30-in-30: Trotz-Ovechkin bond among questions facing Capitals

Monday, 08.04.2014 / 10:57 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

A new general manager (Brian MacLellan), new coach (Barry Trotz) and two high-priced veteran additions to the blue line (Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik) indicate the Capitals will have a new look this season after their streak of six consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs came to an end last season.

However, the final answers to the following five questions ultimately will determine if Washington's new path will lead to the postseason:

1. How will Barry Trotz get along with Alex Ovechkin? -- Trotz knows that trust must be established between him and his captain. He started that process in late June when he went to Las Vegas for his first face-to-face meeting with Ovechkin as the Capitals coach.

Ovechkin was in Vegas to accept the Rocket Richard Trophy at the 2014 NHL Awards, and Trotz knew it was a good time to sit with him in a relaxed environment.

"I learned a lot from that, how he thinks and how he sees the world," Trotz said. "I learned about how he views himself, how he views his job with the team. It was good. I told him what I expected. … We had some dialogue. I learned about his family, who is important in his life."

Trotz already knows what to expect from Ovechkin in terms of production. What he has to do is work with Ovechkin to get him to buy into playing a 200-foot, skating game. Ovechkin is a role model on the Capitals and Trotz wants players who are role models to set the tone for how he would like his entire team to play.

2. Will the new coaching staff get the best out of Karl Alzner and John Carlson? -- Even with Orpik and Niskanen, the success of the defense hinges on Alzner and Carlson, who have the ability to lead Trotz's push for more offense from the back end with their combination of physical play, sturdiness in the defensive zone, skating, passing and puckhandling.

If they get back to doing all that this season, Washington will have a better chance to have a sustained offensive attack, something it lacked last season.

The Capitals were 24th in the NHL with a 47.1 Corsi-for percentage, according to ExtraSkater.com. That means their possession game wasn't good, and Alzner and Carlson were at the center of that. Alzner's Corsi-for percentage was 47 percent while Carlson's was 46.9 percent.

The relatively low Corsi-for percentages for each player has something to do with their quality of competition (they routinely faced the opposition's best players) and that they started more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone.

Orpik and Niskanen will alleviate some pressure in both areas, especially if Alzner and Carlson are separated at the start of the season, which seems like a possibility.

3. Who will be the No. 2 center behind Nicklas Backstrom? -- Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov have the inside track, according to Trotz. They played the wing in Washington last season, but Trotz likes Johansson's speed and Kuznetsov's creativity as a playmaker and scorer. Eric Fehr, a third-line center last season, likely will move to the wing.

Trotz was also impressed by 2013 first-round pick (No. 23) Andre Burakovsky in development camp. Brooks Laich is an option as well now that he's healthy following surgery in March to address a nagging groin injury.

4. Is Kuznetsov ready for a breakout season? -- Kuznetsov, the 26th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, showed glimpses of what he can do last season when he arrived from Russia in March. He had three assists in his third NHL game and finished with nine points in 17 games.

In Trotz's perfect world Kuznetsov will be Washington's No. 2 center. He should be listed among preseason favorites for the Calder Trophy.

5. Will goalie coach Mitch Korn turn Braden Holtby around? -- Korn, who mentored Tomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne with the Nashville Predators, has to get Holtby back to the level he was at in 2012-13, when he had 23 wins, a .920 save percentage, a 2.58 goals-against average and four shutouts in 36 games.

Holtby never has gone wire-to-wire as a No. 1 goaltender in an 82-game NHL season. He was supposed to last season, but a combination of changes in his style to play deeper in the crease and the Capitals' poor defense hurt him; he had a 2.85 GAA and .915 save percentage in 48 games.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer

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