- The Washington Times
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

ARLINGTON — If there’s a theme to the Washington Capitals‘ acquisitions since last offseason — Garnet Hathaway, Radko Gudas and now Brenden Dillon — it’s players that are “not fun to play against.”

That’s how coach Todd Reirden described Dillon one day after the Capitals acquired the defenseman from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick and a conditional 2021 third-round pick.

Adding the 6-foot-4, 225-pound blueliner gives Washington another physical piece in its pursuit of playing “heavy” hockey this season. Dillon is ninth in the NHL this year with 178 hits.

More to the point, Dillon, 29, gives the Capitals a new top-4 defenseman to work into the mix as they try to grapple with their recent defensive deficiencies.

“He’s got playoff experience, he’s a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy,” general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters Wednesday. “I think he’ll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He’s a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed.”

Dillon did not practice with the Capitals Wednesday as he traveled from California to the District. It is uncertain whether he’ll be ready to make his team debut Thursday when the Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens.

“We’ll see what time he ends up getting in today from travel and everything,” Reirden said. “I think if possible we’d like to get him in there tomorrow … The next three games are important and just want to get him in there as quick as possible so he’s up to speed with what we want to do systematically.”

The question becomes where Dillon will fit. Both Reirden and MacLellan said they could see Dillon pairing up with either John Carlson on the first pair or Dmitry Orlov on the second — implying that Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen are the blueliners in danger of losing some minutes.

Dillon is a left-shot defenseman who has played very little on the right side, so a simple swap for Jensen is not the likely answer. Orlov told reporters he would feel comfortable moving from the left side to the right to accommodate Dillon.

MacLellan has no qualms about playing two lefties on the same pair.

“I mean, ideally you want a lefty-righty, but that’s not the way the league functions,” MacLellan said. “You could sit here and wait forever for the right-handed shot guy. I think you gotta make it work. Coaches have to make it work, players have to make it work.”

The general manager — who has now traded for at least one defenseman before the trade deadline in each of his six seasons on the job — said criticism of the Capitals‘ recent defensive lapses should be directed to the entire team, not particularly the blueliners. He believes the “compete level in front of our own net” had become an issue.

“I think there’s a little cheat in our game,” he said. “I think we’re playing teams that are very well-structured in the neutral zone and we’re not willing to do the right things to counteract that. I think we gotta get more in the mindset of we’re willing to play a 1-0 game and we’re not there right now. It’s a team effort.

“The forwards contribute to it, defense contributes to it, and we got to get all on the same page here and play a tighter game.”

The Capitals could still make a deal for a forward before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, but MacLellan said the team was content to have seven defensemen following the trade for Dillon.

As for Dillon, he’ll skate with his new team for the first time Thursday morning before Reirden and the coaching staff evaluate whether he’ll be fresh and ready to play against the Canadiens.

Carlson said he had heard great things about Dillon, who has spent most of the last six seasons in San Jose paired with Brent Burns, one of the league’s top defensemen.

“I think the more you can acclimate (new players) to being themselves and having fun and getting to know everyone, that is the main thing,” Carlson said. “You go out and work hard and good things happen. On-ice stuff gets better as it goes.”

“The hard things to do, the defensive things to do, are always kind of the things that go first when you get into these kind of lulls in the season or whatever, because they’re not the fun things to do,” Braden Holtby added. “Obviously, everyone always wants to score goals. Not everyone always wants to play defense. It’s just human nature. So bringing a guy like (Dillon) in, just the energy, a guy that’s been known to do those things, the hard things, (and) be a leader that way is good.”

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