The dirty “T” word: Capitals to further tweak their defensive trap

The shell shock that many NHL fans have from the “dead puck” era in the 90s and early 2000s is still evident. After all, just say to a fan that their favorite team that defends strongly plays a variation of the neutral zone trap and they’ll freak out like Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back” after he found out Darth Vader was his father. They might even quote Luke word for word, “No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”

If fans would search their feelings they would know it to be true. Everyone traps somehow and such is the case for the newly defensive Washington Capitals. They unlocked the key to keeping opponents off the scoreboard and finding an effective way to trap teams helped do the trick. The downside for the Caps is that their adherence to playing defense turned the run-and-gun Capitals into a predictable offense and the number of goals dropped considerably.

With the new season approaching, Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com finds out that Bruce Boudreau is looking to tweak his trap a little more to help tighten things up for the Caps and Mike Knuble is eager to see how it plays out.

“We made some good progress with the new system we had after December, but I don’t think they were real happy with the way it ended and it won’t be the same now that we’re back,” Knuble said. “It’s going to be a hybrid. It was too conservative.”

While the Caps were one of the league’s tightest defensive teams last season, they were also one of its least productive, finishing 19th in goals per game at 2.67. Only three Capitals topped the 20-goal mark last season – Alex Ovechkin with a career-low 32, Alexander Semin with 28 and Knuble with 24 – and Knuble believes a more opportunistic offense should go a long way in getting the Caps deep into the playoffs.

“It will be interesting,” he said. “I think a lot of players are excited to see what the staff came up with. I’ve got to believe it will be more of a transition mode. Maybe we’ll switch back and forth, depending on the game. But I think we all left last season with the feeling  we didn’t score enough goals and the games were too low scoring than what we’re capable of.”

With how the Capitals are built now by adding tougher two-way forwards like Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward and smart two-way defenseman Roman Hamrlik, you could argue that they’ll either be a better team at transitioning from defense to offense or that they’re going all in with grinding games out.

With offensive weapons like Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, asking them to grind out goals is like trying to get a Ferrari to win a tractor pull. Better puck luck and more freedom around the ice for those guys to get shots will help them while guys like Knuble, Brouwer, and Ward crash the net for rebounds.

Defensively speaking, however, the Caps switching to a more hybrid kind of trap is one that should benefit them. Being able to turn on a dime and counterattack after forcing a turnover is something the Caps should be better at as they’ve got tremendous talent to do it and be great at it. Being able to do it as well as teams like Detroit and Vancouver can should be their ultimate goal. If it works out that way, Washington might just get their chance to show what they can do in the Stanley Cup finals.

Habs address blueline, acquire Schlemko from Vegas

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Having already moved on from Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin and Mikhail Sergachev, the Habs continued to remodel their defense on Thursday by acquiring David Schlemko from Vegas.

Schlemko, who spent last season with the Sharks, was acquired by the Golden Knights at last night’s expansion draft. Vegas will receive Montreal’s fifth-round pick in 2019 as part of the deal.

Signed to a four-year, $8.4 million deal last summer, Schlemko had high expectations in San Jose. GM Doug Wilson trumpeted him as a “solid puck-moving defenseman” and while Schlemko did show it at times, he also had his low points.

He was a healthy scratch midway through the year, and missed some time with a lower-body injury. All told, he had 18 points in 62 games, while averaging 16:45 TOI per night.

It’s unlikely that Habs GM Marc Bergevin is done here. While Schlemko is a decent pickup, he’s only one of five d-men under contract for next season, along with Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson and Jordie Benn. Andrei Markov is an unrestricted free agent, and it’s unclear if he’ll be brought back.

Related: Vegas has 15 d-men, but won’t keep them all

 

Kings add ‘tremendous all-around teacher’ Nachbaur to coaching staff

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John Stevens has added a familiar face to his coaching staff.

On Thursday, the L.A. Kings announced the hiring of Don Nachbaur as an assistant coach.

Nachbaur has spent the last seven seasons as bench boss of the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. He has worked with Stevens before, although it’s been a while.

Their paths crossed during their playing days with the Philadelphia Flyers and American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in the late 1980s. After that, they coached together with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the AHL. Nachbaur was an assistant coach with the Phantoms for two seasons (2000-01 and 2001-02) while Stevens was the head coach.

They made the playoffs both years but didn’t go beyond the second round.

“Don is a great addition to our coaching staff. I personally have known him 30-plus years,” said Stevens. “I played with him and have coached alongside him. He has played the game at a high level and he is a tremendous all-around teacher who is very well-rounded.”

Nachbaur joins a Kings staff that includes assistant coach Dave Lowry and goaltending coach Bill Ranford.

Here’s the new first-round draft order

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A week ago, we released the full order of selections for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Well, some stuff has happened since.

So here’s the new order for the first round, which will be selected Friday evening at United Center in Chicago:

1. New Jersey Devils
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Dallas Stars
4. Colorado Avalanche
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Vegas Golden Knights
7. Arizona Coyotes
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Detroit Red Wings
10. Florida Panthers
11. Los Angeles Kings
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg)
14. Tampa Bay Lightning
15. Vegas Golden Knights (from NY Islanders)
16. Calgary Flames
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
18. Boston Bruins
19. San Jose Sharks
20. St. Louis Blues
21. New York Rangers
22. Edmonton Oilers
23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)
24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)
25. Montreal Canadiens
26. Chicago Blackhawks
27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington)
28. Ottawa Senators
29. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim)
30. Nashville Predators
31. Pittsburgh Penguins

That order could still change, as there’s been plenty of speculation that some of the top picks could be in play.

Are teams like the Devils, Flyers, and Stars willing to deal?

We’ll find out soon.

Trade: Isles get Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per TSN’s Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way towards signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid, the Hart Trophy winner, is eligible to sign an extension soon. Ditto for Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those two contracts could be rather large.