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Round table: How will Caps get under NHL salary cap?

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Round table: How will Caps get under NHL salary cap?

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan sat down with a handful of media members at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday and discussed a wide variety of topics surrounding the Capitals, who own the NHL’s best record (44-11-4) through 59 games with four days remaining before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

In Part Three of our five-part transcription, MacLellan discusses roster moves necessary with the impending return of Jay Beagle, the haunting memories of the Filip Forsberg trade and where he stands with pending RFAs Dmitry Orlov and Marcus Johansson:

On whether the Capitals intend to keep Jay Beagle (hand surgery) on long-term injury reserve until after Monday’s trade deadline:

I think he’s projected next week to get in the lineup, so that would be past the deadline, but you’ve got to be under the cap by the trade deadline. (The Caps currently are roughly $80,000 over the cap, according to capfriendly.com)

On having 24 healthy players (once Beagle returns) with only 20 allowed to dress:

I think it is (a good problem to have) and I think it keeps it competitive, too. I think there’s a little bit of an onus on the players to accept roles, too, for the benefit of the team. ‘Maybe I need to sit out a game. Maybe I need to accept that I didn’t play well last game and I’m being held accountable.’ There’s all those situations and I think individual players have to be OK with that.

On his evaluation of Brooks Laich:

I think he’s been OK. I think he’s done a good job on the penalty kill. Our penalty kill (4th in the NHL at 84.5 percent) has done well this year and he’s been a big part of that group. He’s done well that way. Again, we’d like to see more production from him (1 goal, 6 assists, minus-6) and it hasn’t come. But as far as penalty killing, he’s been good.

On if the 2013 trade of Filip Forsberg for Marty Erat and Michael Latta, executed by former general manager George McPhee, still haunts him:

No, it doesn’t. I mean, I’d love to have Forsberg. I think you’ve got to move on. You make a mistake, you move on. You can’t keep living in it. It happened, it’s over. Learn from your mistakes and we move on.

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On if the Caps will wait until after the season to negotiate with UFAs and RFAs:

Yeah, I think so. We’re going to have some decisions to make. (Recently signed defenseman) Taylor (Chorney) has done a great job in his role. He’s filled in, he’s got a good attitude, everybody likes him and he’s comfortable with his role. We’re going to have Marcus (Johansson’s) contract, we’re going to have Chimmer (Jason Chimera) and (Dmitry) Orlov. So we’re going to have to balance out how much money we have and what the priority is.

On whether Chimera’s 17-goal season will make those UFA negotiations interesting:

Yeah, especially at his age (36). He’s had a great year for a guy his age. I don’t think that happens very much. It’s pretty incredible to be producing like that at his age.

On what the NHL salary cap, currently at $71.4 million, might be in 2016-17:

I can’t remember the exact number but I think they’re expecting it to go up a little bit, but not much. I think most of the reasoning has been the Canadian dollar and the price of oil and the effect that is going to have on it.

On Dmitry Orlov’s season:

He’s evolving still as a player. Missing a year (to a broken wrist) set him back. I think he’s had games where he’s looked really good and he’s had games where he’s struggled. Lately there’s been more consistency. There’s been more good than bad and I guess he’s trending in the right direction and we’re optimistic he’s going to be the player we thought he was going to be.   

On Marcus Johansson:

I think he’s made strides in some of the areas. I think he’s evolving, too. He’s becoming more of an all-around player. Some of the things the coaching staff has stressed with him he’s following through and we like the progress he’s made this year over last year.      

On Johansson fitting in with Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson:

The games that they’ve played together looked really well. You know, Barry has options I think with Richards and Marcus, that he can change it to a more offensive or he can change it to a more checking line depending on what he wants to do. So it’s good options for the coaching staff. 

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Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Did the Capitals solve their depth scoring issues in Friday's loss?

Friday’s loss to the Florida Panthers was disappointing in a number of ways for the Capitals, but some good may yet come from it with the emergence of the third line.

A poor performance in the opening frame led to Todd Reirden switching up his lines to start the second. No change had a greater effect than the addition of Jakub Vrana to the third line in place of Andre Burakovsky to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly.

The move yielded instant results.

Connolly scored his first goal of the season less than two minutes into the period and added an assist. Vrana also recorded a goal and an assist, while Eller had a three-point night with three assists.

“It was just to make something happen,” Eller said, “Not that [Burakovsky] did something wrong, but just to make something happen and it worked. We kept riding the wave from there on and got two in that period. That seemed to work so that was positive.”

Vrana, Eller and Connolly were three players who had been playing well for the Caps, but were just not producing.

Heading into Friday’s game, Vrana and Eller both had only one point apiece on the season. Connolly had four, but three of those points came earlier in the season while he was skating on the team’s top line.

Friday was his first goal of the season.

“It’s good to get a goal,” Connolly said. “Getting some assists and all that and being a factor on some goals, but it’s nice to see one go in. I’ve had a lot of chances to start the year, thought I’ve been playing well. Lot more shots, lot more chances than I had last year and throughout the last two seasons per game. So I feel I’m ahead of the game right now in terms of that.”

Depth scoring has been a major weakness for the Caps so far in the early season. Washington had gotten only two bottom six goals prior to Friday’s game, and both came in the team’s blowout win over Boston in the opener.

They needed a spark to get offense from the bottom six, and they just may have found it on Friday with that third line combination.

Don’t be surprised to see that Vrana-Eller-Connolly trio stick together in Vancouver for the Caps’ next game against the Canucks.

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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