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The Caps 3rd and 4th lines must produce or the season is over

Last year, the Caps watched enviously as Tampa Bay Lightening role player Sean Bergenheim scored 4 goals to help lead the Bolts to a sweep of the Caps.  Bergenheim’s heroics, coupled with the Caps lack of scoring from their grinder lines, led to moves in the offseason that were intended to give the Caps 3rd and 4th lines more of a scoring punch, especially come playoff time.  Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward were signed.  A trade was made to bring in Troy Brouwer, with the thought that he’d either play on the 3rd line or push Mike Knuble down the depth chart to strengthen the lower lines.  Unfortunately for the Caps, the lack of secondary scoring remains.   Here is a look at the Caps production (or lack thereof) from the bottom 2 lines through 3 games against Boston.

Man Games      Goals        Assists         +/-           SOG

18                    0                  0               -9            18

These numbers include the 5 players (Aucoin, Perreault, Ward, Hendricks and Beagle) who have spent all 3 games on the bottom two lines as well as a game each from Brouwer (Game 3), Chimera (Game 2) and Johansson (Game 1).  Beagle has 8 of the 18 shots. Perreault and Aucoin, two-thirds of the 4th line, have combined for 1 shot and a -3 rating.  How can we blame Joel Ward for not producing when these are his partners?  Ward never did and never will carry a line, so he must play with guys who are going to carry their own weight.

Perreault took some good strides this year when playing as our 2C, but the Caps have opted to go with more size on the top lines against the Bruins, leaving Perreault on the 4th line, a role he is ill-suited for.  Perreault either needs to be playing on one of the top two lines or be out of the lineup for a player (i.e. Jeff Halpern) who’s skill set is better suited for a checking line role.

Of all of Hunter’s questionable coaching decisions, giving Aucoin a jersey over Knuble, against an opponent like the Bruins, may be the most perplexing. If ever there was a time when we need to #freeknuble, it is Thursday night at Verizon Center.  The Capitals (much like any team this time of year) will be hitting the golf course sooner rather than later if they don’t get production from the 3rd and 4th lines.  So, Caps fans, who ya got, Knuble or Aucoin?  Perreault or Halpern?  I’m certainly hoping there are two different faces in the lineup for the Caps come Thursday night.

Looking back on Winnipeg, looking forward to Chicago

There was a lot of talk after the Caps 3-2 loss in Winnipeg last night about a possible suspension for a Jets player and a stick-holding incident, but there were a couple of things that bothered me more than either of these because they were within the Caps control:

  • Why was Troy Brouwer sent out to take the offensive zone faceoff at the start of the Caps PP with 2:22 remaining in the game and the Caps down a goal?  The Caps lost the draw and the puck was cleared, ticking off the first 20 seconds or so of a PP with the game on the line.  One reason for this, directly or indirectly, is the decision to scratch Jeff Halpern. It’s doubtful that Halpern, who is one of the top faceoff men in the league, would have been out because of the PP and the need for a late goal.  However,  him not being in the lineup pushes everyone up a spot on the faceoff depth chart that led to a winger, who took one other faceoff the entire game, on the dot at a crucial time in the game.  Mathieu Perreault was also on the ice, and may have been tossed out before the CSN camera panned to the dot, but the fact that Brouwer was even put in that spot, whether being first or second choice, is questionable coaching.
  • The Caps were rightfully upset with Mark Stuart for his high and late hit on Marcus Johansson in the 1st period.  Unfortunately, we only came to find out after the game that the Caps were upset, since there was absolutely no visible response from the Caps during the game.  Is this team aware that you don’t have to wait for a player to be traded to Montreal in order to respond to a dirty play on a teammate?  The Caps and Jets meet again next Friday and there may be a response then, but why didn’t that happen last night? That’s the kind of hit where I’m okay with a Caps player immediately charging at Stuart and risk giving the Jets a five minute PP.
  • Let’s be totally clear about this, Caps fans:  “Crosby Sucks!” is not an appropriate chant on Friday when the Jets visit DC.  I’ll be at the game and will personally remove anyone from the arena who participates in this.

Overall, I’m still upbeat about the Caps chances of making the playoffs.  There is plenty to like about the way the Caps have played in this most recent stretch of games.  Additionally, Nicklas Backstrom has been skating and ramping up his workouts.  While no return date has even been discussed yet, this is significant progress for the Caps number one pivot.

The Caps now look forward to the Blackhawks in Chicago on Sunday night.  Almost two years ago to the day, on a Sunday in Chicago, Backstrom provided the Caps with a thrilling overtime goal to end a game that is one my favorite post-lockout Caps memories.

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