Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps have done better in the playoffs?

J.J. Regan
NBC Sports Washington
What were the weaknesses the Carolina Hurricanes exposed in the Caps and how does the team overcome those weaknesses next season?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps have done better in the playoffs?

What were the weaknesses the Carolina Hurricanes exposed in the Caps and how does the team overcome those weaknesses next season?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What should the Caps have done better in the playoffs? originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

It's time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

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Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Laurie D writes: What will be done next season to better prepare the team for playoff hockey? The Hurricanes and other teams that advanced seemed to focus on pucks on the net and scoring on rebounds. What will be done to figure out chemistry on the different lines?  We entered the playoffs still experimenting and the lines were not working in Game 7.

I know fans are frustrated by the Caps' shot volume. Washington ranked 22nd in the NHL this season with 30.4 shots per game and was dead last in 2017-18 at 29.0 shots per game. I do not see this changing anytime soon.

The Caps' low shot volume is by design. Yes, this philosophy flies in the face of modern analytics that measures possession by shot attempts, but the team doesn't care because they won the Stanley Cup with this mindset in 2018. Granted, their shots on goal rose from 29.0 to 31.8 in the 2018 postseason, but the point remains. The coaches and players believe shot quality is more important than shot quantity and they are not likely to change that philosophy anytime soon.

I wrote about why the team adopted this philosophy back in October. You can read more about it here.

As for the lines, offensively they stayed largely the same until T.J. Oshie's injury forced Devante Smith-Pelly into the lineup. The defense was a different story as Todd Reirden struggled to find the right combination for his defensive pairs in the wake of Michal Kempny's injury. I understand trying to find the right combinations, but I struggled at the time with the idea that John Carlson on the left was the right solution and the results speak for itself. I do not know why they did not at least try Jonas Siegenthaler before the playoffs to see if he was a possible fit. He did not get into the playoffs until after three games when Christian Djoos was clearly struggling. After one game, he was on the top pair with Carlson. I feel like that should not have taken four games to figure out. It is also understandable, however, given how Kempny's injury threw the entire blue line in flux.

The Caps scored on 25-percent of their power plays in the playoffs. That's not bad, but I agree that it could have been better given that their zone entries were atrocious. If they could have figured out how to get the puck into the offensive zone with any sort of consistency, that percentage could have been higher and, in a series that came down to overtime in Game 7, that could have tipped the scales in Washington's favor. The solution there is to fix the glaring zone entry issues (cough, get rid of the slingshot, cough).

There are seemingly few prospects in the pipeline that will have a shot at making the NHL roster next year, but the two possibilities that could help the penalty kill are Nathan Walker and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby. Walker is an unrestricted free agent and would have to re-sign with Washington, but he is relentless around the puck and I was really impressed by him when I went to Hershey for a few games. Jonsson-Fjallby's game is often compared to Carl Hagelin and he certainly has NHL speed. He projects to be a bottom-six, penalty kill type player.

Since he spent the majority of the season in Sweden, I do not know how close Jonsson-Fjallby is to being NHL ready. I have not really seen him play since the fall so I do not know how close he may be to cracking the lineup. Having said that, he was put on a top line for a preseason game in training camp so he is someone the Caps have at least recognized as having potential.

Would losing Hagelin, which is a significant possibility given the salary cap situation, and adding Jonsson-Fjallby make the penalty kill better? Probably not, at least not right away.

As for the faceoffs, the AHL does not keep faceoff stats so it is hard to tell who could improve there. With Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd all under contract for next season, however, it would not matter all that much anyway. The team is set at center.

Mary B. writes: The power play seems to be a huge problem. There have been lots of suggestions to get rid of the slingshot. Slingshot or not, the zone entries are terrible. What can the Caps do to fix the zone entry and power play?

I touched on the power play a bit in the question above, but to get to the specifics of zone entries, yes they absolutely should get rid of the slingshot.

There are two general ways to enter the offensive zone, a controlled entry or by dumping the puck. My personal preference is the controlled entry. I do not like having possession and willingly giving it up just to get the puck deep and having to chase it. Having said that, that would be preferable to what the Caps are doing now because at least the puck would get deep in the zone. Dumping and assigning T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson the responsibility of chasing and winning the puck back would be more effective than the frequent neutral zone turnovers the slingshot provides.

Right now, the slingshot relies on a single carrier to enter the zone with speed, but teams are stacking the blue line to prevent easy entries. The way to combat this is to give a puck carrier options of where to go with the puck thus spreading out the penalty killers and not allowing them to stack the blue line at any particular point.

If I were in charge of the power play, I would have one player on the offensive blue line along the boards. The penalty kill would have to account for that player to prevent a breakaway pass. Already you have given yourself more room in the neutral zone by forcing the penalty kill to account for that player. Then I would have the defenseman, most likely John Carlson, carry the puck up the ice with the remaining three players close by ready for the pass. The penalty kill cannot simply stack the blue line where they see the puck carrier coming because he has options of passing the puck to get around the penalty kill.

Robert B. writes: When Evgeny Kuznetsov came to the Caps, was he compared too much with Alex Ovechkin? He has never lived up to the comparison.

Ovechkin was considered a generational talent coming into the NHL and was selected first overall in the 2004 draft. He was so highly regarded that the Florida Panthers tried to draft him first overall in 2003 arguing he should be eligible if you take leap years into account (Ovechkin's birthday fell two days after the cutoff date).

Kuznetsov was drafted 26th overall in 2010.

This is a long way of saying that no, I do not think Kuznetsov was being compared too much to Ovechkin or that anyone thought Kuznetsov was anywhere close to the all-time historic category that Ovechkin fell into when he came into the league. Of course Kuznetsov does not live up to being compared with Ovechkin because very few players in the history of the NHL would. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer who will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time. This is not a fair comparison to make and a foolish standard to hold Kuznetsov to.

Nathan S. writes: When do players typically start their off-season training regimens following the season? I am guessing players take time to rest their bodies for about a month before hitting the gym (weights and cardio) but I hear some players like Brooks Orpik mentioning that they don't skate until August or so. 

Players typically take a few weeks off before they begin training again and I think the short summer last year really messed with a lot of guys' offseason training. No one goes from the season straight to training and it is foolish for anyone to believe they should. The strain the players put on their bodies over the course of the season is pretty intense. It's why so many players get injured during the playoffs. I would be surprised though if any player went as long as a month before getting back to the gym unless they were overcoming some sort of injury.

Different players train differently so their routines start at different times in the offseason. Some have personal trainers, some go to camps like BioSteel, some participate in summer leagues like Da Beauty League. It's all different. When a player like Orpik says he does not get on the ice until August, that does not mean he does not start training until August, it just means he does not skate. He begins training for the season long before that point and takes great care in adjusting his training for the modern NHL, cutting down on the weight lifting and focusing more on endurance in response to the league's growing reliance on speed.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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