What Went Wrong: Washington Capitals

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After such a promising win in the first round over the New York Rangers, the Capitals decided to make like it was old timer’s day and play their second round matchup against Tampa Bay as if they were facing Montreal last year. That didn’t work then and it didn’t work against the Lightning this year. What went wrong for the Caps in this hasty exit from the playoffs? We’ve got a list.

1. Alex and the Ovechtricks
A lot of criticism today is being heaped upon Alex Ovechkin. It makes sense because he’s the captain but when people want to say the Caps couldn’t overcome the Lightning because Ovechkin “wasn’t clutch” or “didn’t try hard enough” they’re trolling for a reaction. Fact of the matter is, against the Lightning, Ovechkin was still the team’s leading scorer (two goals, two assists) and he was clearly the only guy on the ice giving a damn about how the team did.

The Caps struggled to score enough goals as it was, but Ovechkin’s effort level was consistently high and he was the one constant for Washington in a series that had none. Other “top” scorers for Washington? Brooks Laich (one goal, two assists)and Jason Arnott (three assists) each with three points. John Carlson did his part to help from the blue line with two goals but that was it. Mike Knuble played hurt and had a goal to try and show the example, but others who they count on to produce failed.

Nicklas Backstrom (one assist) and Alex Semin (one goal, one assist) alike were terrible in this series and after Marcus Johansson’s great series against New York he withered and disappeared against Tampa Bay winding up with two assists and a -5 plus/minus. Ovechkin is but one guy and when going against a team focused and hell-bent on preventing your best player from scoring others need to step up. None of Ovechkin’s teammates did that.

2. Power play abomination
It wasn’t as if the Lightning didn’t give the Capitals opportunity to stay in the games and seize the day to get a win. They did so to the tune of 19 power play chances over the four games. Only twice did the Capitals cash in on the man advantage and one of those two goals came on a 5-on-3 power play.

Tampa Bay wasn’t the most disciplined team by any stretch in this series and they gave the Capitals plenty of chances to burn them for their brutal mistakes. Guys like Brett Clark and Adam Hall were more than happy to take bad penalties but the Caps lack of power play cohesion all season came home to roost in this series.

3. Getting outcoached
The Lightning came in with a game plan, stuck to it, and stifled the Capitals attack four straight games. When a coach employs a game plan against you, one that’s making it so your team is struggling to do anything against them, it’s up to the opposing coach to find a hole or a strategy that will make them pay for it.

Bruce Boudreau seemed to have no answers for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 defense. Boudreau also had no means of fixing up a power play that’s struggled all year long. At some point you knew it was going to come back and bite them and with a series that had essentially three one-goal games (Game 1 had an empty net goal) having your power play fail so spectacularly hurt them.

Whether or not Boudreau had the answers or if he just fiddled about hoping that the team’s talent would take over is up to GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis to decide. Getting outcoached two years in a row by guys implementing a defensive-minded system though doesn’t look good. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…”

4. Hockey intelligence
Something a team can’t afford to do when they’re fighting for goals and caught in close games is to give their opponent chances on the power play to either get back in a game or to take one over. The Capitals failed miserably at controlling their own fate as they perpetually left the door open for the Lightning via the power play. The Lightning connected on 22.2% of their chances in this series (4-18) and those goals always came at the wrong time.

Steven Stamkos’ power play goal in Game 1 was the one that broke a 2-2 tie late in the second period. Vincent Lecavalier’s in Game 2 was the first goal of the game putting Washington in a hole immediately. In Game 4, Ryan Malone kicked off the game with a power play goal again putting the Caps down right away. Later on it would be Marc-Andre Bergeron putting the Caps down for good in the third period with a goal that made it 4-2 early in the period.

It’s one thing to take penalties, it’s another thing to have your penalty killers give up those deflating or back-breaking goals that turn the tide of a game right away. The Caps being done in by their own mistakes with bad penalties makes all the more sense.

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The Capitals are obviously highly talented but there’s something seriously wrong going on with this team that they can’t get past teams that maniacally work hard. Montreal did it last year, Tampa Bay did this time. Whether that’s indicative of something being wrong with the personnel on or off the ice is up for debate. Likely, it’s a good mix of both.

There are some players that aren’t working out the right way and there’s now some brand of disconnect with Boudreau because the team continues to come up short in the postseason. Change is coming in D.C. it’s just a matter of how much and who suffers for it. At least the Caps off-season will be more entertaining than their playoff games turned out to be.

Trading Jeff Carter would be difficult for Kings

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From our seats – whether those seats are in cubicles or basements or penthouses – making a trade feels as simple as doing so in “NHL 19” or fantasy hockey.

Of course, there are a lot of elements that make it tougher to do so in reality. Maybe the GM you’d normally trade to has been burnt before, or is scared to make a trade after being roasted so many times over social media. Perhaps you’re one of those GMs who just won’t trade Player A to another team in your division, or conference.

Beyond that, there are the human elements. An executive might feel especially loyal to a player who won his team a Stanley Cup or two, and a player may simply not want to leave a market where they’ve put down roots.

Threat of retirement

That’s one thing to consider for the Kings and Jeff Carter, as he told The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman (sub required) when asked about a potential trade.

“It’s the first time in my career I’ve had a family and kids, so it changes it,” Carter said. “Like I said, I can’t really control much of that. When you’re not winning games, that’s how it goes.

“I’ve been on teams like that before. We’ll see.”

Now, some of you in the audience might blurt out “tough,” but the Kings would have bottom-line reasons to take pause. During a recent edition of TSN’s Insider Trading, Bob McKenzie noted that Carter could just decide to retire if a trade didn’t work for him, which would mean that hypothetical team wouldn’t get an expected return, while the Kings would eat a significant cap recapture penalty.

“He doesn’t have no-trade protection, he loves it in L.A. and would love to stay. If he does get traded somewhere he doesn’t want to go, retirement could be an option for him,” McKenzie said, via TSN’s transcription. “That’s why he signed that back-diving contract ­– he’s only leaving $7 million on the table. If he did retire, there is a cap recapture penalty that would hit the LA Kings at $3.75 million in each of the next three years.”

So, in a lot of ways, Carter’s contract carries a self-imposed no-trade clause, or at least allows him to name a team he’d accept a move to.

A budget-friendly contract

It’s interesting, really, because Carter’s contract is so friendly to a budget team. Consider the remaining years of an 11-year deal, which carries a $5.273M (rounded up) cap hit, yet costs much less in salary dollars, via Cap Friendly:

2018-19: $5.273M cap hit, $5M salary
2019-20: $5.273M cap hit, $3M salary
2020-21: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary
2021-22: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary

So, really, that might be the silver lining for the Kings. Carter could very well be useful for getting to the cap floor in the future, if this rebuild ends up being long and painful. Considering how lousy the Kings look, how hard Father Time could hit their core, and how limited their prospect base is, a prolonged period of pain is not out of the question.

The other silver lining is that the Kings have other contracts they can move with greater ease.

For quite some time, the Kings have been lampooned for bragging about Jonathan Quick‘s extension, which carries a $5.8M cap hit through 2022-23:

As poorly as those Tweets aged, the Quick deal doesn’t include a no-trade clause. The Kings also have two defensemen who are very appealing and lack such clauses in Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez (though Martinez needs to heal up), while Tyler Toffoli is the other prominent tradable forward who lacks an NMC or NTC.

Yet, there’s another factor that would make it tougher to trade Carter and/or Toffoli:

Selling low

In that Dillman piece, there’s an especially dour moment where Toffoli notes that Carter (or “Carts”) insisted that Toffoli would score again some day, as the winger is on a lengthy goal-less streak.

It brings to mind a recommendation: if the Kings can convince Carter to accept a trade (or eventually make one of those seemingly-phony trips to LTIR if things didn’t work out), they might want to wait a while to actually make a move.

Serious slump

Because, as it stands, Carter’s value couldn’t get a lot colder.

Perhaps Carter needs more time to recover from various ailments, including a recent ankle surgery. He’s 33, so there’s a delicate balance there, but more time might allow Carter to get more spring in his step.

Yet, from a more black-and-white standpoint, Carter’s numbers could use a boost.

Through 34 games, Carter has just six goals and 15 points. He can’t blame being stuck to the bench (like Ilya Kovalchuk was before he got hurt), either, as Carter’s averaging 18:39 TOI per game, his highest average since 2013-14 (when he logged 18:57 per night).

Line him up with Kopitar?

So, that’s not great, but there are some reasons for hope, and perhaps some sneaky ways to pull a “pump-and-dump.”

For one thing, Carter should enjoy at least slightly better bounces going forward. His shooting percentage is at just 6.5 this season, tying a career-low from way back in 2006-07, and way down from a career average of 11.5. Last season, he scored on 15.3 percent of his SOG, so there’s an argument that this revolves around bad luck more than the aging curve. His on-ice shooting percentage (7.4) is lower than usual, too, so multiple indicators point to at least some improvement.

Allow a somewhat audacious suggestion, then: what if the Kings lined up Carter with Anze Kopitar?

With Kovalchuk on the shelf and often in Willie Desjardins’ doghouse, Kopitar’s having to lug Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo around at even-strength. Why not give Kopitar a more creative linemate? From the looks of their lines at Left Wing Lock, Adrian Kempe‘s currently on Carter’s wing, so it’s not as though Desjardins is totally against experimenting a bit with placing pivots on the wing. What if Carter enjoyed a Claude Giroux-like renaissance on the wing?

It’s not really something the Kings tried, either. According to Natural Stat Trick, Kopitar and Carter have been on the ice together for a measly eight even-strength minutes.

What do the Kings really have to lose? Kempe can slide back to center on a second line, Carter might enjoy more open ice, and Kopitar might enjoy … life again? OK, that’s too much, but he may enjoy hockey more if he had a little extra help.

Perhaps some teams would see this as a shameless way to inflate Carter’s value, but teams often find ways to romanticize a player who could solve [x] ills.

I mean, if the Kings are happy with the miserable status quo, then forget I said anything.

***

As you can see, this isn’t the easiest situation. Trading Carter is tricky in different ways than it would be to trade Quick, Muzzin, Martinez, or Toffoli (and those would be uncomfortable moves as well).

The Kings are already in a tough spot, but they’ll only pile up more challenges if they don’t explore every avenue to improve their situation, even if it means leaving their comfort zone — and finding out how Carter might react to being traded out of his.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers’ Carter Hart to make historic NHL debut vs. Red Wings

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The Philadelphia Flyers remain in a state of change, so why not make a little history while they’re at it?

When prized goalie prospect Carter Hart plays Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the Flyers will become the first team in NHL history to start six netminders in the opening 35 games of a season. They will also be the 14th team ever and first since the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers to start six over the course of a season.

Considering the situation in the Flyers’ crease, who knows how long Hart, 20, will stay up with the NHL club, but this will be a peek into the future as he is expected to be the eventual solution in net. But with Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz, and Alex Lyon in the mix, the short-term answer might be more seasoning in the AHL once there are fewer goaltenders in the trainer’s room.

After a bumpy start to his professional career in AHL Lehigh Valley this season, Hart has settled down and helped the Phantoms win four of his last five starts with a 1.81 goals against average and .938 save percentage.

What helped to make things finally starting to click for him?

“Trusting my game, not trying to overthink plays,” he said on Monday. “Earlier in the year, making the transition from junior to the pro level I was over-analyzing everything. I had talks with the coaches down there and my goalie coaches back home, and I just have to trust my game, got to play to my strengths. When it’s game time it’s just time to play. You can’t think, you’ve got to play.”

Hart, who found out about his call up during the Lehigh Valley Christmas party on Sunday night, will be helped by the familiarity of having his AHL coach, Scott Gordon, a former goalie, acting as the Flyers’ interim bench boss. It’s not the easiest situation to be thrown into, but the franchise has faith in the young goaltender.

“Probably not the ideal time to give Carter a game but Carter’s playing really well,” said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. “He’s a professional hockey player, strong kid mentally. He’ll go in and give his best. I have no worries about Carter Hart long term. He’s going to be a really good goalie for this franchise.”

MORE: Stumbling Flyers fire head coach Dave Hakstol

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Age not getting in the way of Pekka Rinne

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There was once a time when thoughts were that the emergence of Juuse Saros would spell an end to Pekka Rinne’s days in Nashville. The young Finn would take the torch from the elder Finn and continue backstopping the Predators to success.

Well, like a fine wine Rinne’s only improved with age, and last season’s Vezina Trophy winner isn’t slowing down at age 36.

No goaltender in the NHL this season with at least 20 starts has a better even strength save percentage (.943) or a allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals (28). It’s the continuance of a trend for Rinne that’s seen him improve as he gets later into his 30s. Last month, he signed a two-year, $10M extension on his birthday. Hours after the signing became official he went out and stopped all 26 shots he faced during a 1-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I don’t know how he does it. He’s getting older and you wouldn’t know it,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette recently. “It doesn’t seem to affect him.’

It’s quite a run when you consider that Rinne told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt that when he signed his seven-year, $49M extension in 2011, he envisioned the 2018-19 season being his final one before retirement.

“I remember seeing guys who were 36 and thinking, ‘Okay, that’s pretty much the age I’m aiming for,'” he said. “And now that I’m there, I’ve been having so much fun. I feel much better than ever.”

As the Predators once again eye a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they will be led by the winningest Finnish goalie in NHL history, who is also looking to become the first over-35 netminder in league history to win back-to-back Vezina Trophies. This season could have been his swan song. Instead, Rinne is showing that he has a number of good years left in him.

NOTES:

• Following Monday night’s loss to Ottawa, the Predators have now lost seven straight on the road (0-5-2) after starting the season 8-0-0 away from Bridgestone Arena. Tuesday’s meeting with the Blackhawks is at United Center.

• When they won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 117 points, Nashville also had exactly 46 points through December 17 (21-7-4 record).

• Despite getting pulled last night after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period, Rinne has been largely stellar this season with a 14-5-1 record, .926 SV% and 2.07 GAA.

• Chicago was 6-6-3 when they fired Joel Quenneville, but are now 4-13-3 under Jeremy Colliton.

• When they do score the 1st goal of the game, Chicago is 8-2-4. When they allow the first goal of the game, they are 2-17-2.

• Chicago has just 12 power play goals all season, tied with Philadelphia for the fewest in the league. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine leads the league with 10 power play goals on his own.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Hakstol firing fallout; Leafs prepared for offer sheets

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• According to NBC Philadelphia, Chuck Fletcher didn’t plan on firing Dave Hakstol on Monday. Good times! [NBC Philadelphia]

• Planning to submit an offer sheet to one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ young studs next summer? Go ahead. Kyle Dubas isn’t scared. “Our salary cap situation is set up that we can defend any of those threats with no worry at all. I know (offer sheets) have become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.” [Toronto Sun]

William Nylander has some advice for potential offer sheet targets Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner: sign early. [TSN]

• After suffering another concussion, what does the future hold for Corey Crawford? [Sun-Times]

Matt Duchene could be back for the Ottawa Senators sooner than expected. [Ottawa Citizen]

• Mike Tirico will be the host for NBC’s coverage of the 2019 Winter Classic and 2019 NHL All-Star Game. [NBC Sports Press Box]

• An abdominal injury has put New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider on IR. [NJ.com]

• NHL Seattle looking to incorporate indigenous art into team logo. [King5]

• We’re witnessing a very good Tampa Bay Lightning team. Is this roster the most complete yet? [Tampa Bay Times]

Mark Scheifele is a stud and has become one of the Winnipeg Jets’ biggest offensive leaders. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Short-term pain could lead to long-term benefits for the Los Angeles Kings. [The Hockey News]

Matt Murray is healthy, but should he carry the bulk of the workload for the Pittsburgh Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• It’s been a tough season in net for the Arizona Coyotes, but Adin Hill has been a bright spot. [NHL.com]

• Overcoming adversity will tell us a lot about the 2018-19 New York Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• What will the NHL scoring race look like at the end of the regular season? [Spector’s Hockey]

• Will Alex Ovechkin score 50 in 50 this season? [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Arizona State is coming along real well as a NCAA D-I hockey program. [Scotty Wazz]

• A chat with Jay Deutsch, one of the members of the NHL Seattle ownership group, about branding and marketing the franchise, competing with other sports in Seattle, the NBA and more. [Forbes]

• Finally, please check out episode three of Desert Gold: How Hockey Became a Smash Hit in Vegas:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.