Defenseman Brenden Dillon, who was acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday afternoon in exchange for a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2021, will arrive in Washington later this afternoon, according to GM Brian MacLellan. It is unclear whether he will debut when the Washington Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night (7 PM ET, NBCSN nationally or NBC Sports Washington locally). MacLellan discussed the acquisition, the NHL Trade Deadline, the big offseason looming, and more with the media on Wednesday.
“He’s got playoff experience, a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy. I think add a lot of energy in our room and out on the ice, a physical presence. Checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed,” MacLellan said. He added that he is fine with two left-handed shots as a pair.
After acquiring Dillon, MacLellan sounded satisfied with the Capitals’ defense, which ranks 29th with a 3.48 goals-against per game average since December 23 and has allowed 41 goals in their past 11 games. “I think we wanted to [add a top-four defenseman] anyway,” he said. The Capitals ranked eighth with an average of 2.76 goals-against per game on December 23.
“I think [whole] team defense should be more the focus of the criticism. I think our forwards contribute to the pressure that’s put on our [defense] … I think our team game is off, and that results in poor defensive efforts from basically our team,” he told the media.
“I think we have a good team that’s not playing the right way,” MacLellan said.
MacLellan said that he envisions Dillon playing in the Capitals’ top-four defensive corps with either John Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. He will leave it up to head coach Todd Reirden to figure out where he is placed in the lineup. Dillon can play either side on defense. “There are a lot of combinations we could try,” MacLellan said.
“He’s a good skater for his size, he can play and he’s a good size for us,” MacLellan added of Dillon. “I think it’s a good fit,” he said of Dillon, coming over from a team that lost in the Western Conference Final last season to one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
MacLellan called all of the prices around the NHL leading up to the trade deadline “reasonable” and expected to give up what he had to to get Dillon from the Sharks. He acknowledged that for players on the market who are not eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, “you have to pay extra.”
On whether the Capitals are done dealing, MacLellan said that “We’re going to pursue anything that will make us better.” He will continue to talk to teams as Monday’s trade deadline nears and will consider anything if it makes sense. “We’re going to [consider] whatever calls we get,” he said.
“I think our team game is off and that results in poor defensive efforts from our team. … I think one thing that’s frustrated me is our play in front of our own net and I think [Dillon helps with that].
MacLellan thought the Capitals “have a fair amount” of cap space and will try to make some moves work under the salary cap.
He called defensemen Nick Jensen and Michal Kempny’s play “good at times” but “inconsistent,” which has been a struggle for the team at times.
On the team’s recent 11-11-0 stretch, MacLellan said there’s a little “cheat in our game” and that’s not going to work against strong neutral zone, structured teams. “I don’t think we’re playing the right way. … We’re not willing to do the things to counter that. … It’s a team effort… everyone needs to step in and play a team game,” he said.
“We’re not playing the way we have to against those [structured] teams [and we’re playing a lot of them right now]. We’re turning pucks over at the blue line, not getting in on the forecheck. We’re not playing the way you have to against a structured team. … It’s frustrating but a process,” MacLellan continued.
On goaltender Braden Holtby, MacLellan said “He looks confident. On the road trip, I thought he looked excellent all three games. Played real well and it’s a good sign for our team going forward.” When asked if the 30-year-old, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has been outplayed by rookie Ilya Samsonov this season, will stay with the team beyond the trade deadline, MacLellan responded, “He’s our guy… we want him on the top of his game by the end of the year.”
MacLellan told the media that the play of Samsonov, who is 20th in the NHL with a .917 save percentage and tied for tenth with a 2.38 goals-against average, will not impact his approach with Holtby after the season. “He’s been great but only in his first year,” he said.
On captain Alex Ovechkin, who has been held scoreless in five straight games since scoring a hat-trick in 4:24 in the third period of the Capitals’ 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on February 4 and 14 in seven games, remaining at 698 career NHL goals, he said, “Everyone wants him to get it but it’s better to play our game and let it happen organically. … If we play the right way, he’ll get it sooner rather than later.”
MacLellan said that there have been no contract discussions with defenseman Radko Gudas, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and leads the Capitals with a +19 rating this season.
You can watch the full interview below:
By Harrison Brown