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Re-signing Green will be 'a little complicated'

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Re-signing Green will be 'a little complicated'

Capitals first-year general manager Brian MacLellan met with reporters for close to 30 minutes on Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In Part Two, he gives his thoughts on re-signing Mike Green, the team’s progress under Barry Trotz and the team’s quest for a top-line right wing:

On if there is any conceivable way defenseman Mike Green returns for an 11th season with the Capitals:

Yeah, sure. I like what Mike Green’s done this year. It’s been a good fit for us. I like our group overall, it’s a good group. I think it’s going to come down to if he’s comfortable with that role [as a fifth defenseman] and what do you pay for that role going forward. It’s probably going to be a little complicated. There are a lot of moving parts around that. I think the best thing we can do is keep in communication. Tell him what we’re thinking and he can tell us what they’re thinking and if it works out, that’ll be great. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I have [his exit interview] this afternoon. To play in that spot as a fifth guy that can move up, there’s a dollar value on that and if we can afford that we’ll try to work it into the cap.

On UFA Eric Fehr:

He had a great year. We missed him in the playoffs. He’s comfortable with that third-line center spot now. He did a good job on faceoffs [52 percent], really improved in that area. He’s good defensively; he’s got a good stick. And he contributed offensively 5-on-5 [17 goals], which is hard to do in this league while playing against good players. And so, we’d love to have him back.

On having so many free agents have career years:

Funny how that works. It will make it tough. It’s going to be the same philosophy. If you want to come back and you believe in the group, maybe you’re not trying to maximize the dollar amount and term amount.  

On the job Barry Trotz has done in his first year:

I thought he was outstanding. He set the tone for the culture and bringing in structure and a system of accountability. I thought the whole coaching staff was incredibly good this year. Barry obviously has been in the league a long time and knows what it takes to be successful. He got star players and your bottom six [forwards] and bottom two defensemen to buy into what he was doing, philosophically and off the ice. It’s amazing the change in environment that’s happened from last year to this year. The same guys, who were incredibly close this year, had some issues at the end of last year. And I think he’s a big part of creating that. And you’ve got to give the players credit, too. It’s not just the head coach and assistant coaches, it’s the players. I think they were at the point where they could receive the message that Barry brought to them and they bought into it.

On, despite the team’s progress, how much failing to get to the conference finals is gnawing at him:

“A lot. It’s a really good point. I think we’ve got to take not finishing New York off [seriously]. What do we take out of that, to get past that hurdle? I thought we struggled a little bit with the pace of New York at times during the games. Our starts weren’t where they should have been. I thought the pace of their penalty killers, they put a lot of pressure on our power play [1-for-15] and I thought that hurt us. And there were some times when details of our game got exposed. Turnovers in the middle of the ice, taking three penalties in a row, a bad [line] change, a missed assignment on a faceoff. I think we have to get to that next level on the detail stuff. We’ve come a long way and the coaches emphasize it every day. I saw the Joel Ward quote about randomness. Those bounces are created because a bunch of stuff goes on in front of it. If you’re not detail oriented, you’re going to suffer because of it. I think in the New York series it might have gone a little bit against us. They are 2-1 games and it comes down to one mistake every game. We took advantage of a couple of their mistakes early and we made some at the end that we shouldn’t have made.

On filling the void at top-line right wing, where center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Alex Ovechkin played with several different teammates:

It’s on the shopping list. I think it would be a priority for us if we can find a guy that can play there. I don’t know that the UFA market is going to provide that for us. We’ll see what happens in the trade market here coming up, see if we can find that. Otherwise, we’re going to have to develop a guy. We’re going to have to look at [Andre] Burakovsky. We’re going to have to find a guy. But it is a priority. You don’t like to see revolving players go through that spot all year. You’d like to have some more stability there, where a guy is there permanently, or almost permanently. You’re always changing lines, but we’d like to have a guy play there.

On the futures of trade deadline acquisitions Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross, each of whom will be unrestricted free agents:

I thought Gleason did what we thought he’d do for us. He was a good teammate, provided us with a physical presence, filled in on the PK when Brooks [Orpik] or Karl [Alzner] got penalties. I thought he did what we thought he would do. He played great against the fourth line of the Islanders. We’ll consider [re-signing]. That will be down the road, I think, depending on what happens with Mike Green. We’re going to have [Nate] Schmidt and [Dmitry] Orlov integrated into our lineup, so there might not be room for the guy. But we’ll see how it works out. Glencross, it looked like it was going to work early. I mean, I’ve been watching Glencross since he broke into the [AHL] in Cincinnati. He came in and scored some goals for us early and then some things went on and he kind of lost his game a little bit and I don’t think we had time to wait around for him to find it again. There’s a good player in there. We saw a little bit of it. I made the point to the coaches that if we won that game 1-0 when he scored that goal [a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 5] it’s a great trade. That’s the fine line. They came back and unfortunately they scored. We’re going to talk. That’s going to be down the line. We have a lot more decisions to make in front of that.

On if there is anything on the shopping list other than a top-line right wing:

That would be the main thing. I’d like, ideally, to get an established forward in our lineup somehow, to complement young guys and Ovi and Backstrom.

On where Andre Burakovsky should play next season:

Probably at wing. I’ve discussed it with Barry a few times. I think there’s a natural center there that hasn’t been developed. But I think he can be able to play anywhere, basically: left wing, center or right wing. I think we’re going to want to incorporate him into our top six, so probably right [wing].    

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Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

Reirden knocks Kuznetsov to the third line in effort to spark offense

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Capitals will look to snap their losing skid on Sunday and avoid their first five-game losing streak since 2014 as they face the Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

In four straight losses, Washington has scored only four combined goals. To spark his team, Todd Reirden is bringing a new-look lineup with him to the Windy City.

"I just think from top to bottom we need to be better,” Reirden said. “Over the last 10 games, we haven't been at our best, and there's probably no real reason to single out anybody. I just think that we have another level in our game, and part of my job is to put people in situations where they can have success. Sometimes things need to be adjusted and maybe that helps. Maybe it'll work for one line and maybe not for another and then we'll work from there.”

Based on Saturday’s practice, here are what the lines will look like on Sunday:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Madison Bowey/Jonas Siegenthaler

The biggest change to the lineup is the move of Kuznetsov down to the third line.

On the surface, Kuznetsov is having a fairly good season with eight goals and 38 points in 41 games, but he has not been a dominant playmaker since the first month of the season. His production has also dried up significantly of late as he has only one goal and one assist in his last six games. In fact, Kuznetsov still has only one five-on-five goal for the entire season.

“Even-strength goals from him are not where they're used to being and have been in the past,” Reirden said. “For me, it's getting his game back to where it was to start the year. In talking to him, it's finding a way to do that. He obviously got off to that tremendous start and then was continuing to play fairly well and then has the injury, and I just don't really feel like he's gotten back to how he's started the year yet.”

The team’s sudden offensive deficiencies certainly do not lie solely at the feet of Kuznetsov, but given how dominant he was in the postseason and to start this season, his sudden drop off since then seems more glaring.

Kuznetsov declined to talk specifically about his own struggles, but did say about the team’s collective offensive struggles that “we just don’t execute those chances we had and some other games we have couple breakaways, we did not score. The hockey going this way right now it’s about two or three chances only during the games. Used to be like you can give up like three, four, five chances and you know you gonna give back, but right now it’s not that easy. It’s very defensive. So we’ve got to pay attention more to those chances we have.”

While it’s hard to see a drop to the third line as anything other than a demotion for Kuznetsov, Reirden said the changes were more to help put players in better situations. On the third line, Kuznetsov is not as likely to face an opponent’s top shutdown line or top defensemen. Perhaps some time away from another team’s top competition can help spark his own production and help him get back to the level he was playing at in October.

“For me, I'm trying to put him in situations where that can happen better," Reirden said. "Whether it's zone starts, whether it's different linemates, where it's different opportunities talking to him -- some guys respond differently to things. For us, he's such an important part of our team. We need him going on all cylinders to have success as a team, and that's how it is with all of our key guys. When I talk about another level, it's not just him, but that's a spot that our best players -- and the trickle-down effect -- need to play better."

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Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Four straight losses leave the Caps searching for answers

Figuring out what’s wrong with the Capitals isn’t all that hard. It’s figure out why that the team seems to be struggling with.

At first glance, it is obvious what the biggest problem for Washington is. In four straight losses, the Caps have been held to a combined four goals. The offense has suddenly gone dry, but no one seems quite sure why that is.

“I don't know,” Matt Niskanen said. “We're not purposefully going out there just for shits and giggles.”

Somehow a team that boasts such talented forwards as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie among others has been completely shut down offensively and that was certainly evident in Friday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders.

“We're making it tough on ourselves,” Brooks Orpik said. “We're playing against teams that are trapping, and we're just trying to force pucks through the middle the whole time. You look at how they're playing against us: they're getting it behind us and a lot of offense is coming from point shots and just outbattling us in front. But we're not even getting opportunity to do that because we're trying to go through too many guys in the neutral zone.”

Washington was held to only 19 shots on goal on Friday in what looked like a rather easy shutout for Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss.

Though the scores of the last two games look dramatically different – a 7-2 blowout in Nashville and a 2-0 shutout against New York – Washington had many of the same offensive issues in those games.

When they got the puck players either held onto it too long, trying to do everything themselves and stickhandling their way into a turnover, or they tried to force passes when they weren’t open.

Trying to force offense is the sign of a frustrated team. The only real difference between the two games is that Nashville has a lot more playmakers on its roster who were able to take advantage of Washington’s mistakes with numerous turnovers ending up in the back of the Caps’ net.

“I just think we need to get back to basics and work a little harder as a team,” Backstrom. “I think we’re maybe doing a little too much by ourselves. Maybe work together a little bit better. Better execution. I think that’s something we haven’t been great at lately. Tape to tape passes. That’s a key in this league.”

It is perhaps no surprise the Caps are at a loss during their current losing streak as they don’t tend to lose this much very often. The last time Washington lost four straight games was in March 2017. Now they face the possibility of a five-game skid if they cannot find a way to beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, something they have not done since Oct.-Nov. 2014.

Their current losing streak is so unlike them it calls into question whether or not this team is simply running out of gas. They played an additional 24 playoff games plus and went through a shortened offseason. Ovechkin already backed out of the All-Star Game claiming he needs the rest, so could fatigue be playing a role in the team’s struggles?

To a man, every player who was asked said no.

“We're professional athletes,” Braden Holtby said. “You should never use that as an excuse. You get treated the best in the world health-wise. Our training staff, our strength staff, the way we travel, hotels we stay in. You never use fatigue as an excuse.”

But while the exact reason for the team’s current struggles seems hard to pin down, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the solution is.

With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana combining for just four goals and four assists in the team’s last four games, Washington must get more offensive from the top of the lineup in order to be successful.

“We need to be better,” Todd Reirden said. “That's right from top of our list to the bottom of our list. We need more. We need more from our players.”

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