Everything Else

Japers Rink has been among the gold-standard in team blogs for over a decade. They lent us Greg this morning. 

The Caps for the second straight year are kinda weird. Theyre near the top of the Metro, so no problems there, but their metrics say they shouldn’t be. Braden Holtby has been good, but short of great. Is it just as simple as the top line is always going to outshoot the percentages and they get just enough saves to make that count? Or just weird?
 
We’ve been wondering the same thing! There’s been a bit of debate amongst Caps fans about how good our team is this year, and this is something I speculated a bit about this on our site’s podcast earlier this week. I tend to think that the Caps will outperform their expected goal metrics to some degree (Kevin Klein explained why this keeps happening earlier this year, and having the skill of the Capitals helps generally in this area)…but they were still due for some regression this year, because they were outperforming their metrics by an even more extreme degree. The fact that our power play has come crashing back down to earth and is now ranked 11th in the NHL isn’t helping matters much.
One positive note, as your question referenced, has been the goaltending for the Capitals this year. Braden Holtby has bounced back, and is returning closer to his career norms in Save % (.912 this year) and Goals Against Per Game (2.82 this year.) We’ve also been impressed with backup and human typo Pheonix Copley, who is close to Holtby in Save % and GAA.
Ultimately, I still think the Capitals are safely a playoff team, and we’re ultimately still talking about a team with a number of elite-level players, but things definitely aren’t perfect over here in D.C.
You wouldn’t say Evgeni Kuznetsov is having a bad year, as he’s still close to a point per game. But only eight goals after 27 last year in a more free-scoring environment. Just rotten luck on the shooting-percentage?
 
I wouldn’t say it’s just rotten shooting percentage luck…though he seems pretty likely to improve from a 1.54% (!!) shooting percentage at 5v5. Anecdotally, Kuznetsov has been making some strange decisions in the neutral zone,  is turning the puck over pretty frequently in all zones, and just seems…off. One note is that he did suffer a concussion earlier this year, which he still maybe recovering from, even though he’s in the lineup. We’ve noticed this with Capitals players before, that sometimes it can take a couple of months after a concussion to start getting back in the swing of things.
The Caps find themselves in an interesting spot down the road. Both Backstrom and Holtby will be up for extensions in the summer. Both will be over 30. How careful do the Caps want to be with this or will they hand both significant raises from their current bargain rates of $6 million per year?
Backstrom first: Backstrom’s next contract is going to be a fascinating puzzle for GM Brian MacLellan to solve. Backstrom has consistently managed to hover around a point per game throughout his tenure, a pace he’s continuing this year. His value isn’t just offensive though, he’s continued to draw key defensive assignments, and former head coach Barry Trotz was always vouching for him to get Selke consideration. Yet, at the same time, Backstrom will be 32 when his next contract is discussed, which is a dangerous age to be giving away massive free agent contracts. Personally, I think they’ll have to get a deal done (maybe around 6-7 million a year?), and his legendary passing ability may help stave off a drastic decline in his late 30’s.
Holtby, to me, is a bit clearer of a case. The Capitals top prospect is goaltender Ilya Samsonov, and a lot of people envisioned him taking over the starting job once Holtby’s contract expires. Unfortunately, Samsonov has struggled a bit in Hershey, which has perhaps slowed the calls for him to immediately take over from Holtby. Here, I think the Capitals have the benefit of waiting. If Holtby plays consistently well this and next year and Samsonov continues struggling, they can absolutely work out an extension. However, if Samsonov looks ready and Holtby starts a bit of a decline, it could be time for a transition in net.
What might the Caps do around the deadline and what are you expecting from them in the spring?
 
I’m actually working on a piece now about this, so stay tuned for more details! Generally, at the deadline, I’d expect them to get a depth forward and maybe another depth defenseman. The problem is that the Caps have basically no cap space (around 400k, according to Capfriendly), which limits any deals. 
 
The expectation here is that the high talented but inconsistent Andre Burakovsky seems likely to be traded  which could free up around $3 million in cap space. He’s fallen out of favor with the Capitals brass and has been healthy scratched a few times this year, so he could use a change of scenery. There could be a fit by trading Burakovsky either for another player who could use a change of scenery, or maybe to a talent-starved team in exchange for a forward on an expiring deal.

Game #50 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Jason Rogers is a writer for JapersRink.com, as well as a few other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @HeyJayJRogers. 

The Caps had their own salary cap purge in the summer. Williams, Johansson, Alzner, Shattenkirk, Schmidt all headed for the exit. Which has stung the most so far this season?
Boy, it depends on when you’re asking. Early on, it was defenseman Nate Schmidt. Ol’ Smiley Face was a third-pair blueliner while in Washington, and struggled to even earn a sweater from Coach Barry Trotz over crumbling Methuselah Karl Alzner last season. With fully half of the defensive starters now gone from last season, you might say depth has been a problem, in the same way that it is a problem for sinking ships. Rookies have stepped up admirably, and the new young core seems to be beginning to gel, but sprinkle in another injury here or there and this Capitals defensive could be in major trouble.
There was some furor over Barry Trotz splitting up Backstrom and Ovie for a period of time. Is there anything more here than just trying to spread scoring?
That’s basically all it was. With Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams (two thirds of last year’s second line) gone to other clubs, scoring was thinner than a svelte ski for a while there. They’ve been reunited for a couple games now, and, well, Alex Ovechkin once again leads the NHL in goals. It’s hard to oversell how historically good the set-up-and-finish pair of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for the last decade, but both of these guys are headed to Hall of Fame one day, and they’ll each have the other to thank.
Maybe due to the departures on D, John Carlson is playing about four minutes more per night than he ever has. Any concern that he’ll be paste by April?
Yes. Oh, God, yes. It’s one of the hottest topics in DC right now. Can John Carlson sustain this level of ice time? Can Barry Trotz really keep using Carlson like this? Are the other defensemen made of balsa wood and paper mache or something? Carlson struggled in his expanded deployment early on this season, but he’s coalesced into a fairly reliable emergency cork for this team. Barry Trotz has a reputation, deserved or not, for being especially unwilling to give young players ice time in order to develop when he has more experienced veterans, perhaps with lower ceilings, available now. What you’re seeing now on the Capitals blue line is this simple face: Barry Trotz trusts John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and, lately, Dmitry Orlov. He is learning to trust Christian Djoos. He does not trust Madison Bowey or Brooks Orpik.
Lars Eller is having his best offensive season so far. Just a different role or different game?
Lars Eller is a stone cold stud. He is a possession gremlin, and he makes more offensive things happen in Washington than a skeezy lobbyist. Last year, his line (along with Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly) was the very best possession line in hockey for most of the season. He’s getting opportunities this year, but he’s also being used like a fine, Danish glue to hold the offense together wherever it seems weakest. But keep an eye on his hands; the dude can make plays.
Eller, Carlson, Beagle, and Wilson are all free agents after the season. If the window didn’t shut last year, is this going to be it for this group or can they keep everyone together?
Ah, the seventy-five million dollar question. Lars Eller may have played his way out of the Capitals’ tax bracket the last two years. Someone will offer him more than Washington would like to, but he should be a priority for them.
Jay Beagle, what can you say: the front office loves him. He’s a “glue guy.” He’s consistently a league-leader in faceoff percentage, and he’s their most trusted penalty killer. Would the Capitals like to try and replace him? No, certainly not. Can they replace a career fourth-line forward? Yes, of course.
Tom Wilson, they will have to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves some tough questions. With all of the penalties, and the suspensions, and the general lack of offensive production, is this grinder and penalty killer – and former first-round draft pick – still worth his salary when the purse strings are this tight? Could they get a league-minimum guy who can do what Tom Wilson does, and then some, perhaps? For me, I say yes, because I know for a fact that Daniel Winnik exists.
John Carlson will be the most interesting of all. At the end of last season, I would have told you there was no chance Carlson would be on the Capitals at the end of this one. Now, though, will his unavoidably praise-worthy, improved level of play – in killer minutes, being asked to absorb killer assignments – he may have made himself too valuable for Washington to let go.
Everything Else

One of the things we’ve lamented most over our entire time doing this, and in a connected fashion probably one of the reasons for our “success,” is how inaccessible hockey coaches and media make information that might teach others the game. Getting any sort of useful nuggets of insight from a coach or player is akin to finding a good dentist in Atlantis. They just don’t give it to you. Most of the time I’ll give the players a pass, as stringing together sentences is enough of a challenge and they’re most assuredly following orders.

We all know why. Everyone takes their cues from football coaches, whom these days are taking their cues from Bill Belichick. But there was a holier than thou quality to football coaches long before Belichik turned it into something of an art, and this shit didn’t really fly when he was coaching the Browns. And even in football, it’s a little silly.

I’m struggling to find the video, but there was another perfect and infuriating example on HNIC’s pregame show on Saturday, which was setting up the Capitals-Leafs game that night. Both Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz were facing mini-controversies in how they sent out their forwards. Babcock has long refused to pair up Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, even though they’ve been a fist in the face of God when he has. Trotz had split up Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin of late in a bid to juice scoring through more of the lineup.

The pregame show played clips of pressers each had earlier in the week. The clip of Babcock showed him responding to a question from some member of Toronto media person about the Matthews-Marner axis with, “When you coach the team you can set it up however you want. When I coach it I’ll do what I want.”

The clip of Trotz that followed wasn’t much better. When asked about Backstrom and Ovie–and by a female reporter but I’ll save that raised eyebrow for another time–Trotz’s response was, “Because I felt like it.” And he repeated that when pressed, and good on her for asking a follow-up, which seems to be a lost art these days.

What’s frustrating about these things is that no one was asking about specific game strategy. It’s not like we wanted Babcock to tell us how they were going to attack the Caps when John Carlson was on the ice that night. It’s like almost every coach doesn’t know that their team is being scouted by every other team in the league. If Babs feels that Marner and Matthews are too weak defensively to be playing together, you can be sure every other team knows that already. If Babs thinks that Marner needs the puck too much to be effective and Matthews hasn’t quite learned how to play without the puck totally effectively yet, or something like that, what’s the cost in telling your fans that? Sure, it doesn’t cost Babcock anything to keep his fans in the dark and questioning as long as the wins pile up. But it doesn’t cost him anything to not do so either.

And of course, I can totally understand the urge to tell the Toronto media to find something to spin on. We all do.

We face the same thing here in Chicago. Things are rosy for the moment, especially in the glow of Top Cat’s hat trick last night against several wildebeests masquerading as Anaheim Ducks. And if your next questions is, “Where would wildebeests get Anaheim Ducks unis?” believe me I’m right there with you. Still, A.D.B has shown he already has NHL top six skills, and yet he isn’t playing there. He fashioned a goal with his line last night, but the other two goals were when he was out there between line changes and got to run with Schmaltz and Kane. And this has kind of been the story all season.

At this point, we know Schmaltz is in the wing spot Top Cat would take in the top six because the Hawks want him to shoot more, and maybe give him a touch more space for his vision. Maybe they also don’t feel DeBrincat is ready for tougher competition. Maybe they don’t think Schmaltz has the strength or determination down low in his own zone yet to play in the middle.

But have we heard Q say any of this? None of this would be news to his opponents. They have scouts and those scouts have eyes. We’re basically guessing at what the reasons are. I’m pretty confident that the Predators know that for tonight Schmaltz is more likely to pass than shoot when in a given spot, no matter what Quenneville gives us or doesn’t.

While it’s pointless to continue to point to the NBA as comparison, one of the things serious NBA fans love about that league is that coaches give their press something. They’ll tell you if a guys spreads the floor from the four or they like his defense on the wing from the bench or whatever else. They’re not going to give you specific sets they’re going to run ahead of time but they’ll tell you why they did something in the past. You can learn something and watch your team differently.

Again, it doesn’t cost hockey teams anything to be run like this. We’ll still watch. It’s just annoying that they think they’re guarding government secrets. It might make for a more enjoyable time for everyone.

Everything Else

Becca H is all things at Japersrink.com. You can follow her on Twitter @BeccaH_JR.

Overall a really solid start for the Caps. The underlying numbers are encouraging as well. Anything to complain about or right according to plan?

Amazingly, shockingly, the biggest issue for the Caps is their power play. You know, that same power play that has been operating at close to 25% for the last three seasons, the one that boasts guys like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov? That’s the one. At the moment they’re operating at a 13.2% clip (just five goals on 38 tries), which is simply not good enough. And it’s not just the start of this season where it’s been an issue – the power play dried up late last season (with an isolated explosion of productivity in their first-round series against Philly). That’s somewhat troubling, and leads us to question whether the rest of the league has finally figured them out.

That said, 12 games in they’re still generating shots and chances with the extra man, and it is only 12 games in – that 13.2% isn’t the worst mark in the League tells you how early it is. There’s time for it to fix itself, and as long as they’re doing well at five on five – and killing penalties at the rate they are – they’ll probably be fine. Probably.

Hopefully.

Everything Else

In somewhat of a role-reversal, I couldn’t fucking sit still or stop swearing tonight (OK, I always swear a lot) and Fels was cool as a… well, not a cucumber. Maybe a zucchini? Are those cool? Some sort of squash or gourd, I guess. Are squashes and gourds even mutually exclusive? I don’t get horticulture.

While the Blackhawks didn’t make it easy for themselves, they never really seemed like they were getting outplayed. The early goal from the Wild (from Clutterbuck on a softie… because of course that would happen) didn’t inspire much confidence but it wasn’t a dagger in the hearts of the UC either. The Wild scored, we groaned but anyone who thought the Hawks would be shutout for the game was kidding themselves. The Hawks didn’t panic. They came back to their game and they found a way to score one on the advantage and then take it in a longish OT. 15.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Bear? Wolf? River? Trees? Sun?: Hockey Wilderness

The Wild come into this game with a feather in their cap that few others can make so far this season. They’ve taken two points from the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, they had to do it via the skills competition but at this point, I would imagine most teams would consider that a pretty decent bragging point. We’ll have to get used to seeing these new North Stars since they’ll be division mates coming up next year. It could get interesting, seeing as how the two fan bases already have a healthy history of mutual dislike stemming back from before the North Stars became just the Stars. At least more of a rivalry than the Hawks have with the Avs anyway…

The Wild stumbled out of the gate a bit after making a big splash in the off-season but seem to have found their footing as of late as they’re now sitting just two points behind Northwest leading Vancouver and are 6-3-1 in their last 10. Of course, that’s one against the Oilers, two against the Flames and one against the Flames. I’m only impressed by the win against the Wings, seeing as how we’ve seen how much they can actually play when they feel like it.

Everything Else

  @ 

Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Bear? Wolf? River? Trees? Sun?: Hockey Wilderness

The Wild come into this game with a feather in their cap that few others can make so far this season. They’ve taken two points from the Chicago Blackhawks. Sure, they had to do it via the skills competition but at this point, I would imagine most teams would consider that a pretty decent bragging point. We’ll have to get used to seeing these new North Stars since they’ll be division mates coming up next year. It could get interesting, seeing as how the two fan bases already have a healthy history of mutual dislike stemming back from before the North Stars became just the Stars. At least more of a rivalry than the Hawks have with the Avs anyway…

The Wild stumbled out of the gate a bit after making a big splash in the off-season but seem to have found their footing as of late as they’re now sitting just two points behind Northwest leading Vancouver and are 6-3-1 in their last 10. Of course, that’s one against the Oilers, two against the Flames and one against the Flames. I’m only impressed by the win against the Wings, seeing as how we’ve seen how much they can actually play when they feel like it.