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Trotz gives Caps day off the ice, hints at changes


Trotz gives Caps day off the ice, hints at changes

Coming off a physical 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday and facing back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers Friday and Saturday, Capitals coach Barry Trotz cancelled practice on Thursday, instead directing players through a video session.

Trotz said he thought the Verizon Center was “really warm” Wednesday night and several players lost a lot of body weight in the loss to the Penguins. The team measures each player’s body weight after every game.

Defenseman Karl Alzner said it was a good move by the head coach.

“Last night was our toughest physical game we played so far and I think guys were feeling it a little today,” Alzner said, referring to the combined 61 hits between the Pens and Caps. “It came at a good time.”

“Sometimes,” Trotz said, “rest is a weapon.”

Left wing Jason Chimera said Thursday’s video session emphasized some of the details that led to scoring chances on both sides. Several players said too many neutral zone giveaways led to offensive chances by the Penguins, who were outshot by the Caps 34-25.

“It wasn’t like a rip-your-butt session,” Chimera said. “We did some good things, we did some bad things and like every game you learn to correct some things and try to do what you did good, better. We didn’t play too bad last night. It’s just like playoffs, you’ve got to move on from it right away and don’t let your mistakes compound.”    

With the Caps sitting in third place in the Metro Division with a 6-2-0 record, Trotz said he will make a few lineup changes for Friday’s game against the Blue Jackets, who have won two of their three games since replacing head coach Todd Richards with former Lightning, Rangers and Canucks coach John Tortorella.

“I would probably say yes, absolutely,” Trotz said. “Maybe Latts (Michael Latta) or Gally (right wing Stan Galiev) because they haven’t been in, and Schmitty (defenseman Nate Schmidt). I’d say there will be a couple changes.”

Schmidt, a left-handed shooter, has been learning to play the right side at practice, while Dmitry Orlov is growing accustomed to playing the left side after starting the season on the right. If that holds true, the Caps likely would replace Taylor Chorney with Schmidt.

As for the fourth line, which was on the ice for Phil Kessel’s game-winning goal Wednesday night, rookie center Chandler Stephenson could sit out his first game after playing his first six in a row. Stephenson, 21, has averaged 8:01 in ice time and is a minus-3 in those games.  

“Being on a fourth line is sometimes tough for a young player,” Trotz said, “because most young players that get called up are playing 20 minutes a night in Hershey and then all of a sudden they’re playing eight and that’s a hard role.

“That’s why a lot of teams have three veteran players on that fourth line, because they know how to deal with that.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz wants Capitals to show more resilience

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”




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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

Like it or not, the NHL is becoming younger, louder, and more personable. And as its young stars begin to gain leadership positions, the demand from a younger subset of fans grows larger: Make hockey fun again. Let players have personality on the ice and off, be it through social media engagement, game-day fashion, or creative goal celebrations.

Some say that hockey was always fun. True, to an extent. 

Minute per game minute, you arguably can’t find a faster, more action-packed major sport. But among the North American leagues, and internationally, the NBA still dominates on Twitter activity and in its social media. 

One of the biggest factors that helped basketball succeed in the social age wasn’t the NHL’s commonly preached conformity.

The NBA found huge success in marketing its star players as larger-than-life, letting them have public personas that tied into larger, richer narratives spanning careers, teams, and decades.

Superstar Auston Matthews, the up-and-coming 21-year-old face of American hockey, has taken note, citing NBA star Russell Westbrook’s individuality as a source of inspiration in a recent GQ feature

He’s well met by former USA National Team Development Program teammates Jack Eichel, who was recently named captain of the Buffalo Sabres; Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s hometown darling who’s stepping up as an assistant captain for the Red Wings; and Matthew Tkachuk, who’s also wearing an A in Calgary.

It’s not only the born and bred American youngsters who are ready to stand out. The team responsible for the resurgence of the debate about how much fun is too much is none other than the Washington Capitals, whose summer celebrations led to the ban of the legendary Cup Stand.

Though the publicity of their championship celebrations was revolutionary, the Capitals hold more promise in amount of fun per sixty. After a title win, their petty grudges are only transforming into a bold sense of self-confidence.

Alex Ovechkin is already a superstar on a mission to grab the attention of all the boys and girls and babes in the hockey world. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s interviews and celebrations reveal a player growing into the spotlight, ready to embrace a downright devious kind of skill against his opponents. Braden Holtby is already a league-recognized style icon whose meticulously chosen plaid suits and well-groomed beard have woven into the hype of game-day coverage. And Nicklas Backstrom is finally smiling on-camera.

(This isn’t even mentioning highly polarizing figure Tom Wilson, whose aggressive approach on the ice has earned him the marking of a player everyone hates unless he’s on their team.)

If the NHL wants to appeal to new viewers, it can gain ground by marketing its stars outside of a bland, monotone mold for success. 

With high-scoring, chaotically delightful games that happen almost every night all across the continent, an audience needs something to anchor them.

Individuality isn’t a bad place to start.