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Sunday, January 5, 2014

What's Up with the Caps?

I was going to write you a long explanation about how this little losing streak would blow over, but Russian Machine Never Breaks already did a wonderful explanation of that.

Everything has basically come down to bad luck recently.  The Caps are playing pretty solid hockey, but just aren't getting the results.  In fact, it has become so brutally obvious when these little losing streaks happen, that you know they are going to happen.

In fact, I'm willing to bet it's not over just yet.  But, once it is, I'm also willing to bet the Caps string together quite a few wins.

But take last night as an example of their recent play.  Washington held the Wild to only 11 shots and surrendered five goals.  A point blank goal from Nino Niederreiter, a 5 on 3 power play goal from Ryan Suter, a power play goal just a few seconds later, a power play goal from Jason Zucker and a 2-on-1 goal from Ryan Suter.

Should Holtby have had some of these?  Probably, and he would be the first to tell you that.  But, you have to remember, this is a goaltender who hasn't been on the ice since December 21st.  He played in just five games in the month of December.  Holtby's confidence is not high right now.  But to say that he is done and he will never be the same is foolish.  Goaltenders save percentages do not fluctuate all that much.  If they are a goalie who saves .910 of the shots they face, that pretty much stays consistent throughout their career.  Same if they are .920 or .899.  Sometimes, they are bound to have an extremely good year, like Sergei Bobrovsky, who posted a .932 save percentage last year, but now is back to just .909, which is much closer to his seasonal average of his past.  Sometimes they are bound to have a bad year, like Henrik Lundqvist this year, who has consistently hovered around the .920 save percentage, but is just posting a .905 now.  Martin Brodeur has been consistently around .910, Marc-Andre Fleury has been consistently hovering around the upper .910's.  You get my point.  Holtby's has been consistently in the .920 range, which is excellent.  He doesn't have as large of a sample size as some of these other goaltenders, but it is large enough to say that we have a pretty solid goaltender in Holtby.  He's good now, with a pretty solid chance at being an excellent goaltender.  His save percentage this season?  .910.  Not great, just alright.  But, considering in his last four games he hasn't posted anything even remotely close to a .900 (in fact, his save percentage in his last four games is a shocking .723), I wouldn't judge Holtby on his last four or five games, but instead all of his other games in the past.   He knows it's just a confidence thing.  So, if I was Oates, I'd play him.  I'd play him a lot.  I would play him consistently until he does have that confidence back.  Because while Philipp Grubauer has been playing great hockey, I'd take Holtby's sample size over Grubauer's any day.  And that's not taking anything away from Grubauer, because I think he will be a great goalie for us, but I think it will be much more important for us to get a confident Holtby back for the near future. What I see is a goalie that has zero confidence.  I see a goalie that has seen a guy who is younger than him take over his reins, and he has lost some confidence.  So just play him.  Play him until he gets out of his funk.

There's my goaltender rant.

But there are other issues on the ice that frustrate me.  Issues that hold us back from being just an above average team to a great team.  Here is what I'm seeing that is separating us from the best, line by line.

First Line - (No one) - Backstrom - Ovechkin:  Backstrom and Ovechkin are about as good as you can get on your first line.  Everyone knows those two are among the best in the league at what they do.  But we don't have anyone that can play on the first line at left wing.  Sure,  you can say Marcus Johansson belongs there, but he really doesn't.  To compliment Backstrom and Ovechkin, you need a guy that can get dirty goals in front of the net, rebounds off of Ovechkin shots.  Johansson does not do that at all.  He has one even strength goal.  That's one more even strength goal than Tom Wilson, who only plays 7:02 minutes a game.  Now, I can't find the statistics, but I would love to see the number of Mojo's 12 even strength assists are primary assists (seriously, if you know the answer, I'd really like to know).  Because I highly doubt that more than 50% of those assists are primary when he's playing with Backstrom (A big thank you to Miguel Mora, who found that Mojo has 15 primary assists of his 22 total, which honestly shocks me).  The first line needs a smart winger who gets dirty goals, and can make up for Ovechkin's God-awful defense, like Mike Knuble was able to do.  I'm willing to bet that Mojo will not be apart of this team when Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky roll into town in the future.  There is just really no need for him after next season.

Could Burakovsky be the future
second liner we need?
Second Line - (No one) - Grabovski - Brouwer:  I'm a big fan of Troy Brouwer.  I think he's a tough power forward who plays the game extremely well.  I do like Grabovski as well, but he's a poor mans second line center.  He can do it adequately, but not exceptionally.  Great teams have two great centers.
We don't.  We have one great one and one good one.  That's it.  The second line needs a big scoring threat.  Plain and simple.  You need two lines capable of scoring every time we are on the ice.  Look at the Chicago Blackhawks.  They can alternate Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on their second line, all of who are huge scoring threats.  Which is exactly why I thought it was a mistake to get rid of Alexander Semin when we did.  We never found a goal scoring replacement.  Hopefully in the near future, we do find one.  Could it be Burakovsky?

Third Line - Chimera - Laich - Ward:  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this line.

Fourth - (No one) - (No one, maybe Latta) - Fehr:  This line is an absolute disaster.  A fourth line needs to play smart defense, and grinding hockey.  No one does that.  Martin Erat just hates this team, Volpatti is one of the worst Caps forwards we've had in a while, Beagle doesn't really do anything and putting Tom Wilson on this roster this year was a mistake.  Erat just needs to be traded, plain and simple.  You don't have a guy on the team that doesn't want to be there.  Just get rid of him.  Volpatti is absolutely useless.  There is a reason Vancouver did not care if anyone picked him off of waivers.  With Beagle's face off abilities, he might be useful, but he's just not good enough defensively.  Wilson is going to be great for us one day.  But he's just not playing the right role, and he's not ready for the role he should be in.  He could, not even close to know, but could, play that power forward role on the first line.  This is a guy who put up 58 points in 48 games for the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL.  But all he's doing is hitting guys and getting in fights.  Which is great, but he is doing nothing else.  Can you even remember the last time he possessed the puck and skated forward?  I really can't think of a significant time.  It was a mistake letting him play right now, and hopefully it wasn't too costly.

First Line Defense - Alzner - Carlson:  Nothing wrong with these two, all though as far as shutdown defensemen go, they could improve.

Second Line Defense - (No one) - Green:  Everyone knew at the start of this season that we did not have a very good defense.  We don't have that big defenseman that can lock guys up.  Instead, we have a bunch of small puck moving defensemen that get us into bad situations every once in a while.  Green is one of them.  He can do so much offensively, but he has become a bit of a hazard when it comes to defense.  He has gotten much better than he used to be, but it is still pretty awful.  He misplays odd man rushes, he sometimes loses his man.  But, he makes himself worthwhile because of what he can do offensively.  And while he's having an off year, he has seen a three goals in his past five games.  Maybe he's coming back a little bit.  Hopefully he's coming back a little bit.  But, we really don't have any guy that can step into the second line defensive role.

Third Line Defense - Orlov - (No one, maybe Oleksy):  Dmitry Orlov is a smart young defenseman. His only issue is that he is not very big.  He has mental lapses, especially on the recent overtime period
against Carolina.  I think he would make an excellent third line defenseman.  I like Oleksy because I think he's the only mean defenseman we have, but it is relatively easy to find someone who is mean, can play third line minutes, and is all around better than Oleksy.  It would be a much better situation to have Oleksy play the 7th defenseman role.

The issue is that these things can't be solved by the snap of a finger.  I think it can start by getting rid of the cancers of this team, Erat and Michal Neuvirth, and seeing what we can get in return.  Again, probably won't solve everything instantly.  But it's a start.  But what I see right now, with the players that we have in the positions right this very second, we have a playoff team.  Not a great one, but a playoff team nonetheless.  But on March 5th, the trade deadline, I would think that this would be a relatively busy time for Mr. McPhee, and moving some guys around and bringing in some new ones might be exactly what this team needs.

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