Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan is still seeking more consistency from his defencemen.
Despite being led by early Norris Trophy favourite John Carlson, the Capitals have struggled to maintain a high quality of play from every player in its six-man unit. The group has been at full strength since Michal Kempny returned from a torn left hamstring in mid-October but has still experienced ebbs and flows.
“We’re an inconsistent blue line as a whole,” MacLellan told reporters this week. “I think that’s one area that … we’re trying to be a little more consistent, not have the lows that sometimes we do have during games and stretches. I think that’s the biggest area we’d like to fix going forward.”
MacLellan mentioned two players specifically. “I’d like to see more consistent play out of (Nick) Jensen and (Radko) Gudas,” MacLellan said. “I think at times both of them have been really good, and then at other times they’re both making mistakes, too. I’d like to see one of them grab that No. 4 spot and … go forward for the rest of the year.”
After Matt Niskanen was traded to Philadelphia for Gudas in the off-season, the Capitals had an opening at the second pair right shot that has yet to be filled consistently, with Jensen taking Gudas’s spot next to Dmitry Orlov.
Gudas said he didn’t think there has been one game this season that the pairs have stayed throughout.
“I think the chances we are getting, we are trying to live up to expectations as much as we can,” Gudas said of himself and Jensen. “I don’t think there was a game from us that we weren’t really wanting it or showing it. It is just up to the coaches how they feel. We are both prepared on being the guy, but we understand there are other roles on the team that need to be filled and we’re both capable.”
Gudas admitted learning a new system takes time, but just 25 games into the season, there “is a long road ahead.”
As for whether the team will look outside to fill the slot, MacLellan said, because of the team’s salary cap crunch “it’s going to be hard to add an impact player. It’s going to be hard to add a high-salary player.”
“I think we like both players, so I think we’re going to make every effort to make it work with the guys we do have,” MacLellan said.
Gudas has been the first player off the boards, along with Jonas Siegenthaler, during the team’s penalty kill, which also has been inconsistent recently because of a handful of injuries and suspensions. Gudas increasingly has been a vocal leader, with players consistently praising his presence. With a mission to improve the penalty kill, the Capitals acquired Jensen at last year’s trade deadline, alongside forward Carl Hagelin, who has been on long-term injured reserve because of an upper body injury and is expected to be back for the team’s game on Dec. 3 at San Jose. Jensen is currently on a four-year, $10-million deal.
Kempny is also still trying to get back to where he was before tearing a hamstring in March. Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he believes Kempny has a strong impact, despite inconsistencies. Usually paired with Carlson, Kempny brings an added level of skating ability, which benefits the Capitals’ new, aggressive system. Reirden praised Kempny’s game against Philadelphia on Nov. 13, with his “ability to cover some area of the ice behind John with speed.”
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