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Over the Boards: Laich assesses Capitals' struggles

by Dan Rosen

A look in the mirror can expose the face of failure. It can also lead to change.

Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich is hoping the mirror has been as brutally revealing to his teammates as it has been to him and executives in the organization this summer.

If it hasn't been, there's a bigger problem in Washington than a new coach (Barry Trotz) and a new general manager (Brian MacLellan) can fix.


Brooks Laich talking about why a unique training exercise has fueled his optimism that he's past the groin problems that plagued him the past two seasons:

"We have started doing training in the sand this summer. We do a lot of athletic agility training just in bare feet and shorts in the sand, and you can't fake your way through the instability in the sand. If there is something still hindering you or something still wrong with you it will be exposed in the sand because of the instability of the surface. We've done numerous training sessions in the sand with agility, speed, change of direction, forward, backward, pivot and it's exciting for myself because I know if I can do that on an unstable surface where your body gets contorted into unusual positions then I can skate the way I want to."

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock talking about hiring new assistants to replace Bill Peters (coach, Carolina Hurricanes) and Tom Renney (President and CEO, Hockey Canada):

"The great thing about people leaving is that they've had success and it's an opportunity for you to grow as you hire new people. New people bring lots of new ideas. For example, when I hired [Grand Rapids Griffins coach] Jeff Blashill and Peters lots of people thought I was crazy. Well, they're pretty darn good coaches. Blashill will be a head coach in the NHL for sure."

"My honest opinion is not making the playoffs last year might have been the greatest day going forward for our organization, because I really think it made us all take a look in the mirror and at our failures and why we are failing," Laich told "If we would have made the playoffs and lost in the first or second round it would have been the same old story, but you wouldn't have had that hard, brutally honest look at yourselves to realize why you are failing."

The Capitals didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2006-07. Their failure cost former general manager George McPhee and former coach Adam Oates their jobs.

But changes on the bench with Trotz and in the front office with MacLellan can only do so much. Laich said it's up to the players to change too.

"Now the onus is on us," Laich said. "The coach has changed numerous times, but for the vast majority of us we're the same players, and we need to be better. The core guys, the guys that have been there for eight, nine years, need to establish that right away.

"Change is coming for all of us. Some people might not like it right away, but you need to adapt, change, and buy in right away."

As disappointing as it was to miss the playoffs last season, Laich sounds like a player who would be more devastated to make it this season only to lose in the first or second round. He looks around the Eastern Conference, sees the parity, and asks himself, 'Why not Washington?'

"We cannot go through the year, get to the playoffs, make it to the first or second round and say, 'OK, that's good enough, we now know our coach and our general manager and our system and what's expected of us,' " Laich said. "We can't burn this year. We need to win this year."

By win he really means the Stanley Cup, or at the very least the Prince of Wales Trophy. Laich isn't making any predictions mind you, but he is confident that the Capitals have the talent, depth, defense, goaltending and leadership to get it done.

Now the Capitals have to do the right things. They were doing too many of the wrong things last season. If that wasn't apparent by their place in the standings, it was a point driven home to Laich after watching the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.


How will the Anaheim Ducks adjust in defense when all we've been doing is signing forwards? -- @StevieSaidYup:

I don't view defense as being a major issue for the Ducks provided John Gibson and Frederik Andersen play as advertised. I'm not a big fan of giving Clayton Stoner a four-year, $13 million contract because I think they will be playing in their end more when he's on the ice than when he's not, but Anaheim has some good players on the blue line with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen only getting better. The Ducks were ninth in the League in goals-against (2.48 per game) and shots-against per game (28.7) last season. Their penalty kill was 13th (82.2 percent), but the addition of center Ryan Kesler should help in that area.

The problem is the Ducks were an average possession team last season based on their Corsi-for percentage (50.0 percent) and Fenwick-for percentage (50.3 percent), and they had a high PDO (combination of shooting percentage and save percentage). Their shooting percentage at even strength (9.8 percent) was a full percentage point higher than any other team in the League, a big reason why they led the League in goals both at 5-on-5 (192) and overall (263). They might be in line for some regression in that department, which means their defense will have to be even tighter than it was last season.

Which 2014 draft picks will make the team out of training camp? -- @baskincase

There are two answers to this question. I'll predict that the top four picks -- Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers, Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres, Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers and Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames -- start the season with their respective NHL clubs and get the nine-game trial afforded to rookies coming from the Canadian Hockey League before they burn the first year of their entry-level contract. My second prediction is only Ekblad and Reinhart stay beyond the nine-game trial, but I'll couch that by saying I'm really only certain about Ekblad. The Panthers feel they built a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth and Ekblad is ready to be a part of that. The Sabres, Oilers and Flames have more time and might find it better to let their elite prospects have another year of development away from the NHL glare.

Will the Los Angeles Kings be the favorites in the Pacific Division? -- @Blake94Miller

They'll be the favorites based on winning the Stanley Cup, but remember that the Kings typically have a slow burn to their season. They rev it up across 82 games so they are speeding come playoff time, when they are usually at their best. That can lead to some adversity and some struggles throughout the regular season. The Kings also have the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover to deal with. However, the Kings might just win this division for three reasons:

1) The Ducks might have some regression in their offense for reasons I mentioned in a previous question.

2) I'm not sure what to expect from the San Jose Sharks as they go through what general manager Doug Wilson is calling a "rebuild" on the fly.

3) I'd be shocked if the Vancouver Canucks or Arizona Coyotes snuck up to win the division after failing to make the playoffs last season.

That leaves the Kings as the division winners.

How do you feel about the Pittsburgh Penguins after they've made several changes in the offseason? -- @JohnMoyer14

I'm a fan of the changes general manager Jim Rutherford has made to the roster, but I still need to see how coach Mike Johnston adjusts back into the NHL and how the players, particularly Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, respond to his coaching.

As for the personnel, getting Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling for James Neal was a good trade for the Penguins because it gave them additional depth in a 2-for-1 trade without subtracting a top-six forward. Hornqvist is a top-six forward, only he's different than Neal. He's more of a battler while Neal was more of a shooter. Malkin needed someone to help him do the dirty work and he should have that in Hornqvist, provided they play together. Steve Downie and Blake Comeau add to the Penguins' bottom-six forward depth. They needed help there and they got it.

On defense, Christian Ehrhoff was the best signing of the offseason for any team because the Penguins got a top-of-the-line, veteran defenseman on a one-year, $4 million contract. Ehrhoff should be a steal and the Penguins can try to re-sign him after Jan. 1. They lost Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, but I think Ehrhoff is better than both. Now the Penguins also have room to give Derrick Pouliot, Simon Despres and Brian Dumoulin a real shot to make the team out of training camp. At least one of them will make it.

What pieces do the Calgary Flames need the most this season? -- @mathaleet

More of everything. Is that too vague? If so I apologize, but it's true. The Flames are a classic rebuilding team. They have some veterans sprinkled around some quality developing young players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Bennett. They solidified their goaltending with Jonas Hiller, so at least they should be in most games, but they need an elite scoring forward and another top-pair defenseman to join Mark Giordano, who is among the most underrated players in the NHL. They may have those in-house, but they still need to develop.

If you have a question you want answered in Over the Boards, send it in a tweet to @drosennhl. The Mailbag will be a weekly feature here.

"You look at these teams and it was automatic that when they got the puck they would push and they would push through people, push with speed," Laich said. "They would win the territory game and eventually break teams down. It wasn't by winning 5-1 with a dominant power play; it was by perseverance, will, determination. The Kings went through a lot and persevered.

The Capitals led the NHL in power play goals last season (68), but they were 21st in 5-on-5 goals (139). Their possession numbers were lacking; they were 24th in Corsi-for percentage (47.7 percent) and 26th in Fenwick-for percentage (47.1 percent), according to That means the opposition was shooting more than the Capitals, an indication they were playing too much defense, that they didn't push hard enough.

"In our game, our team has been soft in some areas because there have been parts of the game where we have not impacted it," Laich said.

Laich said Trotz has already talked at great length about changing that. He said the coaching staff has had conference calls with players this summer, indicating but not specifying that some have included Washington's entire leadership core.

"One thing he's told us is he's going to start new stat sheets around of battles won and lost for individuals," Laich said. "Every time you engage in a battle, did you win it or did you lose it? If you fly by somebody and don't finish your check, if you glide -- these sorts of things are going to be implemented to bring a lot more attention to detail to our game to affect the game in more areas than we ever have before."

Any pre-conceived notion of Trotz being a defensive coach has been eliminated through those conversations, Laich said.

"I would call him a coach that expects the game to be played on all 200 feet of the ice," he said. "There is no time off when you are on the ice. There's no resting. There's no taking it easy. You can impact the game and you have to impact the game on every inch of the ice. We are going to be aggressive on the forecheck. We are going to be aggressive when we don't have the puck. He's going to demand that everybody on the ice affects the game in all 200-by-85-feet of the ice."

Why McDonagh is ready for a letter, possibly a 'C'

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said in June that he is "absolutely" prepared to accept the captaincy should it be offered to him by coach Alain Vigneault because of the confidence he gained in himself as a leader last season.

"When you've been given a lot more responsibility and are able to step up and help our team win a lot games I think that helps," McDonagh said. "Guys believe and rally around you when you say something in the room. Guys follow in behind and want to do better. …

"It would be a great responsibility for sure."

Vigneault will likely name a captain at some point during training camp. McDonagh should be among a handful of candidates he's considering, including Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who were alternate captains last season along with Brad Richards.

Forwards Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning) are the two players on the Rangers' roster who have been captains before. Defenseman Dan Boyle was an alternate captain with the San Jose Sharks for the past five seasons.

Who else needs a captain?

In addition to the Rangers, five other teams do not currently have a captain or at least a holdover captain from last season. Here they are, with three potential candidates for each team:

Buffalo Sabres: Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Matt Moulson

Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski

Florida Panthers: Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Willie Mitchell

Montreal Canadiens: Andrei Markov, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban

Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil

Cassidy in Providence, but for how much longer?

Former Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy was a candidate to fill the opening on Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien's coaching staff this summer, but Julien went with Joe Sacco largely due to his background as a forward in the NHL.

"[Cassidy] is a former defenseman and so am I and [Bruins assistant] Doug Houda, so we wanted to lean a little bit toward a forward this time," Julien said after announcing Sacco had been hired on July 24. "He was certainly a strong candidate and certainly a very capable one."

Cassidy, who coached the Capitals for 107 games from 2002-03, instead will enter his fourth season as the coach of the Providence Bruins, Boston's American Hockey League affiliate. Providence has reached the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

Julien, though, thinks Cassidy's time in Providence might be numbered, especially if the players he's been developing there continue to become regulars in Boston.

"Bruce has done an unbelievable job of developing players," Julien said. "To me he's still a fairly young coach. He's coached in the NHL and I think at the same time he's one of those guys that should certainly be considered to be a coach in the NHL again too."

Boston forward Jordan Caron and defensemen Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller developed into pros in Providence under Cassidy's watch. The Bruins are looking at forwards Ryan Spooner, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser and Alexander Khokhlachev as candidates to make the NHL roster this season. They combined for 71 goals and 171 points last season.

Goalie Niklas Svedberg is expected to be the backup to Tuukka Rask this season after posting 62 wins, a 2.38 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 93 appearances over the past two seasons in Providence. Malcolm Subban should be the No. 1 in Providence after a strong rookie season in which he had 15 wins, a 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage in 33 appearances.

Was Getzlaf mad about the Kings winning the Cup?

Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf took a somewhat of a political stance when asked for his feelings on the Kings winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in the past three seasons.

"You know what, it's not as difficult as everybody thinks it is," Getzlaf told from the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 23. "I don't like seeing L.A. win, but at the same time it's great for Southern California hockey and we're all part of the same market and building the game out there. At least in one aspect we got beat by the champs and it gives us a goal for next year."

If you rolled your eyes at the first part of his quote, well, who can blame you? It wouldn't be surprising to find out the Kings' victory bothered Getzlaf more than he's letting on, especially since the Ducks had Los Angeles on the ropes with a 3-2 lead in the all SoCal best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series.

However, the second part of his quote is telling for how Getzlaf and the Ducks feel going into this season. Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin are the only holdovers from Anaheim's Stanley Cup championship team in 2007.

"To get that feeling back and get the surrounding guys to buy into what it takes, sometimes you have to lose to do that," Getzlaf said. "I mean, we were in Game 7 against those guys [the Kings]; they finished the way they wanted to and we didn't. It's a learning curve for some of our young guys as well as myself. It's preparation for September."


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