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Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines

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Projecting the Caps' lineup: Offensive lines

On Monday, we looked at the possible lineup for the Caps on defense and in net but, let's be honest, that was the easy part. The top four is going to be the same, Braden Holtby is going to start, and the rest is pretty easy to figure out.

Today, we get to the fun part: projecting the offense.

First line: Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Obviously Ovechkin and Backstrom will remain on the top line. The question is whether Oshie or Justin Williams will be on the right. Though there are some from the St. Louis media who are dismissing Oshie as overrated, you cannot look at this in a vacuum, it's about who the player will be lined up with. Oshie had 19 goals and 36 assists last season. He has only cracked 20 goals once in his career, but you don't have to watch him too long to realize the amount of skill he has. Backstrom is a playmaker. He's one of the best in the business at creating opportunities and lead the NHL in assists last season with 60. Adding a player like Oshie to the mix gives him another player to setup. Plus, Oshie will have plenty of room to work with as opposing defenses will be primarily focused on the Great 8. Chris Clark scored 30 goals on a line with Ovechkin and he was not your typical 30-goal scorer. Oshie will thrive on this top line. The team may experiment with Williams as well as they try to get the right fit, especially if Backstrom is out to start the season. As Kuznetsov will likely move up to the top line, the young center may benefit from having a veteran like Williams on the line, but if everyone's healthy, expect to see Oshie on the right.

Second line: Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Kuznetsov had a breakout performance in the playoffs that puts his place in the Caps' lineup in little doubt. With Oshie taking the top spot, that bumps Williams down to the second line. The real question is on the left where I have Marcus Johansson instead of Andre Burakovsky. Johansson finally learned to shoot last season with a career-high 138 shots that not surprisingly resulted in him setting career highs in goals and points. Burakovsky played well in the playoffs, but not well enough to supplant a player Barry Trotz had on the top line by the end of the postseason. General manager Brian MacLellan also hinted that he has more in mind for Burakovsky than playing on the wing. More on that later.

RELATED: Capitals' backup goalie undergoes knee surgery

Third line: Stanislav Galiev - Andre Burakovsky - Tom Wilson

We know essentially five of the six players who will be in the top two lines. The only real debate is between Johansson and Burakovsky for the second line. From the third line on down, things are much less clear. Let's start with Burakovsky. My gut reaction was to put him on the second line, but that changed based on what MacLellan said in a conference call with the media at the beginning of August.

"I’ve always thought Burakovsky would be a really good center just because of the skillset he has. We’ve only done it a little bit. To me he could play any position, right wing, center, left wing. He’s just that good."

Granted, MacLellan is not Trotz and it is ultimately up to the head coach to set the lines, but it just goes to show you how the organization sees Burakovsky as a player. Remember that he was a center originally. The team tried to develop both Kuznetsov and Burakovsky at center last year, but it was too much of a strain on the team and Burakovsky moved back to wing. It would not be surprising if he returns to the center this season now with Eric Fehr gone. Based on what Trotz had to say about Wilson, you can pencil him in to the right of Burarkovsky.

"I don’t see [Wilson] as a fourth-line winger for the Washington Capitals. To me he’s better than that."

It's hard to imagine Wilson playing above either Oshie or Williams and if he's not on the fourth line, that only leaves one place for him. Wilson has more skill than we have seen thus far and he needs to get away from the fourth line, agitator mentality. More goals, fewer fights. That means the third line should not be a 'traditional' checking line which, as you can read here in this fantastic article by Stars and Sticks, is ok. The team's offensive depth means that a skilled player is going to fall to this line, better to make it more of a skill line than forcing players not suited for it into a checking line. And, if you're going for pure skill, then a player like Galiev would fit in nicely. After playing two games for the Caps last season, Galiev is expected to challenge for a roster spot this fall. If Burakovsky is indeed moved to the third line, the Caps will need to put players who can score around him. Putting him next to Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich doesn't really help him develop into a playmaking center.

Fourth line: Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Brooks Laich

Until MacLellan talked about Burakovsky as a center, I had Beagle pencilled in as the third line center given how well he played last season. He may start the season there with Backstrom's injury, but if Burakovsky moves to the third, that will push Beagle back to the fourth. The wings are largely interchangeable so don't read too far into this, but I anticipate this will be the team's regular lineup. Chimera slid to fourth line last season and he's not getting any younger, he won't be climbing the depth chart anytime soon. He still has enough speed and leadership to contribute so he should be in the lineup more often than not. Laich's position will depend on what happen's at left wing on the third line. If Galiev does not make the roster, that's where I see Laich playing this season. Otherwise he will be relegated to the fourth.

Scratches: Michael Latta, Zach Sill

Latta is someone the Caps will want to get into the lineup fairly frequently, but it's hard to see Trotz putting him in over players like Beagle and Laich. He played in 53 games last season and my guess is that he will play a similar amount this year. Sill was a depth addition this summer and will be ready to step in whenever an injury creeps up or someone moves into Trotz's doghouse.

MORE CAPITALS: Projecting the Caps' lineup: Defense and goaltending

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Capitals mailbag: Explaining the Caps’ current skid

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals mailbag: Explaining the Caps’ current skid

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Jan. 16 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

The Caps have lost three straight and are 3-4-2 in their last nine. Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. Teams are never as good or as bad as they look over the course of the season, but somewhere in the middle. Based on how people are despairing, you would think the Caps are dead last in the standings with no talent on their roster and horrible coaches behind the bench. Let’s pump the brakes a bit here. Washington is still 27-14-5 and tied for first place in the division.

Having said that, they have not played nearly well enough on this stretch. This is not just a collection of narrow defeats either, they are getting outworked and outplayed in some lopsided losses.

The biggest concern for me is the drop off in production from the top nine. Evgeny Kuznetsov has one five-on-five goal this season, Nicklas Backstrom has two goals since Dec. 4 , Lars Eller is on pace for fewer goals than he has ever scored in a Caps’ uniform (11), Brett Connolly has scored only once since Dec. 27 and Andre Burakovsky has nine points for the entire season. The power play is finally starting to show signs of life and now the 5-on-5 offense has run dry. Washington looked very frustrated in Nashville on Tuesday even before the score got out of hand. They were forcing plays that weren’t there, over passing and leaving themselves exposed defensively far too often.

Do I think it’s time to overhaul the entire team and system? No. I just think the team needs to get back to it. Don’t try to do so much, don’t force the passes. I know this team is very selective with shots and it is hard to argue with that philosophy given the success they had last season, but Tuesday’s game showed it has gone to the extreme. Sometimes the best option is to shoot. Recognize that and get some pucks on net or at least make the game more north and south than side to side.

As for changing up the look of the bottom six, I do not look at Dmitrij Jaskin as the key to turning things around. I get the argument, the team should play more physical and if Jaskin is in it at least shows the team has added in a bigger body and is thinking about physical play. I have not looked at the past few games and thought the issue was the team is getting out muscled. Jaskin is good enough to play more than he has in my opinion, but that’s not what’s ultimately wrong here.

Here is what general manager Brian MacLellan said on Friday about areas of need at the trade deadline: “I think the only thing we're going to look for is, is there a hockey trade to be made, salary for salary, player for player in the forward group."

To me, it seems very clear MacLellan was talking about Andre Burakovsky. I think he would absolutely be available if the right deal came along, but I also think the team is OK holding on to him through this season. He still has value as a 23-year-old restricted free agent so I do not believe the team is in a place where they are willing to sell him off to the highest bidder if that trade does not match what they believe Burakovsky is worth.

Marie S. writes: What do you think is the Caps’ biggest need at the trade deadline, if any?

My biggest target would be depth offense. Piggybacking a bit off of the last answer, if you are ready to move on from Burakovsky, somebody needs to step onto the third line. The Caps have five fourth line players in Jaskin, Travis Boyd, Nic Dowd, Chandler Stephenson and Devante Smith-Pelly, but I do not believe any of them are the solution there, at least not this season.

Washington also ranks dead last in faceoff percentage so I could see the team targeting another center. MacLellan said he would not target simply a faceoff specialist – he would have to be a good player too – and I think the faceoff problem is more of a Kuznetsov problem (he is an atrocious 39.45-percent at the dot this season) so I don’t think this is big target for them, just something to keep in mind.

MacLellan also has a tendency to go after depth defenseman so we could see a minor addition to the blue line.

Nathan S. writes: What's wrong with Kuztenzov? Thought he was ready to be an elite player after last year and then he had his earlier comments about not wanting to work hard to be great but have fun. Is lack of work ethic, focus, desire, or obsession with passing first causing him to play poorly?  

For context, the full quote referred to is from Kuznetsov on Oct. 10 after a win against Vegas. Here is what he said:

To be MVP, you have to work hard 365 (days) in a year, but I'm not ready for that. I want to have fun and I want to make those risky plays when sometimes you don't have to play and you guys don't understand every time those plays. It's not easy to make. But to be MVP in this league, you have to play even better. You have to go next level. It's not easy. More important, you have to stay focused 365, but that's not my style.

Kuznetsov appears to be talking about two different things here. If you have ever heard analysts complain about overcoaching and taking the creativity out of the game, that’s what I believe he means by the first part of this quote. Kuznetsov is a creative player and does not want to get overcoached and lose that aspect of his game. The second part of that quote answers your question: “You have to stay focused 365, but that’s not my style.”

No player stays focused for an entire 82-game season. Everyone goes through bad games and bad stretches. This seems to affect Kuznetsov more than most, however. For Russian players, coming to North America can be a shock because the practices and workouts are much more intense and the NHL plays more games than the KHL. Perhaps that’s where this comes from.

Christian Djoos suffered compartment syndrome after a hit to his thigh in the Dec. 11 game against the Detroit Red Wings. He underwent surgery on Dec. 13. MacLellan said Friday that he would have a good timetable for a possible return in two weeks.

I saw Djoos skating before practice on Sunday and I can tell you he is not close. He looked very much labored in the brief amount of time he was on the ice. I have seen some timetables saying it takes a little over 10 weeks to recover from and it has been about five weeks at this point. I would wait for the team to give us an update on any timetable, but it certainly looks like we are still talking about Djoos’ return in terms of weeks and not days.

Chris Kreider is a great player, but this seems like a bigger trade than the Caps would be interested in or would really need to make.

Kreider is 27 and already has 21 goals and 33 points. The fact that he would not be a rental is good, but that also ups his trade value making him more expensive. Let’s be clear, Kreider would cost a lot more than just Burakovsky in a trade. Washington’s biggest need is on the third line and I think there is a team out there looking for a boost to the top six that will be willing to give up more than the Caps to get Kreider. The Rangers also probably would prefer to trade him outside of the division. That doesn’t matter as much for trade deadline deals as most sellers do not have to worry about seeing a player they give up in the playoffs if he is a rental. Since he’s not, however, New York would have to play against him next season should they send him to the Caps.

I like the player, but I don’t like a deal for him from either Washington or New York’s perspective.

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Blue Jackets troll Capitals on Twitter after pulling even atop Metro Division

Blue Jackets troll Capitals on Twitter after pulling even atop Metro Division

The Columbus Blue Jackets threw some serious shade at the Caps Tuesday night after their 7-2 blowout loss to the Predators.

The Jackets are now tied for the Metro lead after the Caps lost their third straight game, and they let them have it on Twitter.

That's a bold jab coming from the team that lost to the Caps in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs...

The GIF comes from Saturday night's overtime loss to the Jackets where Columbus celebrated Artemi Panarin's game-winner with Evgeny Kuznetsov's signature bird celly.

When asked about the copycat celebration last Saturday, Kuzy said, "That's fine. It's nice to get some people that think about me, same as in April last year.”

The Capitals meet the Blue Jackets again Feb. 12 where the only bird celly should come from Kuzy.

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