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Ice time from Game 4 hints some players are struggling against Toronto

Ice time from Game 4 hints some players are struggling against Toronto

Much was made of Alex Ovechkin’s playing time in Game 3 as the team’s captain and best offensive player registered only 15:08 of ice time in a game in which the Capitals ultimately lost.

Following the Game 3 loss, Barry Trotz took responsibility saying, “That’s on me to get him the ice time.”

Ovechkin’s playing time went up in Game 4, but only marginally with 16:31. This time, however, it was easier to explain. Ovechkin registered only 4:51 in the third period, lower than both the first and second. With the Caps leading heading into the final period, there was less opportunity to get the captain more ice time and instead it went to more of the shutdown forwards on the team. Jay Beagle, for example, played 5:10 in the third period.

RELATED: Caps-Leafs Game 6 time announced

For the most part, Ovechkin’s ice time from Game 4 appears to be a non-story, but there are other players from Game 4 who got their minutes slashed and it seems to suggest they may have found themselves in Barry Trotz’s dog house.

Of the Caps’ six defensemen, no one saw less ice time than Kevin Shattenkirk who registered only 12:54. Not only is that the least he has played in a game this postseason, it is the least he has played in the entire 2016-17 season.

When asked about Shattenkirk on Thursday, Barry Trotz told the media that the defenseman was not dealing with an injury and that his reduced playing time was based on the fact that the Caps had only one power play for the game and that assistant coach Todd Reirden, who manages the defensemen, was using the different pairs based on getting the right matchups.

“Todd's back there,” Trotz said. “He wants the certain matchups. We talk about it before the game and he goes from there.”

Shattenkirk did not play particularly well in Game 3 so the fact that his playing time dropped to his lowest should raise eyebrows as it could suggest less trust in him.

But Shattenkirk had it good compared to Brett Connolly.

With a 2-1 series deficit heading into Game 4, Trotz elected to make a minor line change by bumping Tom Wilson from the fourth line to the third and moving Connolly down to the fourth. The result for the third line was great as Wilson scored twice and the line appeared to be reinvigorated. The same could not be said of the fourth line.

Daniel Winnik saw his ice time slashed to 6:37 in Game 4, while Connolly played only 4:26 for the entire game.

When asked why Connolly’s time was so low, Trotz said, “A little bit situational, a little bit, I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”

When in a playoff game the coach is essentially saying he felt more comfortable going with 10 or 11 guys rather than playing Connolly, that seems pretty damning.

Prior to the line change, the fourth line was seen as one of the team’s best shutdown lines. That, however, is not the specialty of Connolly who is more of a skilled type player.

So while switching Wilson and Connolly seemed to benefit the third line, the same could not be said of the fourth line that suddenly seemed to lack identity and the fourth line was underutilized as a result.

This begs the question, if Trotz can’t find even five minutes for Connolly, would he consider switching him out of the lineup completely?

“Obviously [Connolly’s] on the fourth line right now and he just didn't get enough time,” Trotz said. “He's ok with it. He understands that this time of year we're going to do what we have to do and he's just going to be out there preparing like he is and be ready if he gets the call.”

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden


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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What's next for Barry Trotz?

What's next for Barry Trotz?

Barry Trotz is no longer the head coach of the Washington Capitals and, after resigning Monday afternoon, he is officially free to pursue other opportunities.

So what's next for the now former Capitals head coach?

For those who believe Trotz will simply retire, that seems unlikely. Trotz is only 55 years old.

General manager Brian MacLellan indicated the main issue in the contract negotiations between him and Trotz was term. If Trotz was, in fact, seeking a five-year contract, that doesn't sound like someone who is ready to walk away from the game.

There is only one head coaching vacancy left in the NHL, that of the New York Islanders. New President of Hockey Operations Lou Lamoriello cleaned house after getting hired and fired both general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight earlier in June.

Now, suddenly, there is a Stanley Cup-winning coach on the market.

While it certainly makes sense for the Islanders to pursue Trotz, there's one big reason why Trotz, or anyone, would likely be hesitant to accept the job on Long Island and that is John Tavares.

New York's franchise player is a pending free agent and, until his contract situation is resolved, convincing anyone to take the head coaching job with the Islanders is a tough sell. If the Islanders re-sign Tavares, improve the defense and bring in a dependable starting goalie, then there is no reason to think they cannot be a playoff team.

But those are a lot of "ifs" and Tavares is a big one. If he goes, suddenly the situation on Long Island is much different. Tavares' decision could be the difference between the Islanders being a playoff team or getting a high lottery pick.

For Trotz to walk away from a team that just won the Stanley Cup to go to a New York team that may or may not have its best player back next season does not make a lot of sense.

But just because there may be only one head coaching vacancy open doesn't mean Trotz does not have any options.

The 2017-18 season saw no head coaching changes made during the season for the first time since the league expanded in 1967. Chances are jobs will begin to open up during the season especially if those teams believe they can land a Cup-winning coach as a replacement.

If you're Trotz, you just won a Stanley Cup. There is no reason to rush into another opportunity. Trotz will instantly be near or at the top of every wish list for teams in need of a head coach.

Don't just assume that Trotz will be on Long Island to start the 2018-19 season just because it is the only opportunity currently available. He can wait for the perfect opportunity to come to him.