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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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How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

For the past two weeks, updates to the 2020 postseason have been rolling in making it hard to keep track of them all. A very different 2020 postseason awaits when play resumes so you may not know all the ins and outs of how the playoffs will work. Right now the most important things for Capitals fans to remember are that Washington is in, we don't know who they will play in the first round or where they will be seeded and yes, they could play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

So let's go over the specifics.

Where will the Caps be seeded?

We don't know. Next question!

Washington finished third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division, just barely edging out the Philadelphia Flyers, but that won't get them much. All this means is that the Caps are among the top four teams in the conference so they will play a three-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Washington will play Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each one time in games with regular-season rules (meaning shootouts instead of endless overtime). The team with the best record in that round-robin will earn the top seed in the conference. It doesn't matter that Boston had 10 more points than Washington when the season paused, the Caps could still jump to the top of the conference should the finish with a better record in these three games.

The only way in which regular-season records matter at this point is to determine the four teams that get to play in the round-robin and as a tiebreaker. Regular season points percentage will be used as the tiebreaker for teams tied after the round-robin.

Who will the Caps play in the playoffs?

We won't know that specifically for three reasons. First, we have to know where the Caps will be seeded and we won't until after the round-robin; second, we won't know until after the play-in round; and third, it was announced on Thursday that the teams will be reseeded after each round so it's possible we won't know exactly who the Caps will play until the play-in round is completely finished.

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If that sounds like reseeding makes things more complicated, it does in a sense, but it was the right decision. Yes, when the playoffs begin we won't be able to have a clear bracket for the playoffs but...so what? I mean, does that really matter? What reseeding does is prevent the top seed from getting screwed. A bracket is made with the assumption that the top team will win each round. That means the No. 4 is supposed to play the No. 5 in the first round, but what happens if a No. 12 upsets the No. 5 in the play-in? All of a sudden, the No. 4 team would be playing the lowest seed left in the tournament while the No. 1 would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

That does not make sense.

Yes, trying to explain who the Caps could play after their bye from the play-in series is enough to make your head spin, but trust me, it makes a lot more logical sense to do it this way and ensures the better playoff matchups in the later rounds as opposed to the early rounds which has been a problem for the NHL since they adopted their division system.

How could the Caps play the Penguins in the first round?

For most Capitals fans, whenever the playoffs roll around everyone starts looking to see if a Washington-Pittsburgh postseason rematch is in the cards. Despite describing how we basically don't know anything about who the Caps could play in the first round yet, there is actually a pretty straightforward path for a Caps-Penguins matchup.

As the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh is the highest-seeded team in the play-in round. Now that we know the NHL will reseed after each round, if the Penguins win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, they are guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If Washington finishes last in the round-robin and Pittsburgh wins its series, get out the popcorn and work on that bird celebration, because it will mean a Caps vs. Penguins series yet again.

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NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

The NHL will transition to Phase 2 of its return to play plan, the reopening of team facilities for training activities, on June 8, the league announced Thursday.

Since the season was paused on March 12, the league has considered itself to be in Phase 1 of the plan, meaning self-isolation. While the NHL and NHLPA have made progress off the ice towards a return to play negotiating things such as the playoff format, throughout all those talks the league still remained in Phase 1. This is the first concrete step the NHL has taken towards an eventual return to the ice.

"Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice)," a statement released by the NHL said. "Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning."

As the statement notes, participation in Phase 2 activities are voluntary and will be limited to six players at a time. The Capitals have not yet set a date for the team's start of Phase 2.

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Phase 3 of the plan is training camp and, despite Thursday's announcement, we remain far off from that point. According to Pierre LeBrun, the earliest the league would start camps is July 10. Phase 4 is then the resumption of the season.

Presumably, Phase 3 will not start without a date set for when Phase 4. It is hard to believe the NHLPA would agree to an indefinite training camp. Phase 2, however, can begin without any formalized dates for Phases 3 and 4.  So while this is certainly a step towards the return of hockey and a sign that things are improving, all the difficult deciions regarding health and safety protocols as well as a timeline for the eventual 2020 postseason are still yet to be decided.

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