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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

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How Are the Caps Evolving Under Barry Trotz?

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After only eight days and four pre-season games, it’s too early to tangibly see the impact new Coach Barry Trotz is having on the Washington Capitals, but rest assured, “change” is occurring. In the fourth installment of an eight game exhibition set, the Caps knocked off the Boston Bruins, 5-4, on Troy Brouwer’s overtime marker. The win included two Alex Ovechkin power play goals.

Neither squad fielded their full regular season lineup in an entertaining tilt that saw Washington rally from a 4-2 deficit, something Trotz was very pleased about afterwards.

“One thing I liked about our team tonight, we had mud in our faces; sand kicked in our faces there. We were down by two goals. It’s easy to go, ‘Oh, it’s preseason. Let’s play this out.’ We didn’t do that. We stayed on it, we chipped away and we got ourselves… if this was a regular season win that would have been a real big win. Those are the learning things that we have to learn. Let’s make it easy on ourselves. If we don’t turn those pucks over, then we’ve got a chance to get points every night.”

Turnovers were certainly an issue for the Caps in the first two periods combined with some poor defensive coverage, at times. The new bench boss attributed the miscues to individual play and poor decisions, citing that it’s just a matter of not trying the low percentage play. Matt Niskanen had a bad giveaway on the Bruins second goal but overall, #2 was excellent on the blue line for Washington. He kept pucks in the offensive zone at the point on several occasions, including one on the game tying goal by Liam O’Brien. With Niskanen, John Carlson, and Mike Green the Caps have a set of right handed d-men that arguably are as good as any other team in the NHL.

So how is the team adapting to Coach Trotz and what is different from previous regimes?

WNST chatted with Steve Olesky following the game to get his take on that.

WNST: What are your thoughts on the big transition and what can be done in just eight days, including four preseason games?

Oleksy: It’s hard, I think they’ve done a great job of taking the time through video and on-ice teaching us the systems, but with the number of guys that came into camp, the start of camp you’ve got three teams, it’s hard for everybody to get the reps they need to feel comfortable with the new systems. I think through the four exhibition games now, we’ve gotten stronger and more comfortable with the new systems.

WNST: What do you think is the biggest change?

Oleksy: I think one of the biggest changes is how aggressive we play and it’s more defensive minded, which I think in the long run is going to be really successful for us. Obviously everybody talks we have great offense and we’re going to get our chances and we’re going to score, but limiting their chances. As we do feel more comfortable with the systems I think we will cut those chances down even more.

WNST: As defensemen, what’s different? What strategy does Barry prefer you do in front of the net, front shots or box out?

Oleksy: He wants us fronting shots, which I think is going to play to our advantage as well. We’ve got a lot of fast guys up front and as defensemen, if we can step in front of a shot and knock it down and spring them with their speed that’s going to create chances. That’s a new change for us and then obviously taking care of the house, protecting the net and playing hard there will limit a lot of those rebound goals, those second and third chance goals that I think we’ve given up in the past.

WNST: Is there anything different on the break out?

Oleksy: It’s pretty similar, he wants us to feel comfortable. At this level, I think everybody thinks the game well enough to make hockey decisions. He puts that in our hands, which is nice, that way you are giving teams different looks and it’s not so robotic. I think that’s a good thing for us, especially with the skill there on the back end between guys like Niskanen, Green, Carlson and over on the left hand side with Alzner and Hillen. I think when you let those guys get creative I think they are going to create a lot of offense too.

What’s most interesting in those quotes from Oleksy is the “not so robotic” statement. Some thought that a guy like Trotz would come in and employ a rigid system that was not flexible, yet clearly he is adapting things to fit his talent. The Capitals have a lot of skill and Trotz realizes he has to maximize it.

So with just 12 days until the season opener on October 9th, the Capitals are evolving, but they have a lot of work left to do to make sure they come out of the gate quickly and put a terrible 2013-14 campaign behind them.

Notes: Brouwer had the game winner but Trotz noted he had heavy legs on Friday night. That was obvious as Evgeny Kuznetsov looked pretty good as second line center but with #20 being fatigued and Brooks Laich still trying to get his timing back, the line just didn’t work well for 40 minutes and Trotz took Laich off of the line and inserted Chris Conner…the Caps were 27-31 on faceoffs but outshot Boston 29-23. Total shot attempts were 55-45 in favor of the Caps.

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

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Expectations Are High for the Caps in 2014-15

Posted on 14 September 2014 by Ed Frankovic

After an off season of much needed major changes, the Washington Capitals are finally set to open training camp this Friday, September 19th at Kettler IcePlex.

Expectations for the 2014-15 Caps, who will host the 2015 Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park at 1 pm on January 1st, are extremely high after they spent big dollars to upgrade their defense and brought in an experienced NHL coach in Barry Trotz to work with new General Manager Brian MacLellan.

How much of an impact will those changes have on a team that missed the post season in 2013-14?

The impact will be significant and I’ll go so far as to say that a Metropolitan Division title and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final is very much within their reach.

Here are seven items, in order of importance, on why to be optimistic about the Capitals chances this season.

1. Improved Defense. Last year it was painfully clear that the Capitals blue line was their biggest issue from a talent standpoint so MacLellan wisely went out and upgraded what has been the weakest part of this team for several years. Adding Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to Mike Green, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Dmitry Orlov gives the Caps three strong defensive pairs. This is easily the most talented blue line the Capitals have had since 1998. When you have a sub par defense, it is much harder to get the puck out of your own zone and also feed it to your offensive players so that they can generate scoring chances. Therefore, it is no surprise that Washington’s puck possession statistics had steadily declined over the last several seasons with management failing to address the blue line deficiencies. Expect to see the Capitals improve greatly in puck possession this season now that they have a legitimate defense. For more about the depth the Caps have compiled on defense and a summary on each player, check out Mike Vogel’s recent Dump ‘n Chase blog here.

2. Experienced Coach. To quote the great Jim Ignatowski from Taxi, “There’s no substitute for experience.” The Capitals badly needed a coaching change and they sorely needed someone who knows the league. Hiring Barry Trotz, who previously coached in Nashville since 1997, was a no brainer. Trotz cut his teeth in the coaching business with the Capitals back in Baltimore in the early 1990′s and was the Predators only bench boss until they decided to go a different direction this past off season. The Predators routinely spent well below the NHL salary cap yet Trotz was often able to get a less talented squad to bond together and overachieve. In 2011, they gave the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks all they could handle before bowing out in six games in round two.  Now Barry comes to Washington, a team that spends to the cap on personnel, and he has a crew of talented players that have struggled to bond and succeed. Getting players to work together is a Trotz specialty and Barry has already put that process in motion by appointing a leadership group to help foster communication between the coaches and the players, something that has not happened very well in DC the last several years. Leadership should not be all on the captain and alternates, it’s a group effort, and Trotz recognizes in order to win everyone has to be on the same page (As an example, this “leadership as a group” concept worked very well for Ken Hitchcock when he coached the Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars in 1999). Trotz’s ability to get the Caps to be “a team” is his most important task, but his knowledge of systems and the other coaches and personnel around the league will be a huge plus too. The Capitals hit a home run with this choice as coach, he was the best commodity on the market and looks to be a great fit.

3. Braden Holtby. The coaching change and revamped defense will arguably benefit #70 more than any other Caps player. He should face less shots on net because the Capitals will have the puck more thanks to a better defense and a new system. In addition, he will work with proven goalie coach Mitch Korn, who came over from Nashville with Trotz. Korn, who has helped Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne rise to the top of their games, should bring out the best in Holtby’s strengths. Also, the NHL has expanded the trapezoid by two feet on each side which will allow Holtby to play the puck more, something that he is good at and a skill that takes the heat off of the defensemen. Holtby has the ability to be a 3rd d-man, at times, so I expect Trotz to utilize that strength, something that former Coach Adam Oates failed to develop. I’d also expect the league to totally dump the trapezoid in the coming years. After all, they are trying to promote skill and allowing the goalies to play the puck fits in with that motto while also helping to reduce injuries on defensemen (perhaps we’d see fewer concussions?). Simply put, the Martin Brodeur rule needs to go.

4. Alex Ovechkin. The Gr8 scored 51 goals last season but much has been made of his -35. Plus minus is a team statistic and let’s face it, with the thin blue line the Capitals had last season it is no surprise they gave up so many even strength goals. Ovechkin had 24 of his tallies on the power play last campaign so it might be tough for him to hit 51 overall given that opponents will likely key on him on the man advantage. But Alex only had 28 assists in 2013-14 for a total of 79 points. With the improved talent around him, I have to think Ovechkin gets at least 90 points in 2013-14. Alex and his line mates should spend less time in their own zone with the improved blue line and as mentioned above, they’ll get the puck in better position to head up the ice, as well. 100 points for the Gr8 in 2014-15 could very well happen.

5. Mike Green. Heading into the final year of his contract, Green is in great shape and happy to be a part of Trotz’s leadership group. #52 is a very talented player who can drive puck possession. Unfortunately, due to a lack of blue line depth the last several years, the Capitals coaching staff has struggled to find the right partner for him. It’s very possible Orpik could be the stay at home and physical player that Green needs to succeed at an elite level once again. This could be a big year for Green because he won’t have all of the pressure on him to carry the back end with the additions of Orpik and Niskanen.

6. Evgeny Kuznetsov. “Kuzy” came over last spring and he had a lot of adjusting to do to play in the NHL yet he still managed nine points in 17 games. Judging by those last several games, he is an immense talent who likely will produce on one of the Capitals top two lines in 2014-15. The 22 year old has had the off season to prepare for a grueling 82 game grind but he knows what he is up against now because of last spring’s experience and he’ll be better because of it. Expect him to bigger, stronger, and more productive.

7. Brooks Laich. It’s hard to believe, but it hasn’t even been two years since Laich initially injured his groin during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. With the Caps eliminated from the post season last spring, #21 has had nearly six months to get healthy and initial reports are he is finally pain free and happy on the ice again. Laich is a heart and soul guy who is tough to play against. Brooks will fill a grinder role and be a fixture on the penalty kill. He’s also a guy who can work the front of the net on the second power play unit.

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Capitals yet they only missed the post season by a handful of points. They are playing in a division that is wide open and you can throw the entire Eastern Conference into that equation, as well.

Clearly the play of the defense along with how this team bonds together under the new coaching staff are the two biggest keys to the season.

The talent is there for the Caps, but now they need to show a sense of urgency and execute.

Notes: Orlov and Tom Wilson, who were both injured after the Caps season ended, could see action late in September…the Caps first preseason game is this Sunday, September 21st at 5pm at the Verizon Center against the Buffalo Sabres.

 

 

 

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Lambert rejoins Trotz as assistant coach for Capitals

Posted on 27 June 2014 by WNST Staff

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 27, 2014

ARLINGTON, VA. – The Washington Capitals have named Lane Lambert assistant coach, senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan announced today.

Lambert, 49, spent the previous three seasons as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators. Lambert was responsible for the team’s forwards and penalty kill. In his first season with the Predators in 2011-12, Lambert helped guide Nashville to the NHL’s fifth-best record during the regular season and finish among the top 10 in goals, goals against and penalty kill efficiency.

Prior to joining the Predator’s coaching staff, Lambert served as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League (AHL) from 2007-11. Lambert led the club to a 178-103-39 record, the sixth-most wins in the AHL in that span, while giving up the second-fewest goals (821) in the league. Milwaukee posted 40-or-more wins and 90-or-more points all four seasons under Lambert, making them the first team in AHL history to reach those marks in eight consecutive campaigns. In addition to four straight Calder Cup playoff berths, Lambert helped the Admirals capture a pair of West Division titles and post the Western Conference’s highest point total in 2010-11 (102 pts, 44-22-14 record). He also captured a division title in 2008-09 when he led the team to a 49-22-9 record, tying for the most points (107) in the AHL. The win total tied a club record since the team joined the AHL for the 2001-02 campaign.

Prior to joining the Admirals as an assistant coach in 2006-07, the Melfort, Saskatchewan, native spent one season as an assistant for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders’ AHL affiliate. Lambert started his coaching career in the Western Hockey League, spending parts of two seasons as head coach of the Prince George Cougars (2003-05) and parts of two campaigns as an assistant for the Moose Jaw Warriors (2002-04).

Lambert was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, 25th overall, in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. He finished his NHL career with 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) and 521 penalty minutes in 283 games with Detroit, the New York Rangers and Quebec from 1983-89. Lambert enjoyed his most successful NHL campaign with the Nordiques in 1987-88, recording career-highs in points (41) and assists (28) in 61 contests. Lambert won an AHL Calder Cup title with Adirondack in 1986 and helped the Houston Aeros claim the IHL’s Turner Cup championship in 1999.

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Caps Do Well With Trotz Hire But Miss on GM Decision

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Caps Do Well With Trotz Hire But Miss on GM Decision

Posted on 26 May 2014 by Ed Frankovic

On Memorial Day, the Washington Capitals announced they’ve promoted assistant GM Brian MacLellan to General Manager and have also hired former Nashville coach Barry Trotz as their new bench boss.

My quick take: they hit a home run on the coach and they swung and missed on the GM choice.

Let’s start with the positives. I worked for Barry Trotz back in the early 90′s when he was with the Capitals organization and he is not only a super coach but a great person. His passion for the game is unbelievable and he’ll do what he can to help anyone else he believes loves hockey too. True story, Barry once gave me five pages of notes and drills to use for my adult hockey team, and I didn’t even ask for it. That’s just one indication of how much he cares about hockey, and more importantly, people.

With Trotz, the Capitals will be a hard working two way team. The defensive and neutral zone disasters we witnessed in 2013-14 should be a thing of the past. He will implement a system that will maximize his talent and he will hold the team accountable to playing it.

The Capitals absolutely obtained the services of the best coach available right now in the market.

When the Capitals cleaned house just over a month ago, I blogged that the GM decision was critical and arguably the most important in team history. Caps owner Ted Leonsis also stated that the organization was looking for a fresh look at things.

Hiring MacLellan, on the surface, does not meet that criteria, at all. With names like Ray Shero and Craig Button available, men who’ve won Stanley Cups in a hockey management position, I don’t see how the Capitals came close to getting the right person to lead them to their first Stanley Cup.

As assistant GM, MacLellan was in charge of the pro scouting and that is where this organization has really fallen down the last several years. The return on the Filip Forsberg trade was abysmal and recent free agent moves have not addressed the team’s main deficiencies, which start on the blue line. When you see the attention paid to that position and moves like Roman Hamrlik and Tyson Strachan, you have to wonder what is going on in the pro scouting arena? How many times did George McPhee tell the media and the fans “We like our D?” Wasn’t MacLellan a part of the “We?”

Overall, the moves this team has made at the pro level the last few years have caused this team to go backwards, so why stick with someone in house?

That’s a question that Owner Ted Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick will have to answer because this decision is a very hard sell to me if you are trying to win at all costs.

This organization could use some new thinking in the hockey management department and this hire doesn’t do that.

Yes, Barry Trotz is a great move and he’ll bring a fresh set of ideas and eyes to the organization. But for Barry to win, he needs better players. The blue line on this team is woeful and they lack depth at center.

Both of those areas have been deficient for years, yet the GM they’ve hired is one who has been involved in the personnel decisions of a club that, as currently configured, is not a Stanley Cup contender.

Bottom line, the Caps needed to bring in an experienced GM from the outside, and they didn’t do that.

 

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