This just in from the Caps' Preview for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning:
"Possible Line Combos and Defensive Pairings
Tampa Bay Forwards
20-Prospal, 4-Lecavalier, 16-Ward
17-Hlavac, 19-Richards, 26-St. Louis
74-Tarnasky, 24-Karlsson, 21-Darche
29-MacDonald, 77-Gratton, 36-Roy
Tampa Bay Defensemen
Goaltenders: 31-Ramo, 40-Holmqvist
8-Ovechkin, 92-Nylander, 25-Kozlov
43-Fleischmann, 92-Nylander, 28-Semin
18-Pettinger, 21-Laich, 10-Bradley
87-Brashear, 39-Steckel, 53-Laing
Goaltenders: 1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig"
The obvious typo on the line 2 center (should be Backstrom, right?) aside, why Steve Eminger isn't getting some ice time instead of either John Erskine or Jeff Schultz, after their less than stellar performances up on Long Island this week, has got to have many Caps fans, in addition to this writer, wondering what is wrong with the 2002 First Round Draft pick. These thoughts are not an indictment on the seasons that either Erskine or Schultz are having but after Coach Bruce Bodreau had #2 Defenseman Brian Pothier sit a game for less than stellar efforts, the message seemed to be the Caps have eight (seven now with Pothier injured) NHL caliber defenseman and all would get some ice time. Since the Caps named Bodreau Interim Head Coach, they made him permanent today dropping the Interim label in an earlier press release this morning, that mantra has held true for all of the Caps Defenseman, EXCEPT Steve Eminger. Since Eminger's lack of playing time this year pre-dates Boudreau - he wasn't logging a lot of ice time under Coach Glen Hanlon, the conclusion must be that something not apparent to casual observers, has got to be going on.
Eminger is generally believed to be a solid top six defender and the offensive acumen to quarterback the powerplay, that would seem to make him a better fit to fill in for the injured Pothier. Has Jeff Schultz's improved offensive play been what has side-tracked this opportunity for Eminger to get some ice time? Has he been practicing with some sort of unannounced injury that has slowed him? Is he actively on the trading block - if so why? Steve Eminger played 68 games last year for the Caps and had a solid, respectable season. His numbers and play put him entering training camp in solid position with the other Caps defenders who returned from last season, in fact he could have entered camp ranked third or fourth among the Caps Blue Liners. What has happened so that now he is solidly the number seven (7) and the "odd man out" of the lineup? The play of the Caps third pairing of Schultz and Erskine cannot, by any measure, be judged as cause to keep him out of the lineup - in fact the lack of deft mobility by the pairing gave the Islanders several scoring chances and they converted one of those chances to a goal in a game that went to overtime. When Boudreau first took the reigns, the way he talked, fans would have expected to see those issues result in an adjustment to the line up so at least one of the pair was "held accountable" for the performance that resulted in those chances and that goal. Since, at least according to today's preview, it looks like Steve Eminger will again be a healthy scratch, the only reasonable explanation is there is something casual observers cannot see driving this decision.
The Lightning will have two awesome offensive lines on the ice tonight and two other solid lines that are clear offensive threats. All four lines will be well rested and ready to play. The Caps will need to hustle, dig, and be the team they can be, the team that took the league leading Red Wings to task and played with them toe to toe for an entire game and then some, in order to be sure to shake off their three game losing streak and make up two more points against their Southeast Division brethren. A mobile, agile defense that helps the offensive threats and doesn't get caught out of position is what the Caps will need to make that effort an reality. Last game Milan Jurcina showed "he gets it" making sure he got back into position and broke up plays he inadvertently let develop; this game, if the defensive parings are put out as shown in the Caps preview, Jeff Schultz and John Erskine need to do the same. If they don't then unless he's not healthy, it will be time for the Caps to see if Eminger can step in for one of the three defensemen other than Tom Poti, Mike Green, or Shoane Morrisonn (all of whom are having very solid seasons) and "make it happen" on the road tomorrow in Pittsburgh and later in the week in Ottawa. If the Caps management won't make that happen, then indeed they should trade Eminger for someboday they will play that might help them in their quest to climb out of the Conference "basement".
On the offensive side of the ice, all Caps fans will obviously be rooting for Alex Ovechkin and his mates to have a great night against Lightning's anticipated starter Finnish Rookie Karri Ramo. The Bolts have pulled started Johan Holmqvist three times in his last four starts in favor of Ramo and many anticipate tonight's game at the Verizon Center being Ramo's first NHL start. The international irony of a Finnish rookie goalie having his first NHL start in Washington, DC against a team whose offensive starts are primarily Russian and Swedish shouldn't be lost on Caps' faithful. LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! See you at the VC tonight and Merry Christmas!