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Capitals a bit healthier as they prepare for Rangers

Capitals a bit healthier as they prepare for Rangers

NEWARK—Monday’s practice at Prudential Center began with three of the Caps’ injured players on the ice.

Winger T.J. Oshie and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen started as full participants in the session, which is ongoing.

There were no minor-league call ups present.

Oshie (upper body) skated as the right wing on the third line rather than his usual spot on the top combination. He left practice about 30-minutes into the session, which was planned.  

Orpik and Niskanen, meanwhile, were part of seven-man rotation on the blue line.

Coach Barry Trotz and the players are expected to address reporters at the end of practice.

The Caps are practicing at the Devils’ practice rink en route to New York, where they’ll face the Rangers on Tuesday. 

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2020 NHL Trade deadline: Brian MacLellan looking for offense, sounds satisfied with the defense

2020 NHL Trade deadline: Brian MacLellan looking for offense, sounds satisfied with the defense

ARLINGTON, Va. -- With the acquisition of defenseman Brenden Dillon on Tuesday, the Capitals likely made their big trade deadline splash already. Given their cap space, another major move seems unlikely. But that does not necessarily mean general manager Brian MacLellan is done before Monday's deadline just yet.

"We're going to pursue anything that we think can make us better," MacLellan said Wednesday. "We'll continue to talk to teams. We've had conversations as we've had with the defense and we'll keep doing it and see if we can make our team better."

OK, so pretty much every general manager says that. What does it actually mean for the Caps?

While MacLellan said he would pursue anything that would make the team better, it does not appear that any other moves on defense are on the table.

Right defense has been a weakness for the team all season and the acquisition of Dillon does not seem to directly address that. The hope for Washington seems to be that the trickle-down effect of adding another defenseman to the top four will ultimately solve the team's defensive woes.

When asked if he was looking to add another defenseman, MacLellan answered no.

“We have seven [defensemen]," MacLellan said. "We’ve got Fehervary. We’ve got a couple guys in the minors we think we can use. I think we’re good depth-wise now."

Instead of defense, if there is another trade the focus would be to bolster the team's offensive depth.

The fourth line found early success this season, but the trio of Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway has only one goal in the year 2020. The offensive production from that line has dried up.

While MacLellan was firm about his satisfaction with the defensive personnel, he seemed more open to finding help on offense.

"We’ll look at it," he said of adding to the fourth line. "I think overall they’ve played well. I would anticipate the production will come. They do the right things. They work hard, they forecheck, they play physical. The production might not have been as good as it was at the beginning of the year, but I think it will come.”

If MacLellan were to look to add, there is only a small amount of cap space to work with.

Cap Friendly estimates Washington having only about $1.077 million of cap space to work with at the deadline. With teams having the ability to retain 50-percent of a player's cap hit in a trade, at most Washington could add a player with a cap hit of just over $2.15 million. That's not insignificant, especially for a fourth-line player, but it does limit the team's options if MacLellan does pursue another addition.

"I’d love to have a lot more [cap space]," MacLellan said. "I’d love to have a $4 million player. No, we have a little bit left, so we can try to get creative around that.”

One way in which MacLellan does not intend to get creative, however, is with his goaltending.

With Braden Holtby on the final year of his contract and with rookie Ilya Samsonov playing so well in his first NHL season, many have wondered if that could lead to Holtby ending up on the trade block in an attempt to free cap space to make a bigger addition.

MacLellan, however, is much more interested in keeping Holtby for the playoff run and definitively put an end to all talk of a possible Holtby trade before the deadline.

"I think our story's been the same the whole year, that [Holtby's] our guy and we're going to try to compete for a Cup," MacLellan said. "I think we want him at the top of his game at the end of the year."

The Caps may not yet be done tinkering with their roster before Monday's deadline, but if you're expecting any major moves, any additions to the defense or a goalie trade, those options just are not on the table unless someone really surprises MacLellan with an offer he can't walk away from.

"Sometimes calls come in and are unexpected and bring up things," he said. "It's tough to say this is what we're going to do, but we're going to be open to whatever conversations we have."

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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