Report: Capitals Targeting Another Top-Nine Forward

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Even though the NHL trade deadline is still five days away, a flurry of deals have already been made. The Devils dumped Jaromir Jagr to the Panthers; the Hurricanes traded Jiri Tlusty to the Jets and Andrej Sekera to the Kings; the Penguins acquired Daniel Winnik from the Leafs; and the Blue Jackets took David Clarkson from the Leafs for some ungodly reason.

The already small group of rentals and useful players has gotten even smaller.

“You need two to dance and we’re going to the dance and there’s 30 guys and there’s only about eight girls at the dance,” Barry Trotz said to The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt Thursday, essentially calling the 2015 trade deadline a sausage fest. “That’s what it is. There’s only going to be like eight or nine guys dancing.”

Early Thursday, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Brian MacLellan has been burning the phone lines pursuing another top-nine forward.

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Photo: Kyle Mace / Chocolate Hockey

UPDATE, January 12, 10:40 AM. Schmidt has a fracture in his shoulder blade and will miss 6-8 weeks.

Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt is just a ball of positive energy regardless of the Schmiduation. After only playing in two NHL games since December 18th (despite having the second best possession numbers among all Caps defensemen), head coach Barry Trotz sent Schmidt down to Hershey to get in some work over the weekend.

On Saturday, Schmidt nearly scored a hat trick. Then, on Sunday, the 23-year-old defenseman got injured (the severity is still unknown) after taking a run from Admirals forward Chris Wagner.

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Scarf

Photo credit: Chris Gordon.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nate Schmidt sat in the corner of the Washington Nationals clubhouse, quietly taking off his gear after Caps practiced outside at Nats Park. With the NHL taking over the baseball stadium, the room has been temporarily transformed into a hockey locker room, though it’s not quite as smelly as a real one. To Schmidt’s right, around 15 reporters gathered around Karl Alzner, eager for his thoughts on the eyewear revolution he started. As RMNB’s Chief Fashion Reporter, I had my eye on a different aspect of Winter Classic apparel: the scarf Schmidt was wearing.

“This is my first ever scarf experience!” Schmidt gleefully announced to me. “First ever. I used to always make fun of people who wore scarves.”

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On Barry Trotz, Lineup Decisions, and Big Mistakes

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

Nate Schmidt recently found himself watching from the press box for two games while Jack Hillen took his spot beside Mike Green. Hillen is an adequate player, but should be seventh on the Caps defensive depth chart among those healthy.

That isn’t to say that Hillen should never get a sweater. Over the course of a season, it’s fine and good to work in a guy like Hillen here and there so rust doesn’t build up, but Barry Trotz has made it clear that the reason Hillen was given a sweater recently is because, in his opinion, Schmidt had played his way out of the lineup. Schmidt’s recent benching is another questionable lineup decision by Barry Trotz, wherein he seems to focus on the “big mistake” as opposed to the underlying processes and actual patterns of play

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Barry Trotz’s Weapon: Ice Time

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

On Saturday night, Nate Schmidt and Andre Burakovsky sat out as the Capitals faced the Devils in Newark. Tom Wilson, the first line right wing, was also benched for most of second period. Barry Trotz’s weapon is ice time, and he uses it.

For Schmidt, it was his first scratch of the season, coming on the heels of excellent play alongside Mike Green throughout the year. The game before, Schmidt had misplayed Blue Jackets forward Michael Chaput, who scored a game-tying goal late in the game.

“Sometimes you have to reset players when they’re not going very well,” Trotz said the benchings. “You have to give them a little jolt.”

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Photos by Chris Gordon.

Nicklas Backstrom is a quiet Swedish assist machine. He sits in the background, setting up Ovi and racking up points. He’s a bit shy, often speaking to reporters siting down and speaking in a soft tone. He’s not underrated. People know Backstrom is good, but he’s just doesn’t flout it at all. That’s why he’s not one of the league’s most recognizable stars, despite the skill and stats to back it up.

But we Caps fans know how good he is. Tonight, Backstrom put on a grand Saturday night production. After not scoring in almost a month, Backstrom registered a natural hat trick, his first three goal game since 2010, as the Caps beat the Bolts 4-2.

There was a present waiting for him after the game. Upon entering the Capitals locker room, Backstrom found his locker filled with the hats thrown on the ice by fans.

“I don’t know who the f—k was doing that,” Backstrom told me. “Someone surprised me.”

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Photo: @a0gr8

The Washington Capitals are out in Phoenix ahead of their game with the Coyotes on Tuesday. And our mustachioed heroes have made the most of their off day. Alex Ovechkin put on his favorite Vladimir Putin t-shirt and took a selfie with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. I’m pretty sure that shirt is honoring Putin and making him look like a action movie star, which, uh, yeah.

Other Caps players actually made it out of the hotel rooms.

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After Half a Season, Nate Schmidt Looks Real Good

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If I were to tell you that the Caps have a new young defensemen whose first half season compares very respectably relative to the first half a season of Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, you’d probably be excited, right?

Okay, be excited.

Tuesday’s game against the Flames was Nate Schmidt‘s 41st in the NHL. Regular readers of the site know that Peter is a huge Nate Schmidt fan. While I haven’t written much about Schmidt here on RMNB, I’ve written about him elsewhere and think the Caps made a great decision in keeping him in Washington this season.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

Last week we looked at the Caps forward deployment thus far under Barry Trotz. This week, I’m going to take a look at the defense. In doing so, we’ll find the Caps have a shutdown pair fairing questionably, a steadying pair that may be better suited to shutdown than our current shutdown pair, and then a pair of possession monsters who are owning the minutes they are being given.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

With the final preseason game in the books for the Capitals, the team’s opening night line-up is shaping up: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Eric Fehr will be on the top line. Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer will man the second. Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward will be on the third. The fourth line looks set, though scrappy free-agree invitee Liam O’Brien looks to have earned his way into a contract with Hershey or a two-way deal. Michael Latta, though, appears ready to play alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chris Brown on the fourth line. That might change when Jay Beagle comes back from injury.

“That would be a question for Mac[Lellan],” Trotz said of O’Brien. “He’s been as good as anybody especially in that role.”

“He’s a player that demanded to be noticed,” the coach added.

19-year-old rookie Andre Burakovsky appears to have also made the team, beating top prospect Kuznetsov to center the team’s second line. At least initially.

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