Three things that have to improve for the Washington Capitals in the “second half”

Yesterday I wrote about the three things to like about the “first half” so today I’ll look at the three things that have to improve as the “second half” begins.

#1-Road play

The Caps have amassed a record of 47-25-10 on the road over the previous two seasons, good for 1.27 standing points per game.  This season the Caps are 8-13-2 on the road, a clip of 0.78 standing points per game.  The week before the break did provide a solid 3-0 road win in Montreal as well as a gutsy point in Pittsburgh.  The same week also saw a 3-0 loss in Carolina in which the overall effort and result was something that feels all too familiar this season, especially away from Verizon Center. Two goals were allowed in the final minute of a period, the shot total was too low and the power play made us wish we could decline penalties.  With 19 of their final 34 games away from home, seven of which are against Southeast Division opponents, the effort and results on the road HAVE to get better.

#2-Tougher presence in front of our own net

Honestly, I’d like a tougher presence on the ice in general from this team as a whole (like, you know, sticking up for your leading scorer in the game he was ACTUALLY elbowed in instead of addressing the issue 2 weeks later when given the opportunity by luck of a trade), but the issue more specifically needs to be addressed in front of our own net.  If you take a look at generally any game and compare the treatment of opposing players in front of our net to the treatment we are given in front of our opponent’s net, you will see what I consider to be an inexcusable difference.

The aforementioned 3-0 win over Montreal left me feeling more frustrated than even a typical loss because of this very issue.  Yes, this is just one game, but it is all too often a theme throughout many games this year.   At the 6:13 mark of the 3rd period, Michal Neuvirth covers a puck and is poked not once, not twice but three times.  The response?  Karl Alzner gently ushers Rene Bourque (yes THAT Rene Bourque) away from the net.  It might just be me, but I’d prefer the that the treatment of opposing players in front of the Caps net never be something that could even possibly be described as gentle.

Later in the game Mathieu Darche gives Matt Hendricks a shove in his lower back that sent Hendricks into his own goalie.  For a minute, as you can see in the video, the Caps look as if they are thinking about taking issue with this.  Darche then says something to Hendricks and cooler heads prevail.  So an opponent can just explain his way out of throwing Hendricks into our goalie?  If this type of reaction was an exception and not the rule, I’d be willing to let it go.  Unfortunately, this type of reaction seems to be the rule.

I was still complaining aloud about that incident when Erik Cole decided to jab his stick at Neuvirth as he covered the puck, hitting the goalie in the head with his stick in the process.  Neuvirth is staring daggers at Cole as he skates away while the 5 guys who should rush to his defense don’t even bat an eyelash.  We may as well set up lawn chairs and serve cocktails in front of our own net.  A rum and coke, you say?  A Washington player will be with you shortly.

In all seriousness, though, this is an issue that has driven me mad about this team for years. On the day Dale Hunter was hired Brooks Laich talked about wanting this team to become, if nothing else, a team that opponents hated to play against.  If this is to happen then our treatment of opponents in front of our net and protection of our goalie has to get better.  I understand that some players play a grittier style than others and generally only certain players fight, but making the area around your own net an unfriendly place to be is a responsibility every hockey player should willingly fulfill, regardless of his role on the team.

#3-Depth at Center

Injuries at center have not helped this issue but there were problems here even before Mathieu “Hat Trick” Perreault began centering our #1 line.  A 2010-11 season preview over at Japers’ Rink refers to the 2nd line center issue as “lingering”.  If 18 months ago this issue had been around long enough to be considered “lingering” then at this point it’s fair to call it chronic.

If someone could let George McPhee know that in NHL ’12 I traded Alexander Semin and Jeff Schultz for Ryan Getzlaf, our problems could be solved.  Clearly the Ducks will take a pending UFA and a guy that has been a healthy scratch for all of 2012 for their #1 center, right?  Too bad Brendan Morrison was just dealt to Chicago or else the Caps could mistakenly try him out as the second line center again.

Adam over at Kings of Leonsis recently mentioned Jeff Carter as a possible trade target.  An intriguing name that has some potential red flags but, without question, would put an end to a talk about the Caps lack of depth at center.  He also mentioned Derek Roy, who might make more sense from a fiscal perspective.

And with that, we begin the post All-Star break portion of the season.  Now, if George McPhee could just find a 2nd line center who protects the front of the net and is a great road player…

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About Pat Holden

Pat writes regularly about hockey on Brooks Laichyear and Russian Machine Never Breaks. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com and The Washington Post. You can follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pfholden

Posted on January 30, 2012, in Washington Capitals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What would you think about trading Semin to New Jersey straight up for Parise?

    • Not sure I see either team wanting to do that. For the Caps, it doesn’t do anything to address any sort of need, it just swaps out one talented winger for another. The Devils would get a player who has been less productive this season and they don’t know how he’d fit in there. They at least know what they have with Parise.

      • I see it is getting rid of a malcontent in exchange for a talented winger (who can also play center I thought?), and I predict Jersey would anticipate Semin having chemistry with Kovulchuck. Perhaps Semin to Columbus for Carter, if Columbus is desperate enough. But I really don’t know if Carter would be a good return unless he came with a high draft pick.

      • I would rather us deal for a 2nd line player we can afford to keep long term than a first line player like Parise who is UFA after the season and likely too expensive for us to keep on board in the future with the guys we’ll want to retain. Awesome player, but I would rather the Caps address a few areas of need instead.
        Columbus gave up a lot for Carter and he is signed for the next 37 decades. I don’t see Columbus trading him straight up for a guy who can (and would) walk when the season is over. There are reasons to be skeptical of Carter (injuries, length of deal etc) and plenty of reasons why getting him would make some sense. I don’t see a draft pick swaying that value, whatever that value is. We would be the one giving up pick(s) and young players in that trade.

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