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Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

Barry Trotz's post-deadline message to Caps: Don't back off

Now that the NHL trade deadline has passed, the NHL’s stretch run is officially set to begin.

For Barry Trotz and the Capitals, that means just one thing: Keeping the accelerator firmly pressed to the floor, despite owning the best record in the league.

“Working with a lot of purpose and understanding that we’re building our game,” Trotz said Thursday, asked about his post-deadline message to the team.

“And not back off,” he added. “Everybody [else] is getting into playoff mode, let’s make sure we’re in playoff mode. As they say, ‘Let’s not go around games, let’s go through games.’ That’ll harden us for the playoffs.”

A year ago, the Caps cruised into the postseason, going 10-6-4 in their final 20 games.

Just six of those of those games were won in regulation.

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This year’s stretch run begins with a three-game home stand that kicks off with the Devils on Thursday night. The Flyers and Stars are also slated to visit Verizon Center. All three of those teams are currently out of the playoff mix.

How the Caps perform in those games could be an indication of their collective focus.

Tom Wilson, for one, knows what he wants to see from the group.

“The hockey now is kind of taking the form that it’s going to have down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Wilson said. “As we go here, there’s going to be teams that aren’t in [the playoff race] that have younger players that are trying to establish themselves and play hard against us. We’re top of the league right now, so any team that plays us is going to be putting their best foot forth.”

“There’s really going to be no easy games, whether it’s the young guys trying to work hard and establish themselves in the league on a team that’s out, or a team that’s really trying to push for that playoff spot,” Wilson continued, “the hockey really picks up. That’s perfect for us. We’re going to embrace that and hope to keep building our game.”

Asked about finding the balance between pushing hard over the final five weeks and being fresh for the playoffs, Trotz said he doesn’t think anyone on the Caps should be at risk of burning out.

“I don’t think we’ll burn out because I don’t think we’ve had to extend our lineup all year,” he said. “In the past, I could see that for some teams [because] you’re playing your top guys heavy, heavy minutes. We haven’t done that all year. If our guys come to [the media] and say, ‘Well, I’m burnt out.’ Don’t believe them. It’s just an excuse. During the year, guys have come to me and said, ‘You know I can play more. I can play more minutes.’ And I said, ‘No, this is about the long haul.’”

MORE CAPITALS: CAPITALS SIGN TWO TO ENTRY-LEVEL CONTRACTS

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Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup. 

“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. 

“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”

RELATED: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but to keep Schmidt

Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.

“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”

The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.

“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan: Caps likely done signing own UFAs

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MacLellan: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but lost Schmidt to Vegas anyway

MacLellan: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but lost Schmidt to Vegas anyway

CHICAGO—The Caps tried to work out a side deal with Las Vegas ahead of Wednesday’s expansion draft but were unable to dissuade the Golden Knights from ultimately plucking a player off their roster, GM Brian MacLellan said. 
 
Vegas, of course, selected Nate Schmidt, a 25-year-old defenseman whom Washington left exposed. The Caps had Schmidt penciled into a top-4 role for next season.   
 
“We made a couple of good offers, I think,” MacLellan said Friday night at United Center, where the NHL was hosting the entry draft. “I think they just liked Schmidt.”

RELATED: MacLellan: Caps likely done signing own UFAs
 
MacLellan said Vegas’ asking price was “a couple of assets” but he declined to be specific. 
 
“I think in the end, they really like Schmidt,” MacLellan said. “At one point, we thought they were taking [backup goaltender Philipp] Grubauer. They probably were making a choice down to the end, and they ended up choosing Schmidt.”
 
The loss of Schmidt leaves the Caps with a hole on the blue line that they haven't quite figured out how to fill just yet, MacLellan said. 
 
The Caps currently have four defensemen—Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney—under contract for next season. Restricted free agent Dmitry Orlov, meanwhile, is expected to re-sign. But that still leaves Washington one short of three full pairs, and that doesn't factor in the need for a quality seventh so they've got some work to do.

“We have a job opening,” MacLellan said. “We’re going to look at [our] young guys, look at free agents, maybe the trade market. We’ll see. We’ll pursue all avenues and see what we can come up with.”

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie signs long-term deal to stay in D.C.

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