D Change: Green out, Schmidt in for Caps’ season opener


The Washington Capitals will be without veteran d-man Mike Green tonight when they open their campaign against Montreal.

The 28-year-old is dealing with an upper-body injury that’s not believed to be serious, but significant enough that Washington didn’t want to risk rushing him back into the lineup.

“More so Barry [Trotz] just being smart about it,” Green told the Washington Post.

Green be replaced by Nate Schmidt in the lineup. Schmidt will be paired with Jack Hillen on defense, and it’s unclear how long that pairing will stick together — per Trotz, it sounds as though Green could be back in the lineup rather quickly.

So, your line rushes and defensive units for tonight look like…

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Eric Fehr

Marcus Johansson-Andre Burakovsky-Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera-Brooks Laich-Joel Ward

Liam O’Brien-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Chris Brown

Brooks Orpik-John Carlson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen


Risk Factors: Washington Capitals edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Washington Capitals

1. How effective, really, is Barry Trotz as a coach?

We only ask because, during all his time in Nashville, he only led the Predators to a pair of first-round playoff victories. Eight times he missed the postseason completely, including his last two seasons there.

Yeah, yeah, the Preds weren’t exactly stacked with all-stars. But they weren’t completely bereft of them either. In 15 seasons behind the bench, getting past the second round, at least once, was a reasonable ask.

“Barry’s teams have always played with structure, discipline and intensity, and I look forward to him leading us to success for many years to come,” said Caps GM Brian MacLellan when Trotz was hired.

Structure. Discipline. Intensity. Not quite the calling cards of the Washington Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin era. So when you look at it that way, the hiring made a lot of sense.

But there’s a risk when any coach comes in and says things like, “At first there will be some pain. … It’ll be uncomfortable for some guys.”

The risk is players get turned off and tune out. They hear things like, “Alex has got a bit too much glide in his game,” and take it personally, rather than constructively.

Look, all we’re saying is there’s a reason the Predators hired a coach with a “fun way to play” as a replacement for Trotz.

2.  2C

If you’re not familiar with the importance teams place on the second-line center position, you really haven’t been paying attention.

This offseason alone, Anaheim added Ryan Kesler, Dallas got Jason Spezza, St. Louis signed Paul Stastny, and Chicago picked up Brad Richards in hopes of addressing that all-important spot.

Meanwhile, the Caps appear to be going with a 19-year-old rookie, Ande Burakovsky, who’s never played a game of professional hockey.

It wasn’t for a lack of looking. Rather, it was a lack of qualified candidates. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Brooks Laich were the three others who auditioned this preseason. I.e., another rookie, an undersized forward who’s probably better suited to the wing, and a 31-year-old who hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Will the Caps live to regret not ponying up for Mikhail Grabovski, instead of giving an aging Brooks Orpik $27.5 million over five years?

“I guess my overall philosophy is we’re going to have to develop one of our young guys to play second-line center,” MacLellan said in June.

By throwing one of them in the deep end, and hoping he can swim.

3. Is Ovechkin willing to grow?

We all know he can score. And he’s paid handsomely for it. Without Ovechkin, the Caps would probably still be an afterthought in D.C.

But it’s fair to ask, at 29 years old, is he willing to grow as a player? Namely, is he willing to work at becoming a better two-way player?

It’s no coincidence that there’s a distinct relationship between teams with Selke Trophy recipients and teams that win Stanley Cups. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk have each won the award in recent years, and they’ve each won the Cup. Anze Kopitar is another example of an excellent two-way forward. He’s won two Cups in the last three years.

Now, granted, all four of those players are centers, and Ovechkin is a winger. In many ways, he’s limited in what he can do in his own end by his position. Then again, so is Marian Hossa, and he’s a great two-way forward who thrives on creating back pressure and stealing pucks.

Nobody’s asking Ovechkin to go out and win the Selke. But he’s out on the ice for a third of the game, and captains need to lead by example.

“He got 51 goals last year, and I’d love for him to get 52,” Trotz said. “But not at the expense of the other side of the puck.”

It’s going to be a fascinating season in Washington.

Trotz talks up rookies Kuznetsov and Burakovsky: ‘They’re high-level talent’


Sounds like the Caps will be going with a couple of rookie centers to start the season.

Washington coach Barry Trotz strongly hinted today that Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky will be his No. 2 and No. 3 men in the middle, behind No. 1 Nicklas Backstrom.

“They’re not just average talent,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “They’re high-level talent. Both of them are very mature. Kuz is very mature, he’s 22, and if you talk to him, he realizes his game has to adjust over here still.”

As for the 19-year-old Burakovsky, Trotz said, “He has a mature game, even though he’s really young in terms of years.”

Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, and Marcus Johansson were the three forwards vying to play center as the Caps began training camp. The latter will play on the wing, though, according to Trotz.

To be sure, the coach is rolling the dice a bit here. The center position comes with more defensive responsibilities compared to the wing. Giving one rookie that much responsibility is one thing. Giving it to two?

“I think we have enough quality people around them and with the teaching they’re getting on a daily basis from the coaches here, they’re going to adjust fine,” said Trotz, per CSN Washington.

“In the long run they’re going to get better and better as they play more and more.”

And hey, if it becomes too big a problem in the short term, well, there’s always Brooks Laich, isn’t there.

Caps still haven’t identified their 2C

From the Washington Post, on the Capitals’ ongoing auditions to play second-line center — auditions that now, apparently, include Brooks Laich (just like old times):

Will it be Evgeny Kuznetsov, the natural center from Russia entering his first full NHL season? Or Andre Burakovsky, the summer experiment rising through the ranks? Or Marcus Johansson, shuttled to the wing Sunday to offer Laich a crack? Or even Laich, who after scoring an empty-netter and shaking off a knee injury said he, all along, considered himself best in the middle?

Per CSN Washington, today at practice it was Burakovsy centering the second line between Laich and Troy Brouwer, with Kuznetsov between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on the third line. Johansson, meanwhile, was stuck playing left wing on the fourth line, centered by Michal Latta, with Chris Brown on the right side.

The problem for the Caps: not one of the four 2c candidates is ideally suited for the all-important position. Burakovsky and Kuznetsov are still young and learning, while Laich is 31 years old, his best days perhaps behind him. Johansson, obviously, hasn’t done much to impress new coach Barry Trotz.

The Caps play Wednesday in Buffalo, then conclude their preseason Thursday and Sunday with home games against Philadelphia and Carolina, respectively.

“We’ve got three games left here, so we really need to finalize what we’re going to do,” said Trotz.

Free of groin worries, Laich feels ‘5 years old again’


Back in March, Brooks Laich said he felt “mentally and physically liberated” after groin surgery.

Flash forward to the present and it sounds like he’s still feeling pretty good.

Per the Washington Post, the 31-year-old Capitals forward has been telling his girlfriend he feels “5 years old again,” finally free of the groin issues that had felt like “chains around” his body and were fueling all sorts of buyout speculation.

“It’s so much fun,” Laich said of being able to play without worrying about his groin. “Honestly, I come in with a monster smile every morning. Something you really realize is when you go through a little bit of health problems and the game gets taken from you a bit, you realize how important it is to you, how much fun you have playing.”

The Caps would love Laich to return to the days of 20-goal seasons. He had three straight of those from 2007-08 to 2009-10.

Even, say, 15 goals and 25 assists, combined with solid two-way play, would go a long way to justifying his $4.5 million cap hit.

Laich has just nine goals in 60 games since the lockout ended.

Related: New Caps GM thinks ‘we need Brooks Laich’