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Trotz, Capitals should feast on Game 7 matchups

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Trotz, Capitals should feast on Game 7 matchups

News, notes and everything else you need for tonight’s win-or-go-home Game 7 between the Capitals and Islanders at VerizonCenter. Catch the hour-long pregame show beginning at 6:30 on CSN:

Matchup heaven: If there is one tactical advantage to having a Game 7 on home ice, it’s the home coach’s ability to have the last line change. In other words, if the Islanders line up for a faceoff with their third defense pairing of Matt Donovan [one career playoff game] and Scott Mayfield [one career playoff game] you can bet you’ll see the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward.

“We’ll see,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “For the most part it’s been a lot of head-to-head stuff -- top players against top players.”

In the Islanders’ 3-1 win in Game 6 on Saturday, Isles head coach Jack Capuano did a nice job of getting Nick Leddy [28:59] and Johnny Boychuk [27:00] out against Ovechkin [19:21] and Backstrom [21:30], limiting them to a combined four shots.

In his last three Game 7s, Ovechkin has no points, while Backstrom has no points in his last five Game 7s.

Caps promise more grit: Curtis Glencross will return for the Caps after three games as a healthy scratch. It will be the first Game 7 of his nine-year career.

“The veteran that he is, the good pro that he is, he can be a difference maker for us,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that’s scored big goals. He can play a gritty game and can score some goals. I expect him to be a good player for us tonight. I just thought his game fell off. He saw it and he knew it.”

Glencross will play on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson and Trotz said he’ll try to utilize Wilson more than he did in Game 6 when the rambunctious 21-year-old right wing saw just seven shifts and 3:41 of ice time. The Caps were outhit 46-32 in Game 6. 

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Words, words, words: Several players said they know everything they need to know about the Islanders and Trotz said there is nothing more he can tell them that they don’t already know.

“I guarantee you the New York Islanders are sick of talking about the Washington Capitals and the Washington Capitals are tired of talking about the New York Islanders,” Trotz said. “It’s time.”

Trotz said the team that can stick with its game plan the longest will prevail. As for pre-game motivational speeches, Trotz said he’ll keep that to himself.

“He’s said all he can say,” Chimera said of Trotz. “We’ve got to go out and prove it and do it. You don’t want to let your buddy down in these moments, just leave it out there.”

Who is louder? In Stanley Cup playoff history, home teams are 91-65 in Game 7s but in 2014 home teams went 1-6 in Game 7s.

The team that scores first is 115-41 all-time in Game 7s, including a 4-3 mark in 2014. Thirty-nine Game 7s have required overtime [25 percent]. Road teams have gone 20-19.

“I’d rather play at home,” Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “That’s a tough building [Nassau Coliseum] to play in on the road. They seem to get a little more energy playing in front of their crowd. I thought we built off the energy of our crowd in Game 5. We’ve been good at home. We got home ice for a reason and we want to take advantage now.”

Look ahead: The Rangers will face either the Capitals or Islanders in Game 1 of their second-round series in New York. In all likelihood the series will open on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, with Game 2 either Saturday or Sunday in New York.  

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Seven reasons you need to root for the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final

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Seven reasons you need to root for the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final

The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night to advance to the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final. The champions of the Western Conference will take on the Boston Bruins, the champions of the Eastern Conference, having swept the Carolina Hurricanes in four games.

With the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins squaring off in a rematch of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, we've dug up the seven reasons why Capitals fans, and -- well -- all NHL fans should be rooting for the Blues to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.

1: The Blues are like the Capitals of the West

A lot of fans think that the San Jose Sharks hold that title, but the Blues present an even stronger case.

The Blues Stanley Cup drought is currently at 51 seasons. And although they made the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive seasons from 1968-1970, they have yet to win a game in the Stanley Cup Final.

That should sound familiar to Caps fans. Before they won it all in 2018, Washington's Cup drought was 42 years, and when they made the Cup Final in 1998 they were swept by the dominant Detroit Red Wings.

The similarities don't stop there. Each team has a Russian sniper, a crop of promising rookies on offense and defense, and acquired depth pieces in free agency to build a consistent contender.

In the Blues case before this season, they couldn't make it past the Conference Finals, similar to how the Caps couldn't make it out of the second round.

Call it coincidence or fate, but the Blues are looking eerily similar to the Caps that won the Stanley Cup last year.

2: No More Boston Championships

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl. The Red Sox just won another World Series. The city of Boston has celebrated six major professional championships since 2010 and 12 since 2000, with each parade more frustrating to watch than the last.

Does Boston really need another championship after a drought since February?

3: Brad Marchand is the worst

A lot of people will complain about Tom Wilson's play. But Brad Marchand is the king of the subtle and overtly dirty play, especially in the playoffs where the rules relax.

In last year's playoffs, Marchand was told by the league to stop licking players after he brushed his tongue across Leo Komarov's face.

This postseason, he's punched players in the back of the head after a play's been blown dead.

He also baited Justin Williams into penalty minutes when he high-sticked him across the face. No penalty was given to Marchand on the play.

Marchand's put up 18 points through three rounds in addition to his antics.

4: TJ Oshie's old stomping grounds

The Caps acquired Oshie from the Blues in 2015 in exchange for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley and Washington's third-round pick in 2016, and he's now a mainstay in the Caps top six. 

Oshie played over 400 games for the Blues, recording over 300 points for the organization that drafted him. Not only did he put up stellar numbers, but he was an alternate captain for the Blues and was beloved by fans in the area.

Who better to root for than for Oshbabe's old team?

5: Vladimir Tarasenko is tearing it up

If you've got Alex Ovechkin's endorsement as a game-changer, that's a good place to start.

Ovechkin took note of Tarasenko's skill in a 2014 game the Blues played against the Rangers and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch "He just make great jump in his career and he’s carrying the team right now.”

In these playoffs, the Russian sniper has eight goals and five assists, including points in every game of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks.


6: Pam and Jim are facing off in an Office matchup

Actor John Krasinski, who played Jim Halpert in The Office,  is a Bruins fan. 

Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly, Jim's love interest, is a Blues fan.

We have a house divided.

We tend to lean to Team Pam because if you take a closer look, Jim was a pretty awful colleague and despite his charm and boyish looks, he was kinda a bad person.

7: Washington helped St. Louis ascend the standings

On Jan. 2 the Blues were last in the league and posted a 15-18-4 record with 34 points.

But their fortunes started to turn on Jan. 3, when they faced the Caps at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. They beat the Caps 5-2, and turned their season around from that game going forward, including an 11 game winning streak.

So really, St. Louis has Washington to thank for transforming their season from one marred by losses to one where they made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

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

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have written about this before, but Jakub Vrana’s contract has to be priority No. 1. Vrana is absolutely going to be back, but he is going to take a sizable chunk of what little cap room Washington has remaining. General manager Brian MacLellan needs to know how much cap space he is working with this offseason before he can make any decisions about the other free agents like Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin.

The second most important move would be a trade to free up cap space. Everyone assumes that Matt Niskanen would be the player on the trade block, as you noted. With the free agents the Caps could potentially lose and a prospect pipeline devoid of any high-end offensive skill, I just do not see how the Caps can add enough quality forward depth this offseason without clearing cap space.

Fans should circle June 20-22 as target dates for a possible trade. June 20 is the NHL general managers meeting and June 21-22 is the draft. When you get all the general managers together in the same place, that can spark trade deals. Don’t forget, the draft was when Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer were traded to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

As for Backstrom and Holtby, while I am sure MacLellan would like to get those deals done if possible, these do not rank as high on the priority list as both players are still under contract for another season.

Maclellan was asked on breakdown day if he wanted those deals done this summer and he said, “I don’t think it matters. We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”

The Caps have plenty of issues to deal with for this season to worry too much about Backstrom and Holtby right now.

Jacob C. writes: How does Washington adjust their offseason knowing that they have a $1.15 million dollar cap penalty? 

Washington was hit with a cap penalty because of some late performance bonuses that pulled the team over the cap ceiling.

The money situation was going to be tight for the team regardless of the cap penalty so it is hard to know if anything the team does will be directly related to that, but if I had to guess I believe the player the most affected by this will be Andre Burakovsky.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps will have to give him a qualifying offer of $3.25 million in order to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. That is high for a player who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

Maybe you could justify the risk of overpaying him because the team could potentially see both Connolly and Hagelin walk, but with $1.15 million less to spend that may force MacLellan to not qualify Burakovsky and attempt to convince him to sign for less.

Jack Hughes.

OK, so obviously that is not going to happen. I assume your question is more aimed at who I think the Caps would want of the players who may actually fall to them at 25. The team’s philosophy when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player, which it should be, but the Caps have not taken a forward in the first round since 2014 and that lack of offensive talent is really starting to catch up with them. If forwards start dropping off the board, they cannot afford to wait and see who falls to them. My prediction is that that team is going to come into this draft with the goal of drafting a forward. They will have grades on every first round prospect and, if it looks like a number of forwards could fall their way, great. If a bunch of forwards get taken early, however, I would not at all be surprised if MacLellan tries to trade up to make sure he gets a high-end forward prospect.

Next, let’s look at where the Caps like to get their players from. In the last five drafts, Washington has taken nine players from the WHL and 11 players from European leagues. Knowing that, here are the players I would predict to be high on the Caps’ list:

Kirby Dach C, Saskatoon, WHL
Dylan Cozens C, Lethbridge, WHL
Peyton Krebs C, Kootenay, WHL
Ilya Nikolaev C, Russia
Nils Hoglander W, Sweden

The three WHL players I have seen go pretty high in most mock drafts so if you get down to say, pick 15 and one of those guys is still on the board, that’s when it is time to really pay attention and see if MacLellan tries to jump up to snag him.

It depends on what you consider to be “major.” As I mentioned above, if the Caps want to compete for the Cup next season, I do not see how they can avoid making a trade. If trading Niskanen for what would likely be draft picks would be considered “major,” then yes.

Do I see them making a big multi-player trade for significant pieces? No. Do I see them pursuing a big-name free agent like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin? No. Even if MacLellan does trade Niskanen that only frees up another $5.75 million in cap room and the Caps will need just about every penny to fill in their bottom six.

We could see a Niskanen trade, we could see a them trade up in the draft and the team will almost certainly be active on July 1 to find forward depth, but they are not in the running for any of the big name free agents.

Todd Reirden said on breakdown day, “We're going to go through a full review of all that stuff, but I do not anticipate any changes to my coaching staff."

Obviously, he left himself a little bit of wiggle room there, but it does not appear the team is going to make any changes to the staff.

In terms of how they operate, I anticipate Reirden taking a more hands-on approach to the defense. He really made a name for himself in the league for his defensive acumen and the improvement he brought with him as an assistant coach was not as evident last season with him as head coach.

I do not anticipate any major changes to the system the team plays, but I am curious what they do on special teams. I have not seen a team that consistently utilizes the slingshot well on the power play so I am hopeful the breakouts get an update to get rid of the slingshot. I do not know how you could evaluate the team’s play from last season and say, yeah, let’s keep doing that. But, the sling shot was all the rage across the NHL so clearly someone thinks it actually works.

Second, the penalty kill has to adjust for the personnel it has. The Caps tried a more aggressive penalty kill and it did not work for much of the season. Really, it did not seem to click until Hagelin came on board at the trade deadline. If he stays or Washington gets someone on the roster who can run it as effectively as he could, great. Otherwise, you hope the team can accept the fact that a guy like Chandler Stephenson just is not the same player as Hagelin and adjust accordingly. 

First, the defense as that seems like the easier prediction. I see a second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. I expected that to be the plan the moment the team re-signed Jensen. The bottom pair will be Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos. The Caps need to add too much on offense to commit the money to another defenseman. Siegenthaler looked good in the playoffs and Djoos will be entering his third year in the NHL so it is time for both players to step up. I think we could see someone like Tyler Lewington come in as a cheap No. 7 and as someone the team feels no pressure to get into the lineup.

The offense is trickier as this is where the team may add some free agents. Lars Eller and Nic Dowd will be the centers. That much we know. Travis Boyd remains under contract. I predict MacLellan will be able to work something out with Burakovsky and he stays. A return for Stephenson also seems likely. At that point, the Caps should have about $7.5 million of cap space for two more forwards. I think they could make a run at either Connolly or Hagelin, but not both. It just depends on where their priorities lie heading into free agency. If they cannot get any, they have to turn to free agency and hope they can find a top-nine player they can plug into the third line.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You have the money for one high-end bottom six guy (Connolly, Hagelin or their replacement), but a Stephenson, Dowd, Boyd line does not inspire much confidence. Looking at the prospects, the only prospect who seems close to the NHL is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, but it is hard to tell given he only played 16 games in Hershey last season.

If the Caps think he is ready, they could look to Jonsson-Fjallby as a Hagelin replacement. If not, could they actually consider bringing back Dmitrij Jaskin? After all, Jaskin will be an RFA and the team could probably get him for pretty cheap. If they do that, Reirden would have to actually use him, but the cap situation makes this not outside the realm of possibility.

So here is what I would say for the third and fourth lines:

Free agent – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Dmitrij Jaskin
Travis Boyd

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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