Defense should top Capitals’ trade deadline shopping list

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With losses in nine of their past 10 games the Washington Capitals have hit a wall. That is probably to be expected at some point during an 82-game season, and especially one that followed up a deep Stanley Cup run. But it is still somewhat jarring to see a consistently great team playing like … this. 

As long as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby are on the roster and even somewhat reasonably close to their prime you know the Capitals are going to be all in on winning and maximizing what is left of their productive years. They have to, and this, of course, is still one of those years.

And as the Capitals try to gear up for their title defense and play their way out of this slump you know general manager Brian MacLellan is going to be shopping for help.

It’s just a matter of what help he is looking for. The biggest area of need should be pretty obvious — goal prevention.

When it comes to what the Capitals need to accomplish that the easy answer is, quite simply, better goaltending from the duo of Holtby and Pheonix Copley.

Neither way has been great this season, and it should be a bit of a concern that for the second regular season in a row Holtby’s save percentage has dipped below the .910 mark. That is well below what the Capitals have come to expect from their franchise goalie and a potential red flag for a goalie that is nearing his 30th birthday.

He was able to get it together at the right time a year ago and return to form in the playoffs, and that would certainly fix a lot of what currently ails the Capitals. But there is no guarantee that happens again, and even if does, they still have some issues they need to work out. Especially when it comes to their defense.

[Related: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

Objectively speaking, the numbers are not good.

The only team in the league that gives up more shot attempts during 5-on-5 play is an Ottawa Senators team that has been stripped down to its bare bones. The team just ahead of them is an Anaheim Ducks team that is just … well … the less we say about the Ducks right now, the better it will be for everyone because they might be the worst team in the league at the moment.

So that is not an ideal position to be in defensively.

At the top of the defense John Carlson has been outstanding individually and his pairing, which usually involves Michal Kempny, has been pretty good. Not great, but certainly not hurting them and definitely good enough to win with at the top of your roster.

After that, things start to take a dive. A big dive.

The biggest problem pairing, just due to its importance and the minutes it gets, might be the Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov duo whose play has just fallen apart after last year’s Stanley Cup run.

The table below takes a quick look at the year-to-year tumble that duo has experienced in shot attempt percentage (CF%), goal differential, scoring chances against per 60 minutes and scoring chance differential, as well high-danger scoring chances against and high-danger scoring chance percentage.

 

All of that is bad. Very bad. Very, very, very bad.

The Capitals are creating fewer shots, scoring chances, and high danger chances with this duo on the ice and giving up way more than they were a year ago. And it is burning them. They have really struggled over the past 10 games where they have been outscored by a 9-2 margin and their high-danger scoring chance percentage drops all the way down to a ghastly 30.5 percent (11 high danger chances for, 25 against).

It is really difficult to win when your second defense pairing is getting dominated to that degree.

They have to find a fix because there really isn’t anybody else on the roster that can help fix this.

Brooks Orpik isn’t a player at this stage of his career that you want to rely on for top-four minutes, and the rest of the blue line after Carlson and Kempny is probably best suited for third-pairing duty on a championship team.

The obvious trade chip at this point is forward Andre Burakovsky, whose name has been in trade rumors for much of the season. But given how much his play has regressed this season and the fact he has seemingly taken up permanent residence in coach Todd Reirden’s doghouse his value is probably at its lowest possible point. That is always a risky sell, and it probably will not bring a significant return. At least not enough of a return that can fix the second-pairing on defense. There is always the option of flipping him for picks and then using those picks, in addition to the picks the Capitals already own, and trying to fill the need that way, but again, that carries some risk.

They are still a playoff team and with the talent they have at the top of the roster are always going to be capable of putting it all together at any moment. ut the more this season goes on the more it is becoming clear their defense is not playing up to the level it did a season ago.

The lack of assets to deal from and the fact they are already pushed against the salary cap doesn’t give MacLellan a lot of options at the moment.

If he can’t find a fix, the Capitals’ only hope for a repeat party on the National Mall is that Holtby goes on another one of his postseason superman runs.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

More trade deadline: From Anisimov to Seabrook, examining Blackhawks’ options

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals sign goalie Pheonix Copley to $3.3M, 3-year deal

by Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The Washington Capitals will soon have some decisions to make about their future at goaltender.

The Capitals signed backup Phoenix Copley to a $3.3 million, three-year extension Monday that keeps him under contract through the 2021-22 season at a salary-cap hit of $1.1 million. It’s a move that gives the defending Stanley Cup champions some stability in goal but raises questions about their plans.

Starter Braden Holtby is only signed through the end of next season, and Washington has top prospect Ilya Samsonov and 2014 second-round pick Vitek Vanecek in the system. With Copley in the fold, the decision is looming between committing long term to Holtby and turning the net over to Samsonov.

”It’ll work itself out, I think,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. ”We’ll see how Samsonov comes and what our situation is cap-wise and the signings we determine to make.”

Holtby won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender in 2016 and rebounded from a rough stretch last season to backstop Washington to the first title in franchise history. But he stands to get a significant raise from $6.1 million per year and will be 31 when his next contract begins.

Given that the Capitals have already committed big dollars and term to center Evgeny Kuznetsov, wingers Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie and defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov and also have center Nicklas Backstrom‘s contract up after next season, there is no guarantee the room is there for Holtby.

”It’s human nature to think about it,” Holtby said. ”But outside of maybes, you have no idea. It’s a long ways away. A goaltender’s life can change pretty quickly, so you’ve got to stay in the moment and just play.”

Samsonov was the 22nd pick in 2015 and considered one of the best goalie prospects in hockey. He got off to a rough start in his first season in North America with Hershey of the American Hockey League but the 21-year-old Russian has played much better since. With Vanecek also in the mix, it could pave the way for a trade before the Feb. 25 deadline.

”I like Vitek, too. Samsonov is coming,” MacLellan said. ”Holtby is Holtby. He’s an All-Star goalie. And Copley is finding his way as a good No. 2, so I think it’s important for us to have depth as an organization, protect yourself on injuries.”

Copley has exceeded expectations in his first season as a full-time NHL backup, going 10-5-3 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. The 27-year-old from North Pole, Alaska, came into the year with a 4.32 GAA and .829 save percentage in two games with the St. Louis Blues.

The Capitals turned to Copley almost by default after trading Philipp Grubauer to Colorado. Coach Todd Reirden said Copley has earned extra starts.

”There are four different occasions that I can tell you about that we could’ve used Braden in that situation and we chose to use Pheonix and he produced right after it,” Reirden said. ”That’s how you earn the coach’s trust and the players’ trust and the player battle for him hard because they know the effort he puts in every day in practice.”

Teammates saluted Copley before practice when Reirden told them about the extension, which came after he made adjustments with goaltending coach Scott Murray since training camp.

”A lot of it’s adjusting to the speed, and the little changes from league to league,” Copley said. ”My plan is just to continue to get better every day, continue working with Scottie and just make sure my game is growing continually.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

WATCH LIVE: Bruins take on Capitals

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington has won 14 straight games against Boston. That represents four straight season sweeps (this game would make five), with the Bruins’ last win over the Capitals coming on March 29, 2014. Braden Holtby has been in net for 12 of the wins during the current streak, and is 16-2-0 in his regular season career vs. the B’s.

Without Alex Ovechkin (served 1-game suspension for skipping All-Star Game), the Capitals came up with a much-needed win on Friday, defeating the West-leading Flames 4-3 to snap their seven-game losing streak. It was their first win since beating Boston on Jan. 10.

On Thursday, the Bruins surrendered 1-0 and 2-1 leads before losing to the Flyers 3-2 in overtime. Boston has now lost both of its games since the All-Star break, three in a row, and five of its last six overall (1-2-3 record). Head coach Bruce Cassidy was critical of his defensive group, and his captain in particular, after the most recent defeat:

“Listen, he’s the captain of the hockey club. He won a Stanley Cup here by being a defensive stalwart, one of the best penalty killers in the league, so yes, he’s part of that group, and the biggest part of it. He’s a terrific leader. The next game, he [needs to] understand what makes us successful. We’ll have a conversation about it. But he is the leader back there. [Chara has] got to get Charlie [McAvoy] to buy in, got to get [Brandon] Carlo, he has, and that has to continue. Kevan Miller, I put him in that group too. They have to lead back there and understand what it takes to be successful right now for us. Right now for us [that] is team defense.”

This will be the 999th game of Patrice Bergeron’s career. Number 1,000 will come on Tuesday at home against the Islanders. At age 33, the four-time Selke Trophy winner is having the best offensive season of his career, averaging 1.26 points/game (44 points in 35 games). If Bergeron stays healthy (already missed 16 game so far), he could top his career high of 73 points, set in 2005-06 at age 20.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12:30 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Boston Bruins at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Sunday, Feb. 3, 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Peter Cehlarik – David KrejciJake DeBrusk
Joakim Nordstrom – Trent Frederic – David Backes
Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Kevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Dmitrij JaskinTravis BoydBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyChandler StephensonDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikJonas Siegenthaler

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Forslund, Mike Milbury, and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen will host studio coverage alongside Eddie Olczyk and Keith Jones.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 NHL All-Star Game on NBC

The 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night on NBC, with four teams vying to share a $1 million prize.

Coverage gets underway at 8 p.m ET, with puck drop between the Central Division all-stars and the Pacific Division all-stars set for 8:15 p.m. ET. That game will be followed by the Metropolitan Division all-stars battling the Atlantic Division all-stars.

The winners of both games will square off for a deciding third game, with a cool $1 million on the line.

[WATCH LIVE – NHL ALL-STAR GAME 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

Atlantic Division

F Jack Eichel, BUF
F Nikita Kucherov, TBL
F Auston Matthews, TOR
F Jeff Skinner, BUF
F David Pastrnak, BOS
F Steven Stamkos, TBL
F John Tavares, TOR
D Thomas Chabot, OTT
D Keith Yandle, FLA
G Jimmy Howard, DET
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL
Coach: Jon Cooper, TBL

Metropolitan Division

F Sebastian Aho, CAR
F Cam Atkinson, CBJ
F Mathew Barzal, NYI
F Sidney Crosby, PIT
F Claude Giroux, PHI
F Kyle Palmieri, NJD
D John Carlson, WSH
D Seth Jones, CBJ
D Kris Letang, PIT
G Braden Holtby, WSH
G Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
Coach: Todd Reirden, WSH

Central Division

F Patrick Kane, CHI
F Nathan MacKinnon, COL
F Ryan O'Reilly, STL
F Mikko Rantanen, COL
F Mark Scheifele, WPG
F Blake Wheeler, WPG
F Gabriel Landeskog, COL
D Miro Heiskanen, DAL
D Roman Josi, NSH
G Devan Dubnyk, MIN
G Pekka Rinne, NSH
Coach: Paul Maurice, WPG

Pacific Division

F Johnny Gaudreau, CGY
F Clayton Keller, ARI
F Connor McDavid, EDM
F Joe Pavelski, SJS
F Elias Pettersson, VAN
F Leon Draisaitl, EDM
D Brent Burns, SJS
D Drew Doughty, LAK
D Erik Karlsson, SJS
G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK
G John Gibson, ANA
Coach: Bill Peters, CGY

The NHL All-Star Skills event took place on Friday.

McDavid was one against crowned the winner of the fastest skater, clocking a time of 13.378 seconds for his third consecutive triumph in the event.

Gaudreau retained his title in the puck control contest, finishing with a time of 27.045 seconds to edge out Kane.

Lundqvist is the oldest all-star among this year’s cast, but the “King” would take his throne, recording 12 straight saves in the Save Streak contest.

Draisaitl showed his peers how it was done in the Premier Passer event with a time of 1:09:088.

Carlson took home the hardest shot, blasting a puck 102.8 MPH.

Pastrnak was first up in the Accuracy Shooting event and his time of 11.309 seconds went unmatched.

[RELATED: 2019 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, funny moments, Gritty]

If you haven’t yet, take some time today to watch P.K. Subban’s excellent All-Star Special that air after Friday’s All-Star Skills. Subban had several guests appear on his show, including 13-year-old Ty Cornett, who reached out to Subban earlier this month after experiencing racism while playing youth hockey.

And if you’re looking for more ASG coverage, don’t forget to read these stories from PHT’s Sean Leahy, who is on the ground in San Jose and has been providing top-notch coverage from the event.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

2019 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, funny moments, Gritty

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With six often-challenging events, inspired moments, and lightning-fast Kendall Coyne, the 2019 NHL All-Star SKills brought a wonderful mix of the expected and unexpected.

In the video above, you can take a look at:

Of course, with an event like this, it’s not just about the winners, losers, near-misses, and near-injuries. (Wipe some sweat off your brow for Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars fans.)

Mascots would try their hands (Paws? Hooves? Tentacles?) at various events, which of course meant that there was Gritty. There’s even an “accidental” nod to Gritty falling over … at least it seemed not-so-accidental:

(Hopefully giving Gritty all this attention doesn’t ruffle any fea–let’s move on.)

Click here for a thread of flossing. Dare I say it, but Jon Cooper’s better at it than Roman Josi, right?

Auston Matthews giving a nod to current Maple Leaf and former Shark Patrick Marleau was one of the biggest crowd-pleasing moments.

Brent Burns‘ son showed some shot-blocking prowess.

Take your pick of heartwarming moments with kiddos, honestly.

I’ve never played World of Warcraft, but this is basically what the NHL version would look like, right?

You can see it in the full highlight package, but how about we watch that Coyne lap one more time?

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.