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Bye week grades: Special teams

Bye week grades: Special teams

There's no hockey this week for Washington as the Caps are on their bye week. That gives us time to take a look at the team and evaluate how they look at this point in the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent J.J. Regan offer their bye week grades for each aspect of the team. Today, they take a look at the special teams.

El-Bashir: The Caps’ power play is fourth in the NHL through 56 games, connecting at an impressive 22.1-percent. The penalty kill, meantime, sits third at 84.5-percent. 

Let’s start with the power play. 

It got off to a disappointing start after finishing fifth last season (21.9). How bad did it get? From opening night through Dec. 1—a span of 22 games—Alex Ovechkin-led unit slipped as far as 25th, having converted just 14.3-percent of its man advantages.

Those days, however, seem like so long ago. The unit suffered some fits and starts throughout the rest of December but in the end, the Caps’ skill (plus some minor scheme tweaks on both units) won out. Now? The unit has reclaimed its position as a persistent threat after dominating since the calendar flipped to 2017. In fact, from Jan. 1 through Wednesday’s games, a span of 21 games, Ovechkin and Co. have the best percentage (32.7) in the league.

The Caps have fewer power play goals through the same number of games last year. But they’ve more players with at least one goal—12 players vs. 9—and they’re getting a bit more out of the second unit.  

The penalty kill, on the other hand, has been a bit steadier. With the exception of a rough patch from Jan. 16 – Feb. 1, a forgettable span that saw the unit yield a power play goal against seven times in eight games, the Jay Beagle-led unit has been among the most reliable aspects of the Caps’ game.

Since that hiccup, the penalty kill has corrected its issues (in short, Trotz said the unit had become too passive) and has snuffed out 13 of 14 shorthanded situations over the past five games. 

Why is the PK especially important for the Caps? They still take too many penalties. In fact, since Jan 1., they’ve taken more minors (82) than any other club.  

Overall, the penalty kill deserves an ‘A+.’ The power play, however, gets downgraded a bit because of its (really) rough start. 

Grade:  A-

RELATED: 5 things to know about Tom Gilbert

Regan: The overall numbers are good as the Caps boast the fourth-best power play at 22.1-percent and the third-best penalty kill at 84.5-percent. But those numbers hide inconsistencies from both units.

The power play really struggled at the start of the season, falling to 25th in the NHL at the start of December. The unit has suffered goalless streaks of five and six games this season. In three different games, the Caps have had six power play opportunities. Of those 18 opportunities, the power play has scored only once.

The Caps’ recent hot streak has also masked some of the team’s struggles with the penalty kill. The PK unit gave up at least one goal in six straight games from mid-January to the start of February.

But really, the biggest problem for Washington happens before the penalty kill begins. This team is taking too many penalties. Only five teams in the NHL have been shorthanded more times this season than the Caps. Surprisingly, that number is worse at home where the Caps have been shorthanded the third most times in the entire league.

When you look at the stats and see Washington near the top of the league in both power play and penalty kill, it’s easy to assume there are no problems there and for the most part, there’s not. Despite the early struggles, I’m not concerned with an Alex Ovechkin led power play and Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik have proven to be one of the most formidable penalty kill pairs in the NHL. The problem for both the power play and the penalty kill is a weak second unit.

Take it from me. As someone who has seen how much this team focuses on the power play and penalty kill in practice, seen how many times they change the personnel of the second units and heard how much Barry Trotz talks about penalties after games and practices, special teams is an area in which the Caps are still looking to improve.

Grade: B+

MORE CAPITALS: Bye week grades: goaltending

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Despite tumultuous offseason, Brian MacLellan declares 'We've got a good team'

Despite tumultuous offseason, Brian MacLellan declares 'We've got a good team'

Reports of the Capitals' demise have been greatly exaggerated. So says general manager Brian MacLellan.

Washington has undergone a tumultuous offseason that has seen the departure of several key players including Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner, among others. There is no doubt Capitals are not the same team that ran away with the Presidents' Trophy the past two seasons, but MacLellan wants you to know that doesn't mean the Caps will nosedive next season.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team," MacLellan said in an interview with the Washington Post's Barry Svrluga. "I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

RELATED: The time is now for prospect Walker to make history

The Capitals have loaded up their roster for several years in the hopes of winning the ever elusive Stanley Cup. But no team can reload forever, especially in the salary cap era. That seems to have caught up to the Caps this offseason.

MacLellan went on to address each of the major moves the team made, or didn't make, over the summer.

  • Losing Schmidt: The multiple goalies available in the expansion draft and in free agency made Philipp Grubauer less attractive to Vegas which is why the two teams could not come to an agreement to protect Schmidt. MacLellan also sees defense as an "organizational strength" for Washington with several prospects poised to compete for NHL time. “We like Schmidt,” MacLellan said. “But it’s not as huge a deal as people are making it out to be.”
  • Trading Johansson: MacLellan netted what the market dictated he could get for Johansson at that point in the offseason. Trading him earlier in the summer did not make sense because MacLellan would not know whether or not he would need to until after the final numbers on the Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and T.J. Oshie deals were in.
  • Signing Oshie for eight years: “The decision becomes: Do we want Oshie or not?” MacLellan said. “I don’t know what the stink is. Oshie, he’s a big part of our culture. He drives the team. We felt it was necessary. People like Williams at 36, but they don’t like Oshie at 36?”
  • Signing Kuznetsov for eight years, $62.4 million: “We sat there and said, ‘Kuzy’s 25 years old.’ He’s going to be a No. 1 center. It’s the way the league’s going — speed, youth. We’ve got two good centers [along with Nicklas Backstrom]. We spent forever trying to find the 1-2 punch. How can we not do it?’”

You can read Svrluga's full article here.

MORE CAPITALS: Why prospect Jakub Vrana can find success in 2017-18

Check out the latest episode of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play and give us a good review!

For the latest Caps coverage be sure to follow @CSNCapitals@TarikCSN@JillCSN and @JJReganCSN on Twitter.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Previewing the prospects with Hershey Bears HC Troy Mann

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Previewing the prospects with Hershey Bears HC Troy Mann

We're officially in the dog days of summer.

But that doesn't mean there aren't Capitals topics to touch on.

The summer is the perfect time to take a look at the latest crop of Capitals stars and that begins in Hershey.

On the latest episode of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast, Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir are joined by Bears head coach Troy Mann, who has led the Bears to two division titles and trip to the Calder Cup Finals in his first three seasons at the helm.

With prospects like Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker and Madison Bowey getting some much needed experience in Hershey, nobody knows the Capitals top prospects better than Mann.

PROSPECT PREVIEWS: Jakub Vrana | Nathan Walker

LAter in the podcast, Jill & Tarik touch on the offseason, and how they balance vacations with work life. 

The podcast wraps up with a very special shoutout to our Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and his wife, who welcomed their first child into the world last week.

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play and give us a good review!

For the latest Caps coverage be sure to follow @CSNCapitals@TarikCSN@JillCSN and @JJReganCSN on Twitter.