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.

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.

Capitals end seven-game slide, beat Western Conference-leading Flames

Associated Press

It’s over.

There was a lot of losing along the way — seven games, in fact.

But it’s over.

The Washington Capitals finally won a hockey game — their first since Jan. 10 — after they returned to the ice following the NHL All-Star Weekend and their league-mandated five-day break. The time off seemed to serve them well. Even without the NHL’s top goal-getter in Alex Ovechkin, who served his one-game ban for skipping the all-star game, the Capitals put together their best performance in recent memory with a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.

Prior to their break, the Capitals tried betting on themselves.

Ovechkin had a choice: sit against the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs in the second game of a back to back for the Caps, or serve his one-game suspension against the red hot Calgary Flames.

Smelling blood, Ovechkin and the team made the decision to get right back at it and try to stop the bleeding for the break.

That didn’t happen.

That meant if they were going to stem the wound at seven, they’d have to do so without The Great 8 on Friday night at home to the Flames, who entered Friday winners of four straight

The game was a feisty affair, right down to the final whistle.

Monster hits, including Matt Niskanen destroying Matthew Tkachuk. A sickening goal that will stand as one of the best this season. A line brawl to end the game, including a spirited scrap between Tkachuk and Brooks OrpikTom Wilson got into it, too, with some sort of modified rock bottom on Rasmus Andersson.

And of course, a goal with 57 seconds remaining in the third period by Evgeny Kuznetsov that broke a 3-3 and ensure Washington could re-acquaint itself with all the good feelings winning brings.

The Capitals now have nine games in their next 16 nights, but appear to have, at least on paper, some easier matchups against the Vancouver Canucks, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers on the horizon. First, however, they will take on the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon.


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

Kadri hat trick extends Capitals losing streak to seven games

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The Washington Capitals gambled on this one.

With one game remaining prior to the all-star break and their mandated week off, the Caps were looking to end their six-game losing streak and head into the mini-holiday on a winning high.

Alex Ovechkin, who could have chosen to sit this one out and serve his one-game suspension for missing the NHL All-Star Game, decided to play. The team decided to go back with Braden Holtby, 24 hours after he coughed up seven goals in a 7-6 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

Neither choice paid off, thanks in no small part to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in a 5-3 win for the host Leafs.

You see, Kadri didn’t seem all that interested in allowing the Caps to end their streak against an equally struggling Leafs team. Sure, the Leafs didn’t have the six-game losing streak entering Wednesday, but both teams each only had three wins in their past 10.

His hat trick (and four-point night) sealed Washington’s fate.

Ovechkin tried to do his part.

He scored in the game, his fourth goal in the past two nights after his 23rd hat trick on Tuesday, to put the Caps ahead 2-1 in the second period. The goal was historic as it was the Great 8’s 1,179th NHL point, tying him for first among Russia-born players with fellow legend Sergei Fedorov.

Nicklas Backstrom gave the Caps a 1-0 lead on the power play in the first, a goal that was answered by Kadri’s first of the game.

Ovi’s goal regained the lead in the second, but two goals 3:08 apart gave the Leafs their first lead of the night.

The go-ahead goal was of particular importance, given that it was Auston Matthew who fired it home, ending a seven-game goalless drought. It was just his second goal in 14 games.

Kadri rattled off his second and third of the game in the third to give the Leads a 5-2 lead before Matt Niskanen made it 5-3.

Frederik Andersen had another solid game, stopping 41 shots.

The Leafs moved three points up on the idle Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Washington, despite all the losing, sits second in the Metropolitan, three points back of the leading New York Islanders.


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

WATCH LIVE: Capitals – Maple Leafs on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Yes, every team hopes to enter the All-Star break on a high note, but the Capitals rank among those with the most incentive to churn out another win.

They’ve lost six consecutive games, and since it looks like Alex Ovechkin‘s playing on Wednesday (thus meaning he’s suspended for a game on Feb. 1), falling to the Maple Leafs would really make for a dour way to begin a little hockey vacation.

With the Bruins and Canadiens not all that far behind the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic, don’t expect Toronto to take it easy on Wednesday. Considering all of these factors, it should be fascinating to watch these two teams duke it out.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Scotiabank Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Capitals – Maple Leafs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Dmitrij JaskinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Chandler StephensonTravis BoydAndre Burakovsky

Dmitry OrlovJohn Carlson
Michal KempnyMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikJonas Siegenthaler

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MAPLE LEAFS

Patrick MarleauAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Zach HymanJohn TavaresKasperi Kapanen
Connor BrownNazem KadriWilliam Nylander
Par LindholmFrederik Gauthier — Trevor Moore

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Travis DermottNikita Zaitsev
Martin MarincinIgor Ozhiganov

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

Gord Miller (play-by-play), Brian Boucher (analyst) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call.

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.