Carl Hagelin: Caps can still tighten up defensively

Chris Lingebach
November 07, 2019 - 7:34 pm
Caps are relying too much on their goaltenders, Carl Hagelin says

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals are well aware of their dominance thus far in the 2019-20 season, but that doesn't mean there are parts about their game that need cleaning up.

One area they can improve, Carl Hagelin says, even amidst their spate of winning, is their defense.

"I think we've found ways in certain games to win games and I think other games were definitely deserved over 60 minutes," Hagelin said during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance, presented by F.H. Furr.

"It's cliche, but I think for us it's a matter of playing well defensively for 60 minutes," he said. "We have our lapses throughout a game where we give up way too many chances and we rely on our goalies a little too much. Good thing both of our goalies have played well for us, but I think as a team, we can definitely tighten up a little defensively."

Asked what tightening up defensively entails, Hagelin elaborated, "I think it's a mix of many different things. I think it starts with being smart with the puck."

"I think early on in games we've done a good job of getting pucks deep and not trying to be too fancy around the blue lines," he said. "And all of a sudden we seem to put pressure on the other team and spend a lot of time in their zone. And then maybe if we're up one or two goals going into the second, all of a sudden we try more difficult plays, I guess. It happens. It's just nature, I guess.

"However, all of a sudden the other team starts getting some good looks out of nowhere and they get confidence from that, and they start playing better and we kind of end up on our heels. I think just being more aware of what we're doing over 60 minutes and being smart with the puck, because when we do that, we're hard to contain."

The Caps played hockey on almost as many nights as there were days in October, including a brutal seven-game swing that included a five-game road trip through Chicago and Canada. Coming into Thursday's game against Florida, the Caps were finally able to get some honest downtime, with four days between games. While playing night in and night out can seem blinding, too much rest and one might worry about staying sharp.

Asked about that balance, and if it's difficult to stay sharp, Hagelin said, "Both yes and no. It's a little mental, too, you know? I think as a player, you want to be sharp and you want to play a lot of games, but at the same time, we played a lot of games here in October and I think it's key for us to get some rest and work on certain things in practice."

"Because that's the one thing you don't get to do when you play that many games," he said. "You don't get to practice and work on some of the systems. Obviously we've been successful, even though we haven't done it, but I think in the long run it's important to get those days in between."

Asked who's impressed him the most this season, Hagelin tapped defenseman Michael Kempny.

"I think Kempny's been great since he came back," said Hagelin. "I think ever since he came back into the lineup we've been very steady, and obviously he's put up points offensively, but he's one of those guys you love having on your team. He works hard every single shift and he does whatever it takes to win games. We're fortunate to have a guy like that, so he's definitely the guy that's impressed me the most.

"Obviously only got to play with him maybe 15 games last year before he got hurt, so it's good to see him back on the ice and be a part of it."

The Caps lost Kempny to a torn hamstring just before the playoffs last March and his absence didn't go unnoticed in their first-round loss to Carolina. Washington was careful with Kempny coming off such a serious injury, easing him back into the lineup in the early part of October, as Kempny didn't dress for the first eight regular-season games.

The training wheels are off and Kempny's back to being a nightly contributor, registering nine points on three goals and six assists in his eight games this season, including a two-goal night in the Caps' pivotal four-goal comeback in Vancouver on Oct. 25, and a three-assist night in last Friday's 6-1 win over Buffalo.

Hagelin starts at the 30:45 mark below.