it’s not that easy. It’s very defensive. So we’ve got to pay attention more to those chances we have.”

While it’s hard to see a drop to the third line as anything other than a demotion for Kuznetsov, Reirden said the changes were more to help put players in better situations. On the third line, Kuznetsov is not as likely to face an opponent’s top shutdown line or top defensemen. Perhaps some time away from another team’s top competition can help spark his own production and help him get back to the level he was playing at in October.

“For me, I'm trying to put him in situations where that can happen better," Reirden said. "Whether it's zone starts, whether it's different linemates, where it's different opportunities talking to him -- some guys respond differently to things. For us, he's such an important part of our team. We need him going on all cylinders to have success as a team, and that's how it is with all of our key guys. When I talk about another level, it's not just him, but that's a spot that our best players -- and the trickle-down effect -- need to play better."

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Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Figuring out what’s wrong with the Capitals isn’t all that hard. It’s figure out why that the team seems to be struggling with.

At first glance, it is obvious what the biggest problem for Washington is. In four straight losses, the Caps have been held to a combined four goals. The offense has suddenly gone dry, but no one seems quite sure why that is.

“I don't know,” Matt Niskanen said. “We're not purposefully going out there just for shits and giggles.”

Somehow a team that boasts such talented forwards as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie among others has been completely shut down offensively and that was certainly evident in Friday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders.

“We're making it tough on ourselves,” Brooks Orpik said. “We're playing against teams that are trapping, and we're just trying to force pucks through the middle the whole time. You look at how they're playing against us: they're getting it behind us and a lot of offense is coming from point shots and just outbattling us in front. But we're not even getting opportunity to do that because we're trying to go through too many guys in the neutral zone.”

Washington was held to only 19 shots on goal on Friday in what looked like a rather easy shutout for Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss.

Though the scores of the last two games look dramatically different – a 7-2 blowout in Nashville and a 2-0 shutout against New York – Washington had many of the same offensive issues in those games.

When they got the puck players either held onto it too long, trying to do everything themselves and stickhandling their way into a turnover, or they tried to force passes when they weren’t open.

Trying to force offense is the sign of a frustrated team. The only real difference between the two games is that Nashville has a lot more playmakers on its roster who were able to take advantage of Washington’s mistakes with numerous turnovers ending up in the back of the Caps’ net.

“I just think we need to get back to basics and work a little harder as a team,” Backstrom. “I think we’re maybe doing a little too much by ourselves. Maybe work together a little bit better. Better execution. I think that’s something we haven’t been great at lately. Tape to tape passes. That’s a key in this league.”

It is perhaps no surprise the Caps are at a loss during their current losing streak as they don’t tend to lose this much very often. The last time Washington lost four straight games was in March 2017. Now they face the possibility of a five-game skid if they cannot find a way to beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, something they have not done since Oct.-Nov. 2014.

Their current losing streak is so unlike them it calls into question whether or not this team is simply running out of gas. They played an additional 24 playoff games plus and went through a shortened offseason. Ovechkin already backed out of the All-Star Game claiming he needs the rest, so could fatigue be playing a role in the team’s struggles?

To a man, every player who was asked said no.

“We're professional athletes,” Braden Holtby said. “You should never use that as an excuse. You get treated the best in the world health-wise. Our training staff, our strength staff, the way we travel, hotels we stay in. You never use fatigue as an excuse.”

But while the exact reason for the team’s current struggles seems hard to pin down, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the solution is.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana combining for just four goals and four assists in the team’s last four games, Washington must get more offensive from the top of the lineup in order to be successful.

“We need to be better,” Todd Reirden said. “That's right from top of our list to the bottom of our list. We need more. We need more from our players.”

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