Capitals bits: Tomas Vokoun talks about taking less money, Jason Chimera asks for patience

In an age of parity, it’s often difficult for sports fans to be patient. Winning a lot of regular season games might be fun at the time, but there are situations where that only feeds the hunger for postseason success, which people often equate with matters of “resolve” or “heart” rather than less heroic elements such as luck and randomness.

So when a team like the Washington Capitals or San Jose Sharks wins division titles and a Presidents Trophy or two but cannot win the Stanley Cup, pundits occasionally rush to judgment about “clutchness” and sometimes demand dramatic changes. Sweeping alterations might sound appealing to jilted fans, but knee-jerk reactions aren’t wise when you’re dealing with players who are still in the prime of their careers, which is the case with the excessively criticized Capitals.

Yes, it must be disappointing to see such a dominant team get swept (as they did in the second round of the 2011 playoffs against Tampa Bay) or cough up solid series leads (which happened when they were up 3-1 against Montreal in 2010 and 2-0 against Pittsburgh in 2009), but Washington should still be considered a genuine contender in the NHL. Thankfully, the Capitals aren’t making radical renovations just to appease those who want change for change’s sake; sports fans only need to look at the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA title run to see why teams are wise to hold onto special players and hope that the bounces go their way.

Jason Chimera hopes that people can learn to be a little more patient with Alex Ovechkin & Co.

“Lots of people are pushing panic buttons over the Capitals, but you don’t win overnight,” said Chimera, 32. “There are learning curves with our kids, but these guys are getting older with more experience. We probably have the most skill of any team I’ve been on, but guys know now that skill doesn’t always win you games in the playoffs.”

Then again, one thing that could cover up that learning curve would be stellar goaltending. While the Capitals have enjoyed occasionally strong play from starting goalies such as Michal Neuvirth and departed netminder Semyon Varlamov, they’ve run into some brick walls with goalie pads before. Jaroslav Halak and Dwayne Roloson found ways to short circuit the Capitals’ attack in the last two seasons while their respective teams counter-punched Washington to submission.

There’s no guarantee that Tomas Vokoun will be that knight in shining armor, but his numbers often stack up with the league’s finest goalies. Any remaining doubt about their decision to sign him should have been removed by his ludicrously small price tag (relatively speaking) of $1.5 million.

Katie Carrera transcribed some of the most interesting bits from Vokoun’s interview with George Richards.

“I’m in the stage of my career [where] I don’t have to worry about my finances, my livelihood, my family, and I can just go out and enjoy hockey and play with great players,” Vokoun told the Miami Herald’s George Richards after a workout in Coral Springs.

(snip)

“It was something I was looking at as, you know, I want to enjoy hockey. I want to play in playoffs,” Vokoun said Monday. “It’s been really tough for me. I lost four years. I’ve been sitting every summer here in South Florida, which I love, in the afternoons swimming in the pool, and by 7:30 at night I put on the TV and watch playoff hockey every single year. If you care and love playing hockey, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Vokoun is saying all the right things about the competitive advantages of the move, but as Carrera notes, the Czech-born goalie did switch agents this off-season. That being said, he’s not totally wrong about the benefits of playing on a great team since a strong season could help him earn a much bigger deal next summer.

Chimera might ask for patience, but it’s all about next season for many people in the Capitals organization and Vokoun is high on that list.

Kevin Shattenkirk is having a rough postseason for the Capitals so far

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Facing a 2-0 series deficit it is fair to say that things have not gone the Washington Capitals’ way so far in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They have failed to capitalize on some of their opportunities and starting goaltender Braden Holtby has been off of his game so much that he ended up getting benched on Saturday.

Another issue that needs to be corrected: Kevin Shattenkirk, their prized in-season acquisition before the NHL trade deadline, has had a particularly rough postseason and seemed to bottom out in the Capitals’ 6-2 Game 2 loss on Saturday night.

Along with losing a race to a loose puck to Matt Cullen, allowing the 40-year-old center to open the scoring in the second period with a shorthanded goal, Shattenkirk also took a costly delay of game penalty early in the third period that helped set up Phil Kessel‘s second goal of the game to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead.

Overall this postseason Shattenkirk has zero goals, three assists, and is a minus-seven in eight games.

On Sunday, coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that Shattenkirk needs to be better saying, via CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir, “That’s not good enough for what we need in that third pairing right now,” and adding that his minus-seven rating is “hard to recover from.”

There is obviously a ton of pressure on the Capitals as a team to perform this postseason in an effort to erase all of the sour memories from past postseason appearances.

But there is also a lot of pressure on a player like Shattenkirk individually. Not only was his arrival in Washington supposed to be one of the final pieces for a team that has finished with the league’s best record two years in a row and is still searching for that elusive championship, but as a free agent after the season he is also being watched closely by 30 other general managers around the league.

Whether it is fair or not (it isn’t always fair), playoff performances can — and do — have a huge impact in what teams do in the offseason. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it is an overreaction to a small sample size of games. But it does seem to matter.

Shattenkirk is an outstanding player, and he has a lengthy track record of success in the NHL to prove it. He is a significantly better player than he has demonstrated over the past couple of weeks, and especially over the past two games. But right now his performance can not be doing himself any favors when it comes to the summer. He has another level he can get to and for both the sake of his team and his quest into free agency this summer he probably needs to find it pretty quickly.

 

Draft lottery move could be a big turning point for Flyers

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Even though the Philadelphia Flyers did not win the top overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft on Saturday night, they were still probably the biggest winner of the day when they moved up to the No. 2 overall pick after starting at No. 13.

That means they will have an opportunity to come away with one of the top-two prospects in this year’s class, whether it be Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

For a team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first-round since 2012, it is a nice change in fortune.

General manager Ron Hextall was feeling pretty good about it on Saturday.

“We had a lot of bad luck this year,” said Hextall, via CSN Philly. “I’m hoping this is a turning point for some of that to be turned around. This is a big point for our franchise. We’re obviously going to get a very good player and hopefully in years, we’ll look back on this as a turning point for us.”

There is every reason to believe that it can be.

First, the Flyers are not your typical team picking at the very top of the draft that is full of holes and is basically starting over from scratch. This is a team that was in the playoffs a year ago and was at least in contention for a spot this year until the final month of the season. They already have established core players in place (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier) and some promising young talent just starting to break into the league (Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny). Adding a top-two pick to that is going to be a massive addition.

Keep in mind that other than the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, every Stanley Cup winner in the salary cap era has had at least one top-two pick in the NHL draft on its roster.

Those high draft picks are the best way to land impact players in the NHL, and given how rarely they get traded and how they are almost never available in free agency, it is often times the only way to land them.

Now the Flyers have an opportunity to get one when they probably weren’t expecting it.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Sunday, April 30

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The second-round continues on Sunday afternoon with another doubleheader of games on the NBC Networks.

All of the action starts at 3:00 p.m. ET when the Nashville Predators return home to host the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their series and look to rebound from their first loss of the postsesaon.

Then, at 7:00 p.m. ET, the Edmonton Oilers return home to what should be a frenzied crowd as they try to take a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Anaheim Ducks.

Here is all of the information you need for Sunday’s games.

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Chris Cuthbert, Joe Micheletti

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.