NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.
As part of his exercise in discovering information about his new team, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been asking friends and colleagues around the NHL to disclose what they told their players before playing the Capitals in recent seasons.
Trotz's discoveries have given him an indication as to why the Capitals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
"It was pretty consistent," Trotz said. "They would say, 'Don't let them score on the rush. Don't let their forwards freewheel. Take away time and space. They don't do much around the net. They're not very physical. They don't block shots.' It was good information, and now I've got to get it changed. I know I can."
It starts with the captain. Trotz doesn't want to take away Alex Ovechkin's offensive ability, but he wants to put more responsibility on Ovechkin to play a 200-foot game. Trotz said he has seen a lot of "glide" in Ovechkin's game and he noted his 5-on-5 production has to improve.
Ovechkin scored 24 of his 51 goals last season on the power play. He had one even-strength goal over his final 22 games.
"He's a lot more dangerous when he's skating, when he's moving, when he's got a little bit of room to operate," Trotz said. "I have found him standing still a lot on the film that I'm watching, very easy to cover, and he still got 51 goals."
Trotz wants to take some scoring pressure off Ovechkin by having the defensemen play a bigger role in the offense.
"People tend to think because I've come to Washington that I'm going to stand back, and I hate that," Trotz said. "In Nashville I was known as a defensive coach because my star players were a goalie [Pekka Rinne] and a defenseman [Shea Weber]. We had to play to our strength."
Trotz still urged the defensemen in Nashville to carry the puck up the ice. He wants to see the same from the Capitals defensemen, particularly Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Mike Green. That's in contrast to the system Washington played under former coach Adam Oates.
Trotz said he was stunned to learn 14.2 percent of the Capitals' goals last season came from defensemen. Washington was tied for 15th in the NHL for goals scored by defensemen with 32. By comparison, the Predators were first with 52 goals, including 23 from Weber.
"We were probably always in the top-five [in goals] from the back end, and a lot of people can't name more than two or three of the forwards we had," Trotz said of his time with the Predators. "With the forwards I have in Washington, I hope to keep their offensive production very high and add some more offense from the back end."
CAPITALS' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
Trotz's focus in training camp will be in the middle of the ice. The center depth behind Nicklas Backstrom is a work in progress.
Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky will compete for the second and third spots. Johansson and Kuznetsov played the wing in Washington last season. Burakovsky impressed Trotz at development camp last month.
Brooks Laich or Troy Brouwer will likely be the other wing on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Eric Fehr, the third-line center between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward last season, will likely move to the wing.
"I think we're going to be a lot deeper through the middle of the ice than I even expected," Trotz said.
Goalie coach Mitch Korn, who also comes to Washington from Nashville, has to get Braden Holtby's game back to the level it was at two seasons ago, when he had a 2.58 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 36 appearances. He had a 2.85 GAA and .915 save percentage in 48 appearances last season.
The Capitals signed Justin Peters to be Holtby's backup. They chose not to go after a bigger name as a show of faith to Holtby, who must improve if the Capitals are going to become a Stanley Cup contender under Trotz.
"My biggest thought on this season for us is it can't be a burnt year," Laich told NHL.com. "We can't go through the year, get to the playoffs, make it to the first or second round and say, 'OK, that's good enough.' We can't burn this year. We need to win this year."
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