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Mailbag: Pressure is on Alex Ovechkin of Capitals

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the April 26 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

Which captain do you think feels the most pressure to get through round two? Alex Ovechkin? Mike Fisher? Connor McDavid? -- @mikeybox

Ovechkin. It's not even close. 

He's never gotten past the second round. He's 0-for-2 in Stanley Cup Playoff series against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Washington Capitals are built to win the Stanley Cup this season. Regardless of what happens there will be some significant changes to the core group that's been around for a while. For example, defenseman Karl Alzner and forward T.J. Oshie are unrestricted free agents after the season. I'd argue that the pressure on Ovechkin to win in the NHL never has been higher than it is now. The best part is this could be the best team he's played on, so that theoretically should make it easier for him to handle the pressure.

Fisher and McDavid are playing with house money so to speak. Nobody expected Fisher's Nashville Predators to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round, but they swept them. McDavid's Edmonton Oilers are getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Beyond that, two of the remaining captains have won the Stanley Cup, Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo has his team in the second round after they traded one of their best players, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline. Shattenkirk, of course, now is trying to help relieve some of the pressure on Ovechkin. Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson and New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh have to be feeling some pressure, but it's not close to the heat on Ovechkin.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm4: Ovechkin cranks slapper for PPG

 

What are some improvements the New York Rangers need to focus on in this upcoming series? -- @KitKat5557

They absolutely need to see more from forwards Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. They combined for 50 goals during the regular season, including a Rangers-high 28 from Kreider; they had one assist each in the six-game first-round series win against the Montreal Canadiens. They largely were ineffective too, save for Kreider's rush down the left-wing wall and deflected shot that led to Mika Zibanejad's overtime goal in Game 5. Their power play has to be way better too. Fortunately it got better as the first round progressed and they scored a goal on their lone power play in Game 6. It was off of good puck movement and a couple of shots too. The power play will be big against the Senators, who don't give up much at 5-on-5. I also think defenseman Nick Holden needs to move the puck quicker sometimes, especially when he gets it in the defensive zone. Beyond that, I really liked how the Rangers played in the last three games against the Canadiens and I think they can carry it into the series against the Senators, which starts at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports). I picked the Rangers to win it. I think they get it done in six games.

 

Realistically do you see the Ottawa Senators becoming contenders any time soon? -- @RyanHyndman_

They are in the Eastern Conference Second Round. They are one of eight teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, one of four in the Eastern Conference. They are a contender now.

 

What would it take for the Senators to win? Could they do it? -- @krismarief

Yes they can do it. I'm not picking them, but that doesn't mean I don't think they can win. I certainly wouldn't be shocked if they did. I'm picking the Rangers because I think they are a better team with a more balanced lineup and the best goaltender in the series. However, the Senators can defeat them if they play their structured game to a T. They can't allow the Rangers to knife down the middle of the ice with speed. They can't give up odd-man rush opportunities. They can't get hemmed in their zone for long periods of time. They have to rely on their third defense pair to play some important minutes. Senators goalie Craig Anderson has to outplay Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Their penalty kill has to be strong, certainly better than it was against the Boston Bruins, when it was 13-for-16. The Senators can't give the Rangers freebies because they don't score enough to make up for them. But they can do all of that. That's everything the Senators do well when they're playing their game.

Video: The guys look forward to Rangers vs. Senators matchup

 

With the weirdness in Chicago, who's more likely to go first, Stan Bowman or Joel Quenneville? Yes, I know, very, very premature. -- @Papabearfighter

I agree it's premature, but the fact that Bowman fired Mike Kitchen, Quenneville's top assistant and close friend, tells me that he is trying to cede control back in this relationship and prove to the coach that he's in charge. The Chicago Tribune reported Quenneville had nothing to do with the decision and that he was upset by it. Bowman had every right to do it; he's Quenneville's boss, not the other way around. Bowman is in charge of the Blackhawks hockey operations, not the other way around, and can make the tough decisions without Quenneville's approval or advice. Ideally, Bowman will allow Quenneville to be involved in picking Kitchen's replacement. After all, Quenneville has to work with the assistant coach more than Bowman does. Bowman took the power back by firing Kitchen, but now he should allow Quenneville to have a say in Kitchen's replacement.

To answer your question, I don't think either of them is going anywhere now. But if for some reason the Blackhawks struggle next season or if they bow out again in the first round I think you'll see a coaching change before you see a management change. General managers should get an opportunity to hire at least one, if not two coaches before they go on the clock. Bowman inherited Quenneville and has had zero reason to think about firing him. Maybe that changes soon. We'll see.

 

What do the San Jose Sharks do about Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton? -- @bloodfury96

Re-sign Thornton to a two-year contract provided the prognosis is good on his surgically repaired knee. Let Marleau become an unrestricted free agent. It's time for Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to be cutthroat and that would mean parting ways with Marleau, who still can skate and still can play and will be an important player somewhere else. It's time for the Sharks to let some of their younger players get a bigger opportunity. Thornton, however, is such an important player on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room that I would keep him. He's still an excellent player and the one many of the young players in San Jose look up to. I've always thought they look up to Thornton more than they do Marleau in San Jose. Thornton probably wouldn't take a one-year contract either, so give him the second year on the condition that the doctors give you assurance to the best of their knowledge that his knee is going to hold up. An organization has to have some emotional turnover eventually. Now, after a first-round exit, it seems like a good time for the Sharks to move on from Marleau.

 

Do you think Dean Lombardi is the leading candidate for the Buffalo Sabres GM position? -- @ClappRyan10

I think he's a candidate. I can't identify if he's the leading candidate. I think there are many, including some who are assistant general managers right now like Chris Drury of the Rangers, Craig Conroy of the Calgary Flames, Julien Brisebois of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bill Zito of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Norm MacIver of the Blackhawks, and Jason Botterill and Bill Guerin of the Penguins. I identify all of those gentlemen as candidates, and quality candidates to boot. 

However, one thing Sabres owner Terry Pegula said is that he's looking for experience. He didn't specify what kind of experience. If he wants someone who has experience as a GM then Lombardi certainly fits. A question Lombardi has to answer is does he want to work for the Pegulas, who certainly appear to enjoy being hands-on owners. Lombardi had full control of hockey operations with the Los Angeles Kings; I wonder if he would have that in Buffalo. I also wonder if the Pegulas want to hire a president of hockey operations in the mold of Brian Burke with the Flames, John Davidson with the Blue Jackets, Trevor Linden with the Vancouver Canucks, Cam Neely with the Bruins and Brendan Shanahan with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If they do, Lombardi could fill that role instead and he could hire the next GM, perhaps someone from the aforementioned pool of candidates. But again, does Lombardi want to work for the Pegulas? 

Regardless, this obviously has to get solved soon because the Sabres are already on the clock for the expansion draft and the NHL draft.

 

What do you see as the Colorado Avalanche's first priority in the offseason? Trading Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog? Holding tight and building through the draft? Other? -- @C_DUB_85

I answered this a few weeks ago and my opinion has not changed. The Avalanche have to build up their defense and I don't care how they do it. Their back end is not good enough, and until it gets better it will continue to destroy any chance they have of making progress. If improving the defense means trading away one of Duchene or Landeskog, that's the price they have to pay. They won't go anywhere with the forwards they have if their defense doesn't improve.

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