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Friday six-pack: What do the Caps need?

Friday six-pack: What do the Caps need?

It’s Friday and that means it’s time to crack open our Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Friday six-pack, where we answer your questions on the Capitals. Good ones this week. Here we go:

Were there any fundamental weaknesses or deficiencies of the Caps roster exposed through their playoff struggles this year? - @Sfischer1967

There are fundamental weaknesses on every team. The trick is hiding them. It is much easier to hide a fourth-line forward than it is a third-line defenseman, especially in the playoffs, and the Caps’ bottom pair was below average against the Penguins. While Taylor Chorney stepped up and played well against his former team (one assist, one penalty, even), Nate Schmidt struggled (no points, one penalty, minus-3) and Mike Weber made an unintentional but crucial mistake in his only game in the series, inadvertently pushing the puck to Patric Hornqvist for the OT game-winner in Game 4 in Pittsburgh, giving the Penguins a 3-1 series lead. When teams are as close as the Penguins and Capitals were, those kinds of mistakes can be the difference and they were. Leading up to the trade deadline the Caps wanted more of an upgrade to their blue line and made a pitch for Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis, but the time it took to move Brooks Laich’s contract made it difficult for the Caps to make a significant move on the back end. While I agree that the Penguins were a little quicker than the Capitals, I thought the Caps had a pretty good balance of size and speed and just didn’t get enough offense from secondary players like Andre Burakovsky, Jason Chimera, Tom Wilson, Daniel Winnik and Mike Richards. If any of those guys had chipped in goals at crucial moments the Caps might still be playing.

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Curious abt rules for HBH regs who ended up on Caps roster at playoffs. Ex: Sill playing for Calder but Galiev no. - @2FootArata

Let’s start with Zach Sill. The Capitals recalled the 28-year-old center on April 10, the final day of the regular season, on an emergency basis because, according to head coach Barry Trotz, a couple of forwards got “banged up” in the Caps’ win in St. Louis the night before. Sill played in that season finale and was returned to Hershey the following day. Because Sill was recalled on an emergency basis he was not waiver eligible, meaning other NHL teams could not claim him. As for Stan Galiev, who did not play for the Capitals in the playoffs and might have benefitted from a Calder Cup playoff run, he would have needed to be on the Bears’ roster on the NHL trade deadline of Feb. 29 to be eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs and he was not. Teams often demote players for one day on the trade deadline to secure their AHL playoff eligibility and although these are often paper transactions not reported to the media, there is no indication the Caps did that with Galiev. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what the Caps do with Galiev, who has a contract that goes from a two-way deal (in 2015-16) to a one-way, $575,000 deal next season.

Here's my caps question. Was this year’s failure due to coaching? Not putting the right line combos on the ice? - @DonOveFan8
In two years Barry Trotz has done an excellent job of taking a team that was fractured under Adam Oates and George McPhee and molding it into one capable of winning it all. On breakup day, nearly every Capitals player said this was one of the closest teams he had ever played on. Trotz deserves a lot of the credit for that. That said, I think Trotz might have waited one or two games too long to shake up his forward lines. As we’re seeing with the Penguins, a third line like Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin can have a huge impact on a playoff series and the Caps got very little from their bottom three forward lines until Trotz flipped his lines in Game 5, moving Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had one assist in four games against the Pens, to the top line, dropping Nicklas Backstrom (one assist in four games) to the second line, and dropping Justin Williams (one goal, one assist in four games) to the third line. Williams responded with two goals and one assist in Games 5 and 6, but the changes may have come a little too late for a Capitals team struggling to get enough pucks and traffic on rookie netminder Matt Murray. Trotz is a finalist for Coach of the Year honors and he deserves to win the award. But like Alex Ovechkin, he’s never gotten past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and will need to do so to earn full marks from the hockey community.

With the World cup of hockey in Sep, how does this affect the caps? - @WasCaps08

I think the World Cup of Hockey will affect NHL teams in many different ways. With eight players – Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov (Russia), T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen (USA), Braden Holtby (Canada), Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) – and head coach Barry Trotz (Canada) representing their countries, the Caps’ training camp and preseason will be disjointed to say the least. Training camps for the eight teams participating in the World Cup will begin on Sept. 4, with the actual World Cup tournament running from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1. That’s four full weeks away from the Capitals. For the sake of argument, let’s say Canada advances to the World Cup gold medal game against either Russia or USA. That would mean any combination of Trotz, Holtby, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov, Oshie, Carlson and Niskanen would not be arriving in Washington until Oct. 2 at the earliest. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said he’s already discussed with his coaching staff the need to give his World Cup players ample rest, depending on how far their teams advance and the physicality of the tournament. With the Caps’ preseason schedule set to begin on Sept. 26, we may not see Holtby or Ovechkin or Oshie in game action until the final three games of the seven-game exhibition season, which runs through Oct. 9. And then there is the impact of Trotz missing the entire rookie camp (which normally runs for five day leading up to training camp) and the first three weeks of training camp. Assuming Todd Reirden, Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe and Mitch Korn return, they’ll be guiding the Caps through those four weeks during Trotz’s absence. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the potential risk of injury and fatigue. The tournament will be a heated one and it will be incumbent on players to be in top shape at a time they are normally ramping up their offseason workout routines. Fatigue should not be a factor at the start, but could be a factor late in the season, which is why the NHL will give each team a 5-day bye week sometime between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28.

You know or see any overseas options for 3rd/4th line depth like Donskoi of SJ? Better option than rookies? - @LanierSB   

It’s not easy to find impact free agents in Europe but Sergei Bobrovsky (Philadelphia), Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota) and Artemi Panarin (Chicago) have proven it can be done. As for this year’s crop of forwards, Evgenii Dadonov has gotten the most attention after his six-goal, seven-assist performance in 10 World Championship games for Russia, where he played on a line with Panarin and Vadim Shipachyov, who is reportedly staying in the KHL. Dadonov, 27, had 23 goals and 23 assists for St. Petersburg of the KHL this season but struggled in parts of three seasons with the Florida Panthers with 10 goals and 10 assists in 55 games. Former Caps defenseman Sami Lepisto, 31, also has received interest from NHL teams. Taken by the Caps in the third round of the 2004 NHL draft, Lepisto is a puck-moving defenseman coming off a strong season with Salavat of the KHL, scoring 11 goals and 30 points in 60 games during the regular season and six goals and 12 points in 18 playoff games. There’s also Peter Mueller, 28, who played five seasons in the NHL until he was slowed by concussions. Mueller, taken eighth overall by Phoenix in the 2006 NHL draft, put up 13 goals and 12 assists for Malmo of the Swedish League and has been working privately with former Caps coach and Hall of Famer Adam Oates.

After another playoff disaster yet again where does the team go from here - @Cigarjon1968

There’s nowhere to go but (C)up, right? There is very little that can be said to console diehard Capitals fans who have been led out of the desert to refreshing waters, only to learn it was all a mirage. But let’s not lose sight of the fact the Caps were the best team in hockey during the regular season with 120 points and lost four one-goal games (two in overtime) to the team likely to win the Stanley Cup. With at least 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies expected to return next season, including the league’s top goal scorer and goaltender, the Capitals should be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference again next season. So don’t lose faith in this team yet. Instead, hold onto these parting words from Nicklas Backstrom: “Even if we disappoint (fans), hopefully they have faith in us. We’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do it one day. I promise them.”

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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