There are many ways to win consistently in the NHL. One of those can be by having the right talent, another by having a great system and sticking to it. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether it’s offense or defense-oriented or a little of both, a team with a solid approach that plays it well game-after-game can sometimes make up for talent issues on a roster. And even teams with the best players need a good plan.
In this lockout-shortened season that came without a proper training camp and preseason, it’s apparent that the Washington Capitals could have used that time to learn their new coach’s system. It’s also clear that Adam Oates and the Caps could use a bit more talent in certain areas, one of them being within the six forwards on their first two lines.
With the Caps coming off a 4-0 win in Winnipeg Thursday night, now might seem like an odd time to talk about one of the areas where the team is lacking. But, if the Caps keep winning and make the playoffs or even just miss it, the issue could rear its head again. And, going into next season, it will likely need to be addressed for the team to become a true threat.
In their top six forwards, the Caps have three very talented skill players in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro. They also have several wingers who are top six material as a compliment to these players.
For example, Brooks Laich, just back from an injury, is a talented and capable left wing that the team can try pairing up with the Ovechkin-Backstrom duo. 22 year-old Marcus Johansson has struggled to develop further as a player while showing promise at times in his still-young NHL career, but he may be another who can be plugged in alongside Backstrom and Ovechkin as he was on Thursday.
Matt Hendricks has also been tried on the top line, though he may deliver better value skating on a lower one. And it appears that Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera are done, at least presently, getting time with the top unit.
On the second line with Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer is a solid choice at right wing. With 11 goals and 21 points in 29 games this season, Brouwer is putting up numbers that justify his $3.6 million cap hit and the move the team made to acquire him two summers ago.
On the left side of the second line, Oates can plug-in any number of players, such as he did with Laich last night while skating Johnasson in that spot on the top line. Eric Fehr is also an option as are some others. However, with their current roster of players, it is here on that left side of Ribeiro that the Caps run into the hole in their top six.
Washington has good players that can be used in this second line role, but they are guys that, when put in a top six spot, should mostly be used to complement a skilled duo. The top line currently has Backstrom and Ovechkin. The second has Ribeiro and needs someone else in the highly skilled department, even with Brouwer putting up some nice numbers this season.
In past years, the Caps had a legitimate goal-scoring threat on the left side of their second line in Alexander Semin, but he rarely had the opportunity to play with a second line-caliber center. The Caps now have that center in Ribeiro, but let Semin go and have yet to properly replace him.
Should Washington play well the next week or so and decide to become buyers at this season’s April 3 trade deadline, a deal for a sniping or highly skilled left wing should be high on their list. And going into October and the 2013-14 season, it’s an issue they should eliminate if they are to become a top team again.
The Caps could get by without this player, if they execute Oates’ system consistently. But even then, to take the team’s play to the next level and make them tougher to shut down, the Caps could use someone to fill this gap in their top six.
- The case for trading Mike Ribeiro (brookslaichyear.com)
- A look at next season’s Washington Capitals defense and Jeff Schultz (brookslaichyear.com)
- Soon might be the time for Caps to trade goaltender Michal Neuvirth (brookslaichyear.com)
Some of the Caps fanbase on Twitter and other social media outlets seems a bit uneasy about the fact that the Caps have not yet made a big splash in the free agency market. While certain players may have made some sense (i.e. PA Parenteau), I’m in no way bothered by the Caps lack of activity thus far. I would rather the team save the cap space to address needs at a date later than July 1st than rashly fill a hole in a manner that will likely prove to be inadequate or with a contract that will become regrettable. That being said, there are holes on this roster that need to be fixed, most notably, a winger to replace Alex Semin on the second line.
The Caps filled a major hole on the roster by acquiring Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars. However, with the impending departure of Semin via free agency, the Caps still have some work to do in terms of their top 2 lines. Given the lack of top-6 talent on the free agent market, the Caps may be best served to make a deal for a winger to play on one of the top two lines, which brings us to scenario one…
Trade for Bobby Ryan or a similar player.
This scenario was brought up recently over at Japers’ Rink with the hypothetical package of Dmitri Orlov, Marcus Johansson and a 1st round pick going to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan. For a good debate on the value of that deal, head on over and read the comments section. For my purposes here, I’ll assume the value makes sense for both teams. If this trade were to happen, or one for a player similar to Ryan, the Caps group of forwards would look like this:
Perreault-Backstrom/Ribeiro-Ryan( or similar player)
Is Perreault a top-6 winger? No. But could he be a serviceable option given the quality of the players on his line as well as the quality of the other lines? I would vote yes. The top two lines would have plenty of scoring and prove difficult to play against with physical players such as Ovechkin, Brouwer and a Ryan-type player. I see no question marks with the third and fourth lines listed above, they’d make Dale Hunter proud (and probably be his first and second lines).
However, we can play arm-chair GM all we want, but it doesn’t magically make Bobby Ryan or a similar player available and/or affordable. So what if the Caps can’t bring in a second-line winger? What if the contract or asking price for such a player is currently at a level that will do more harm than good for the Caps? This bring us to scenario 2…
Sign Jason Arnott
This comes with a disclaimer. Ultimately, the Caps need a to acquire a 2W, not Jason Arnott. Without acquiring a winger to play on the second line, the Caps are not legitimate Cup contenders. But what if nothing makes sense? Should the Caps stand pat? Depending on the what’s available, possibly, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. Instead, the Caps should put a band-aid on the situation and wait until a trade for a 2W opens up. A band-aid type fix would involve bringing in a player on a short-term, low-risk deal so as not to handcuff the team should a 2W becomes available. To me, the easiest way to do this is to sign a player to solidify the center spot on the third line to free up Brooks Laich to play wing on the second line. Of all of the available free agents, Jason Arnott strikes me as the player best suited to serve in this role. He’d likely be available on a one-year deal for a reasonable amount of money. The forward lines would then look like this:
I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in this team contending for the Cup, but I don’t think it’d be a disaster over the short term, either. The intention here is to put a band-aid on the 2W situation until a legitimate one hopefully becomes available via trade during the season. This is certainly not an ideal option, but it’s better than signing Player X, who is questionably adequate to play as a 2W for the duration of his contract, to a deal that will be harmful to the team’s cap management.
Regardless of what the Caps end up doing, I like the patient approach they have opted for thus far. Doing nothing to address glaring needs is generally a better approach than addressing those needs in an inadequate or fiscally irresponsible manner. That being said, signing a player such as Arnott makes sense for the short-term. The would allow Laich to fill-in as a 2W while also not handcuffing the team financially when/if a 2W becomes available.
My brother Pat wasn’t happy with Alex Ovechkin’s effort defensively on the Rangers first goal in Game 1 of their second round playoff series. He tweeted, “The listless, one hand on the stick effort in support of his D man who was clearly beaten is not really my thing.”
I hadn’t noticed this during the game. I was mostly focused on watching Artem Anisimov out-muscle Mike Green. But I tend to agree with my brother on this one. Where was the Ovechkin that seems to relish crushing opposing players with an explosive hit? This would have been a great time for one of those. At the very least, just a solid shoulder or a strong poke check might have done the job. I can’t help but wonder if Ovechkin would have had more spring in his step had this instead been an opportunity for a big play in the offensive zone.
Somewhat related to this, Alexander Semin has been demoted to the fourth line for Game 2.
Semin took two penalties in Game 1, one for unwisely retaliating after being slashed by a Ranger player and another for tripping a player while forechecking. The second penalty didn’t bother me much, as it appeared he was going for the puck and got too aggressive.
Caps’ Coach Dale Hunter told reporters regarding Semin, “We need him to score goals for us, we need him to play good on the power play.” (Note: Semin leads the team in both goals and power play goals so far in the playoffs.)
As I said via Twitter earlier today, I don’t care a great deal either way about Semin’s move to the fourth line. Maybe it will pay off through a more balanced set of lines or perhaps it will motivate Semin and we’ll see a big game from him. However, I do find it odd that Semin gets banished to the fourth line, while other highly-skilled offensive players on the team often don’t when they’re guilty of less-than-stellar play. Nor do I think they should necessarily.
For example, Nicklas Backstrom’s lack of hustle cost the Caps a goal in Game 6 against the Bruins (I’m not talking about the game-winning goal that was a result of his turnover and was easier to forgive). Marcus Johannson has been giving the puck away far too often these playoffs with careless passes. Ovechkin took a bad penalty Saturday against the Rangers for tripping, put in a questionable defensive effort on the Ranger goal highlighted above and was kept off the score sheet like Semin, but there’s no way Ovi or Backstrom is going to get demoted to the fourth line—and for good reason. Yet Semin does?
@cmasisak22 Or: Would Semin have made it out of the building alive yesterday if he backchecked like NB19 on G3 and made that turnover on G4?—
(@JapersRink) April 23, 2012
Maybe there’s more to the Semin story than I’m aware of as a spectator who isn’t in the locker room, but the higher standard Semin seems to be held to confuses me. Even the league seemed to have something against the guy when he was the first 40 goal scorer I know of to be left off the All-Star ballot the next season (I don’t mean Semin just didn’t make the game…I mean he scored 40 goals and then you couldn’t even vote for him unless you wrote him in).
NBC’s Pierre McGuire doesn’t give Semin a break, even when he’s scored a goal on more than one occasion right after McGuire calls him out. As NHL.com writer Dave Lozo recently noted, “Alex Semin is the only guy who can score on national TV and have people spend the next 5 minutes questioning why he doesn’t try. Amazing.”
Alex Semin is the only guy who can score on national TV and have people spend the next 5 minutes questioning why he doesn't try. Amazing.—
Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) April 21, 2012
ESPN and Washington Post contributor Neil Greenberg said on Twitter today, “Surprised ppl continue to underappreciate Caps Semin’s contributions beyond points (and off zone penalties). If he walks, tough to replace.” Greenberg also did a statistical analysis last fall about how the criticism of Semin is unfair.
Surprised ppl continue to underappreciate #Caps Semin's contributions beyond points (and off zone penalties). If he walks, tough to replace—
Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) April 30, 2012
I don’t deny that there are occasions when Semin is—like many players—deserving of some criticism. However, I find it odd that other key Caps make mistakes and it doesn’t become half the story it does when Semin isn’t playing the way people would like him to.
But putting all that aside, if the demotion of Semin to the fourth line for tonight’s game results in a two-goal night, Hunter’s a genius.
- BrooksLaichyear’s Pat Holden talks Alex Semin on The Mike Wise Show (brookslaichyear.com)
- “I don’t think the criticism in the past has been really justified” (brookslaichyear.com)
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.
- Three things that have to improve for the Washington Capitals in the “second half” (brookslaichyear.com)
Whether George McPhee’s job hangs in the balance over what the Caps do the rest of the season is pure speculation. However, I know this: If I am George McPhee, I’d be approaching this trade deadline as if my job does hang in the balance. The regression of this team over the past two years has been drastic and, if they miss the playoffs this season, the changes in the organization before training camp next year could be as well.
The Caps won’t be trading for Rick Nash
Stop. No way. 0% chance. I’m not even sure why the possibility of this happening has even been mentioned. I thought the Prince Fielder to the Orioles rumors would take the cake for the most unrealistic local sports talk for the next few years. Turns out those rumors have been topped. First of all, the asking price is sure to be something far beyond what would make sense for the Caps. I’d guess it’d start with a 1st round pick, Carlson/Orlov/Alzner (pick one) and a young center who wears #90 (more on him in a bit). That right there is way too much and I’m not convinced that would get it done. More importantly, acquiring Rick Nash would do nothing to even remotely address what this team needs. The last thing the Caps need is another winger, even if that winger is an elite player.
The Caps should trade for Jeff Carter
This Carter-to-Caps talk has come up a lot recently, but for good reason. It makes sense. I’ve been a huge proponent of McPhee’s general trade deadline philosophy of bringing in the right part at the right time for the right price. He hasn’t given up valuable long-term assets, hasn’t locked the club into any long/bad contracts all while making moves that seemed to adequately address what the team needs. However, the 2nd line center issue has become the Achilles heel for a team that just can’t seem to get over the hump when it matters. Eric Belanger, Jason Arnott and Sergei Fedorov all made sense and were in line with the philosophy spelled out above. The problem is none of these guys put the team over the hump and now this team stands in danger of missing the playoffs and that could very well cost McPhee his job. So, while a guy like Saku Koivu or Derek Roy involves a lot less risk for the Caps, it is in line with an approach we have seen fail repeatedly. The time has come for McPhee to stop making the safe and smart play at the deadline and make a bold all-in type move.
The Caps should not consider trading away any of their top 4 young d-men
True, John Carlson has had a rough year. And yes, the day will eventually come when the Caps can’t afford Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitri Orlov and Mike Green. But that day is not today and the Caps have time until their hand is forced on this issue. They do run the risk of holding onto an asset only to see it depreciate in value but I’m willing to take that risk when it comes to these 4 guys. These 4, and a couple other players, would be the untouchables if I’m George McPhee.
The Capitals should consider trading Marcus Johansson
Keep reading. Even if you disagree, in the end you may at least understand that I’m not insane to suggest this. First and foremost, I’m not advocating trading Johnansson. However, I’m also not willing to take the idea off the table under all circumstances. One of those circumstances is a deal that brings the Caps a player who could fill the 2C spot for at least the next five years (see: Carter, Jeff). I wouldn’t trade Johansson for Koivu, Roy or any other possible short-term fix at 2C. I’d only advocate trading our likely future 2C if in return we get a 2C who is the closest thing to an instant sure-fix as you can get. Yes, we’d miss him. Yes, he could become the 2C that we’ve longed for for entirely too long. But the simple fact right now is that Johansson is not a solution at 2C and Jeff Carter is. To be clear, I’m not even suggesting we dangle Johansson as bait for Carter. What I am saying is that if his inclusion in a package for Carter was a make or break thing for the Blue Jackets, I’d make the deal.
It will be very interesting to see what McPhee does over the next couple of weeks. The one thing that appears to be certain is that it’ll be anything but boring.
Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson has been taking some heat for his play lately, and understandably so.
As Adam Vingan of Kings of Leonsis points out, “in the month of January, the Caps allowed 32 total goals against. John Carlson was on the ice for 22 of them.” Looking as far back as the coaching change the Caps made in November, Japers’ Rink notes: “By my count, John Carlson has been on the ice for 42 of the 67 goals allowed under Dale Hunter. That’s staggering.” Carlson was nearly on the ice for another goal in Tuesday night’s overtime loss to Tampa, but Tomas Vokoun came up what some (we) are calling the save of the year.
There’s one goal though—an empty netter by Florida on Wednesday night to put the Panthers up 4-2—that Carlson deserves less blame for than he’s been getting from some Caps fans on Twitter. As the video clip below shows, a poor pass by Marcus Johansson played a large role in allowing the Panthers to score their fourth goal and put the game away.
The video begins as a pass from
an unidentifiable Washington player Roman Hamrlik hops over Johannsson’s stick near center ice and, as Johannsson reaches it near the boards, he attempts to knock it back to Carlson. Even if Johansson makes a clean pass there, Carlson would have little time to do much with the puck, given how close the Panthers’ Shawn Matthias is.
Johansson would have likely been better off sending the puck left and off the boards toward the offensive zone, rather than trying to send it back to Carlson. The play also could have turned out better if Carlson had stepped up toward the red line and fired the puck into the offensive zone himself before Johansson got there, though he may have been playing somewhat cautiously knowing the net behind him was empty.
Going back to
the unidentifiable Washington player Hamrlik, who made the initial pass to Johansson, a better decision could have been made there on what to do with the puck; other Caps were open and skating with the puck rather than passing it really might have been the best idea for that player. But when Johansson eventually does end up getting to that puck, he needs to make a quick decision that better protects it. His attempt to pass back to Carlson was careless and not a crisp one on top of that.
Improved communication and decision-making all around would have helped on this play. This breakdown is also a reminder that, though Johansson and Carlson play big roles on this Capitals team—particularly with Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom injured—they still have a relatively small number of NHL games played between them (Carlson 154; Johansson, 117). Eventually, with enough experience under their belts, they might act better on instinct in these situations.
On the topic of instinct, it sometimes seems it’s a sports fan’s tendency to quickly fault one player when something goes wrong while they’re in the game. Jeff Schultz and Alex Semin are two with which this happens often for the Caps, and for good reason in some cases. But the things that go wrong in some instances are often more complicated than something a single player did. Though Carlson is struggling right now, on this play from Wednesday night there are other players that deserve blame, Johansson especially. The finger should not always get pointed solely at the easy goat of the moment.
- Capitals vs. Panthers: Washington falls from NHL Southeast Division lead with loss (washingtonpost.com)
- Panthers Dominate Capitals, 4-2 (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Real American Growing Pains (hockeyhourly.com)