Capitals Lose Hagelin, But Get Boost From Mantha’s Return

Washington Capitals’ fans should be happy that Carl Hagelin (eye) and Joe Snively (wrist) underwent successful surgeries this week. Hagelin is out indefinitely while Snively is out 4-6 weeks.

On the other hand, the team is going to be without two valuable players; one, a speedy grinder, and the other a contributing rookie. Fortunately, with Anthony Mantha healthy and the power play appearing to find its groove, the Capitals still have opportunities to turn things around despite their newest obstacles.

Capitals Lose Hagelin, but Mantha’s Return Helps

The biggest loss for the Capitals is Hagelin. Snively has been great, but as it has been proven, each young player has gone through a spell where they can be productive. Plus, Snively can still come back in time for the postseason while Hagelin’s availability will be up in the air – and veteran leadership and playoff experience go a lot further than a jolt of youth that can carry a team through a game, but maybe not necessarily a series.

Washington Capitals Carl Hagelin
Washington Capitals left wing Carl Hagelin (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Unfortunately for Hagelin, this could be the end of his time in Washington, D.C. The 33-year-old winger becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season, but his annual cap hit is $2.75 million and he’s going to be coming off an injury and a down-year from a production standpoint. He could possibly be traded or released to free up room in case the Capitals do a trade-and-sign deal at the March 21 deadline or are aggressive in free agency this summer.

As for now, Washington hopes to balance out this latest issue with solutions to problems that have haunted their play since the start of the year.

Finding the Scoring Touch

Mantha has played three games now since returning from shoulder surgery. His presence coincided with a surge in offense. The team has scored 14 goals in those three games. Though Mantha has registered just one point, he changes the game, and the power play is benefiting.

More importantly, Mantha must find a way to write a positive narrative in the postseason. Last year he played in his first Stanley Cup playoff, registering just two points in five games. The team traded for him for a reason, and he could possibly prove his worth if the Capitals maintain their wild card position.

Back to the regular season. Before getting injured, Mantha had recorded six points over 12 games. During that span to start the season, Washington was 5-1-4. They are 3-0-0 since he returned. It hasn’t been because of his production, but rather his overall presence. He is a player that needs to be monitored by defenses. The same can be said for someone like T.J. Oshie.  

Anthony Mantha, Washington Capitals
Anthony Mantha, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both Mantha and Oshie being healthy and in the lineup completes Washington’s top two power-play units. There isn’t much of a sample size since March 3, but the Capitals boast a 36.4% power play percentage which is good for sixth in the league during that span.

Yes, that is a very weighted stat to make a point, and that number should decrease or the rest of the NHL is in a whole lot of trouble. On a much larger scale, when Mantha and Oshie were both in the lineup from Oct. 13 to Oct. 27, Washington’s power play had a 20% success rate and ranked 17th in the league. From Oct. 29 to Feb. 28, they were at 15.7% which was, excuse the sarcasm, good for 26th best in the NHL.

Related: Capitals’ Goaltending Trade Deadline Targets: Fleury, Halak, Korpisalo

Goaltending and the power play were the two main issues for the Capitals, and if they can alleviate one, then they will still make the postseason and perhaps even win a series. If they fix both, either through better play by Ilya Samsonov as a secondary option to Vitek Vanecek or acquiring a veteran at or before the trade deadline, then a bigger accomplishment once again becomes a reality.

Milestones and Moving Forward

Last night’s game in Calgary marked the 1,000th game Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played together. The duo has been a staple in Washington D.C. culture for 15 years. On a historic night, Ovechkin scored twice to tie Jaromir Jagr for third all-time on the goals-scored list at 766. Backstrom recorded an assist which brings him within just two points of reaching 1,000 for his career. 

Related: Capitals’ Backstrom, Ovechkin Near Milestones on Road Trip

Many of their minutes together have been spent on the power play, which has always been a strong suit of Washington’s game during their tenures on the team. In the last three matches, Ovechkin has three power-play points and Backstrom one.

As of right now, the power play issue is being resolved, but the team’s production wouldn’t have stayed reduced for long anyway. Goaltending remains unclear, but fans will have a better feel for what to expect after the trade deadline. The main issue should now be the absence of Hagelin. Though a seemingly small obstacle in comparison to the team’s larger issues, the winger’s position and skills are hard to replace.

The team needs to find another valuable penalty killer who is also a speedy threat that can produce in a timely fashion, as well as a leader in the locker room. Conor Sheary is someone who may step up in this spot, and he’s been playing very well as of late, but then that’s another hole that would need to be filled, possibly by more youth.

Though Washington may not need to acquire a star forward by the deadline anymore, an under-the-radar veteran role player could be very beneficial come playoff time.

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