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With Green in Detroit, who will fill the void?


With Green in Detroit, who will fill the void?

On Saturday, Mike Green started a new chapter in his career when he practiced with the Detroit Red Wings for the first time.

“(I spent) a long time in Washington,” Green told reporters. “But moving forward here, I'm extremely excited to be a part of this group, especially with the history, the leadership here, the recipe to win. Overall, just a great deal of excitement.”

The Caps have not started a season without Mike Green on their roster since 2005. For reference, Andre Burakovsky was 10 years old when Green played his first game in Washington.

But with the Caps unable to meet Green’s salary demands – the Red Wings will pay him $6 million in each of the next three seasons – the post-Mike Green era will begin with a pair of left-handed defensemen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, penciled in as the club’s fifth and sixth defensemen.

(The Caps’ top two defense pairs will be evenly divided between righties John Carlson and Matt Niskanen and lefties Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner).

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As one of the league’s most fluid skaters and gifted passers, the Caps unquestionably will miss Green’s overall talent. But the person who will miss him most is Alex Ovechkin, whose on-ice relationship with Green was on par with the synergy he’s had with Nicklas Backstrom the past eight seasons.

No one on the planet could put pucks in Ovechkin’s wheelhouse the way Green did for 10 seasons, especially on the power play, where Green racked up 52 goals and 111 assists in his 575 games with the Caps, ranking him fifth in power-play goals and 15th in power-play points among all NHL defensemen in that span.

Green led all Caps in power-play ice time last season (2:45 a game) and with him gone, Carlson is likely to be given much of his power-play ice time, a trend that began last season, when he averaged 1:44.

Niskanen, who averaged 2:59 of power-play ice time in Pittsburgh in 2013-14 but just 1:03 with the Caps last season, is also expected to fill Green’s void, with Schmidt and Orlov also possibilities for spot duty. And that could mean a lot of practice time of Carlson and Niskanen trying to get Ovechkin pucks at the right pace and location.

“That’s something that works itself out,” Carlson said of his projected ice time on the man-advantage. “I’ve got to be better passing. I’ve got to read the breakout more. All those things we’ll work on in training camp when we’re under direct supervision.”

Last season, Carlson spent extra time before practices working on the little nuances of his game, like taking pucks on his backhand and getting off shots through traffic and off-balance. The added work and added responsibilities yielded his best-ever offensive season, both at even strength (8 goals, 30 assists) and on the power play (3 goals, 13 assists).

But it was Green’s 17 power play points that led all Caps defensemen, one more than Carlson.

“The numbers are the numbers,” Carlson said of reaching his career highs last season. “Last year I thought my numbers were better, but in my mind I just thought I played better overall.

“I thought I was better in the defensive zone, better breaking pucks out, and harder on people. Those are the little things you want to expand on. I can definitely be a little harder to play against in some situations and a little more physical here and there. I know I can get better. We’ll probably be asked to carry the load more and we have to be ready.”

MORE CAPITALS: Justin Williams adjusts to new surroundings

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

The Capitals are going to be a bit shorthanded when they take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in Denver (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington Plus). Friday’s game will be exactly one year to the date since the Caps last played in Colorado, a 6-2 loss just two days after a 6-3 loss in Nashville. Those two games were the low point of the entire 2017-18 season forcing the Caps to rally in their return home.

Here are three things to watch as the Caps hope for a better result this year in Denver:

Injury adjustments

Prior to Friday’s morning skate, the team announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby will all be out due to upper-body injuries. Holtby suffered an injury the morning of Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg while both Kuznetsov and Oshie were injured off of questionable hits from the Jets during the game.

There is at least some good news as defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, is back in.

With all the injuries and the players coming and going, here’s a look at what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

Obviously a very different look offensively than what we have seen to this point.

Injuries are never good, but the silver lining is seeing who steps up when they are presented with an opportunity. Burakovsky is someone who desperately needs to break out and he is playing on a second line with a lot of skill. Boyd moving up to the third line is a player to watch as well.

Ilya Samsonov will be the backup goalie

With Holtby out, Pheonix Copley will make his third consecutive start. But the Caps won’t be using an emergency backup this time as the team has recalled star prospect Samsonov from the Hershey Bears and he was on the ice Friday morning in Denver. In a corresponding move, Jonas Siegenthaler was reassigned to Hershey, but that may be just a paper move and he will most likely stay with the team for the remainder of the road trip.

In eight appearances in Hershey this season, Samsonov has registered a 3.73 GAA and .875 save percentage. Those are not great numbers by any means, but both he and the team have improved drastically since the start of the season.

It is, of course, unlikely that Samsonov will play, but there is at least a chance of Samsonov getting into his first NHL game.

Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche

Ironically enough, Colorado will have two goalies with more Capitals experience than the Caps will on Friday with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.

On Friday, it will be Grubauer who gets the nod against his former team and the team in which he helped win a Stanley Cup last season.

“Looking down, yeah it’s going to be weird seeing guys on the other end, but then once the puck drops it’s all about business,” Grubauer told reporters on Friday.

Grubauer has had a rough start with his new team, posting a 3.55 GAA and .893 save percentage, but despite that he also has managed a 3-1-1 record. That's a stark contrast to his start last year in which he posted incredible numbers but struggled to get into the win column early in the season.


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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 


Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”