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Capitals have a lot to like about their start

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Capitals have a lot to like about their start

As of Monday afternoon, the Capitals had scored more goals per game (4.14) than any team in the NHL. They also had allowed the league’s fewest shots per game (24.1) while owning the second-best power play percentage (31.8 percent).

As a result, the Capitals returned home from their three-game trip to western Canada with a 6-1-0 record and one of only three NHL teams (Montreal and Nashville are the others) with one or fewer regulation loss.

“There’s a positive attitude in the group,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who has four goals and three assists in four games since returning from offseason hip surgery. “It was a hard practice today and that’s what we need after two days off.”

Coming off a road trip in which the Caps outscored their opponents 16-8, Backstrom said there are areas that need addressing.

“We’re scoring a lot and that’s a good sign, but I think we can tighten it up a little bit,” he said, noting a need for better puck management in the neutral zone. “I feel like we’re never satisfied. We want to improve and we want to get better.”

That is something veteran right wing Justin Williams noticed right away about the Capitals.

“What I‘ve learned is that this team has a desire to win,” Williams said. “Everyone has a desire to win but not everybody can actually believe it. We believe it. I like the way we’re trending, albeit seven games in, but I’ve been impressed with just how hard we work and how we want it so bad.”

Still, Capitals coach Barry Trotz is cautious with his praise, saying the Caps still have “lots of holes in our game,” most notably on the defensive side of the puck.

Trotz is pleased, however, with the amount of even-strength goals the Caps are scoring this early in the season. Of the 16 goals they scored on the road trip, 14 were at even-strength and of the 29 goals they’ve scored this season 20 have come 5-on-5, ranking them third in the NHL behind the Rangers, who have played three more games, and Canadiens, who have played two more.

Before Trotz was hired, the Caps ranked tied for 21st in the NHL with 139 goals at 5-on-5. They improved that ranking to 15th last season with 151 goals at 5-on-5.

“That’s an area where we made big strides last year,” Trotz said. “But for us to be in the upper echelon of the NHL you want to be in the top 10 in 5-on-5 (goals) and last year we weren’t. We were maybe in the middle of the pack.

“I think we can still make a big jump there. If we can do that, with our power play, we can really be dangerous.”

With the additions of T.J. Oshie to the top unit and Justin Williams to the second unit, the Capitals now have even more offensive punch than they have in the past three seasons, when they’ve either finished first or tied for first in the NHL on the power play.

“I think you have to be successful on the power play, and not just the power play but on the PK as well,” Backstrom said. “Special teams are so important. That’s something we’ve been really good at the last couple years and it’s something we want to keep getting better at because teams are going to kill differently against us and we have to have new ideas, too.

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“I think one minute for each PP unit is enough. It’s always good to switch it up and screw with teams a little bit.”

With eight straight games against conference opponents, beginning with Wednesday night’s Rivalry Night showdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have a chance to put a little distance between themselves and other teams in the Metropolitan Division.   

“These points are worth just as much now as they are at the end of the season,” Trotz said. “We were on the back end last year trying to catch everybody. The key is to stay ahead of everybody. If we’re going to get in the playoffs those are four-point games.

"There’s no patting (ourselves) on the back. It’s game seven."

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Suddenly the Caps are in need of a head coach

Less than two weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Caps are in need of a new head coach.

Barry Trotz resigned as the Caps coach on Monday after he and the team failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. How did we get here and where do both parties go from here? JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break it all down.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

For now, Todd Reirden appears to be the frontrunner to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals.

But who is he? 

Here are some things to know about the Capitals head coaching candidate:

1. Reirden spent the last four seasons with Washington on Barry Trotz's staff

Should Reirden be hired, he would bring a measure of familiarity with him few teams get after a coaching change. Reirden was hired by Trotz in 2014 when Trotz was putting together his staff. He was brought in to coach the team's defense and immediately improved the blue line.

In the year prior to Reirden's hiring, the Caps allowed 2.74 goals per game, good for only 21st in the NHL.

Here is what the defense has done in Reirden's four years in charge of the defense:

2014-15: 2.43 goals against per game, 7th in the NHL
2015-16: 2.33 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL
2016-17: 2.16 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL
2017-18: 2.90 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL

In those four seasons combined, Washington allowed 2.45 goals per game, lower than every team in the NHL but one. He was also in charge of the team's lethal power play.

2. Reirden has been a head coach before

While he may never have been a head coach in the NHL, Reirden does have some head coaching experience.

Reirden was promoted to head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While head coach, Reirden led the team to a 55-43-8 record.

3. Reirden came to Washington from the Penguins

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate and took over as head coach later that season. He joined the Penguins' playoff staff during the 2009 Cup run. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach under with the NHL team under Bylsma in 2010 and was there for four years until Byslma was fired. Reirden was not initially fired, but was allowed to seek other opportunities. When he was officially fired, the Capitals hired him the same day.

4. Reirden had a lot to do with Matt Niskanen signing with the Caps

Reirden was hired by the Caps on June 25, 2014. On July 1, Matt Niskanen signed with Washington.

Reirden and Niskanen developed a strong relationship while in Pittsburgh. Niskanen dealt with confidence issues after getting traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2011. Under Reirden's tutelage, Niskanen developed into a top-pair defenseman. Niskanen's agent said at the time it was "no secret" that Reirden and Niskanen had bonded while both were in Pittsburgh.

Brooks Orpik also signed with the Caps as a free agent that year, the second defenseman from Pittsburgh to sign in Washington showing the level of respect they felt for Reirden.

5. Reirden nearly became the head coach of Calgary

Reirden interviewed for the head coaching job in Calgary in 2016 and was considered a finalist for the position before eventually losing out Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan was fired by Calgary after the 2017-18 season and is now an assistant coach in Edmonton while Reirden is the frontrunner to become the head coach for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sounds like things worked out for Reirden.

6. The Caps have been grooming Reirden to be a head coach

Reirden was promoted to associate coach in August 2016 after Calgary had passed on him. Since then, the Caps have not allowed him to interview with other teams for head coaching positions. The implication was clear, this was someone the team wanted to keep.

"You know I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach whether for us or someone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan Monday.

7. Reiden played in 183 career NHL games

Reirden was a defenseman drafted in the 12th round by the New Jersey Devils in 1990. After playing four years at Bowling Green, Reirden went pro with several seasons in the ECHL, IHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1998-99 season. Reirden would also play with the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. 

For his NHL career, Reirden scored 11 goals and 46 points in 183 games.

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