Sunday, September 26, 2010

Recap/Thoughts On Last Night's Caps Game and Then Revisit to 2010 - 2011 Roster Thoughts...

Last night the Caps - Preds game in Nashville ended up with a second pre-season win for the Caps, by a score of 2-1. Last night's Caps line-up was:

Bouchard - Backstrom - Knuble,
Laich - Johansson - Fehr,
Hendricks - Aucoin - Beagle,
McNeill - Eakin - Pinizzotto

Schultz - Green

Neuvirth and Sabourin.

Caps center Nicklas Backstrom sported the captain’s “C” in last night’s game. Veteran right wing Mike Knuble and defenseman Mike Green wore the alternate captain’s “A’s.”

For seven (7) of the players (Hendricks, Laich, Johansson, Fehr, Eakin, Erskine, and Fahey) it was their second pre-season game of the year. Not sure what that means if anything. It probably does mean something, but what is means is probably different for each individual player. For 31 year old Lawrence Nycholat, who is on his second "go round" in a Capitals sweater, these games are probably make or break and will determine whether or not he is sent to Hershey or just given his outright release. Since I can't really tell much from listening to the radio, my feelings and thoughts on how he did are only based on his stat line and the reporting of others who were there. Nycholat and 29 year old Brian Fahey led the blue liners in time on the penalty killing unit with 4:17 and 4:57 respectively. From his stats, Nycholat seems to have had a pretty solid evening, but probably not good enough to displace anybody he is behind on the current Caps depth chart.

Given his unremarkable performance in Game 1, Eric Fehr's return to the line-up for Game 2 were probably because the coaching staff felt he could use the TOI and they probably also wanted to see how he'd look spending a little time as a wing on the same line with Laich and Johansson. As for Matt Hendricks, a hat trick at the NHL level, even in pre-season, ought to get you at least one more game in a team's sweater and a serious look. Last season Hendricks skated 56 games for the Avalanche and last game he put everyone here in DC on notice, he wants to continue to play in the NHL. Last night all Hendricks did for an encore apparently was go +1, make 3 hits, take 3 SOG and log 16:51 TOI on 20 shifts. For 19 year old Cody Eakin, another pre-season game in a Caps uniform was probably to try and determine where the Capitals want the 2009 Entry Draft Third Round pick to start the season Hershey, South Carolina, or returning to Swift Current for his final season of eligibility as a Junior. Given his showing last night and against Columbus the prior game, I'm thinking he has a 50/50 shot of it being Hershey. As far as playing two games in a row and what it means for 29 year old journeyman blue liner Brian Fahey, I really don't what it all means, other than Tyler Sloan and even John Erskine have to be feeling some pressure. Fahey apparently played solid hockey last evening and his stat line reads 1 hit, 4 blocked shots in 18:02 TOI including 4:57 on the PK. As far as what it means for Marcus "MoJo" Johansson and Brooks Laich, I think last night was a case of wanting to see what the 2nd line of Laich - Johansson - Fehr could do, and what in specifically both Fehr and MoJo would do with the 2nd line minutes. MoJo got in 18:00 TOI on 20 shifts but from his faceoff statistics - he went 6 for 14 (43%) it seems he might want to consider spending a little time after practice tomarrow with Nicklas Backstrom who went 12 for 16 (75%) and get a few pointers relative to the do's and don'ts of NHL face-offs. From the stats and the post game notes it looks like Hendricks heard Coach Boudreau when he said he would like him to be a little more physical; and Jay Beagle knew he wanted to make a good impression in his first action of this season against another team. In general it appears all the Caps heard the coaching staff and the embraced the idea of being a little more physical. It also seems to me that the fierce competition for the few available spots definately has every one of those guys in that competition playing hard. In the end last night's game was a defensive battle and all the goaltenders played well, though in the end it was the Capitals power play and young gun Mike Green coming up big in that Green was part of both Capitals goals and also was on the penalty killing unit for 4:14 last night, in part because Tom Poti spent 4 minutes in the sin bin.

Also re: the Capitals yesterday - G Braden Holtby and D Patrick Wellar were assigned to Hershey.

So the waiver wire is again open and yesterday we saw two long speculated moves made when the Washington Capitals placed Center Michael Nylander, the NY Rangers placed Defenseman Wade Redden and the Chicago Blackhawks placed Christobel Huet on waivers. In all 43 players were placed on waivers yesterday - the full list is: Krog, Jason (ATL); MacIntyre, Drew (ATL); Mannino, Peter (ATL); Sifers, Jaime (ATL); Ross, Jared (ATL); Siklenka, Mike (ATL); McIver, Nathan (BOS); Reich, Jeremy (BOS); Smith, Wyatt (BOS); Blanchard, Nicolas (CAR); Borer, Casey (CAR); Fitzgerald, Zack (CAR); Chucko, Kris (CGY); Huet, Cristobal (CHI); Brophey, Evan (CHI); Taffe, Jeff (CHI); Mauldin, Greg (COL); Walter, Ben (COL); Van Der Gulik, David (COL); Liffiton, David (COL); Macias, Ray (COL); Grahame, John (COL); Bacashihua, Jason (COL); Gagnon, Aaron (DAL); Morin, Travis (DAL); Wathier, Francis (DAL); Fortunus, Maxime (DAL); Lukowich, Brad (DAL); Wilson, Clay (FLA); Fraser, Jamie (MIN); Dupont, Brodie (NYR); Redden, Wade (NYR); Mink, Graham (STL); Reaves, Ryan (STL); Spina, Dave (STL); Evans, Brennan (STL); Arsene, Dean (STL); Cracknell, Adam (STL); Drazenovic, Nicholas (STL); Oystrick, Nathan (STL); Baumgartner, Nolan (VAN); Zimmerman, Sean (VAN); Nylander, Michael (WSH).

Now way back in May, right after the Caps signed Nicklas Backstrom to a contract extension, I made some predictions about what I thought the Caps would do over the summer and going into this season, how did I do and what do I think will happen over the next couple of days for relative to the Caps roster. First a summary of my prognostications: i) first here's what I said I'd do if I were GMGM and Gabby for an opening night roster in October:
1st line: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble
2nd line: Semin - Laich - Fehr
3rd line: Alexandre Giroux - Morrisonn/Fehr - Chimera
4th line: Steckel - Mathieu Perreault - Bradley
Reserve: Jay Beagle, Quintin Laing, Kyle Wilson
1st pairing: Green - Schultz
2nd pairing: Poti - Carlson
3rd pairing: Corvo - Alzner
Reserve: Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan, Patrick McNeill
Jose Theodore or Dan Ellis
Semyon Varlamov
Reserves: Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby.

Obviously I'm not GMGM or Bruce Boudreau and here's the guys and things that "didn't" happen this off season, in an order of my choosing:
1) Jose Theodore - last May I said a) this is what I would do and b) that I doubted that the Caps would re-sign Theodore. I also was on record as saying I thought signing Dan Ellis to a one or two year deal for an average cap hit of $2.5M or less, would be a smart move. I'd just like to point out that Tampa Bay's new GM, Steve Yzermann agreed with me and did just that, so even though Ellis is not playing for the Capitals, I have a feeling that after this season is over, I'll be able to have a solid opinion as to whether or not that was a smart idea. In any case it looks like Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth will both be wearing Capitals sweaters on opening night.
2) Joe Corvo - my gut says that Corvo was willing to give Carolina a discount to return to them after the playoffs and that the Capitals couldn't have signed him to the same $4.5M/two year deal. I know that Corvo wasn't the best we've ever seen him while wearing a Capitals Sweater in the playoffs but I'd still think he'd be an upgrade over John Erskine and it appears to me the Capitals have salary cap space that might have made that possible. That said $2.5M of salary caps space is probably too much to spend for a guy you would be putting on the third pair so I'm good with the current group of guys in lieu of/without Corvo.
3) Milan Jurcina - As a UFA "Juice" signed a one year deal for $1M to play for the Islanders this coming season. Last season Jurcina had 48 hits and 37 blocked shots in 44 games played with the Caps and the Blue Jackets. He's a big, physical presence and he has a booming, if not always accurate slapper from the point. During his time with the Capitals, I always felt that the 27 year old Czech still has a lot of upside. I still feel that way and given all things are basically equal, I would rather see the Caps with Jurcina in the lineup right now and 30 year old John Erskine the guy playing elsewhere, especially given the presence of D.J. King in the line up for "grit." I've never been a fan of having a defenseman be the "Enforcer" if you're going to even try and have one.
4) Patrick McNeill: I guess I'm just the eternally optimist and the 23 year old isn't ready for the NHL quite yet. It looks like he'll start the season in Hershey, after all he was resigned as an RFA by the Caps, and I'm still rooting for him to be up here before the season is 1/2 over for a "look see" when the opportunity presents itself.
5) Alexandre Giroux: Okay, I'm just glad someone is giving him a real good look after his past two seasons in the AHL, even if it does mean he has to play in Edmonton. So far he's played in one of the Oilers two pre-season games - the first against Vancouver. He did pick up a double minor (2 minutes for kneeing and 2 for roughing) penalties in that game but he also had 3 SOG, made 4 hits, and had 1 takeaway. As of yesterday he was still in camp and as of Friday's skate he was still paired with Shawn Horcoff and Jordan Eberle; so if he keeps it up, he'll probably start the season in an Oilers sweater, though he needs to stay out of the penalty box if he wants to stay on a top two line which is where you want a scoring forward to be. In any case, with the Capitals failing to move Flash and all the other scoring talent they have, the 29 year old Giroux was redundant here in the Capitals system. Good Luck!
6) Quintin Laing: Look this was just me rooting for a guy who seems like a really good guy and a true salt of the earth guy. Over the prior two seasons there had been several occasions when his wife and son sat behind us and you know how you get a feeling about a family - about how nice and good they are. Well it sure seemed to me that Laing and his family always kept it real. Further it always seems to me when I've watched Ling play in a game, he really, really loves to play the game and competes with an inferno, not just a fire, but an all out raging inferno in his belly. I'm still rooting for him now as I write this short paragraph, so is it any wonder, how and why I could be wrong about this guy, even though he was a healthy scratch more often than he played last season and I knew that back in May when I did my original post?
7) Kyle Wilson: Wilson, a 25 year old Center, who spent all of last season in Hershey, was signed as an UFA by Columbus on July 2nd to a one year deal and is currently in their Training Camp. He played in their first pre-season game against the Atlanta Thrashers and had 2 assists, went +2, blocked a shot and won 71% (10 of 14) of his faceoffs in 26 shifts and 19:35 TOI in that game. He did not play in the Blue Jackets second game against the Capitals but he did play when the Blue Jackets met the Penguins on Friday Evening. In the Blue Jackets contest with the Penguins, Wilson scored a goal and finished the evening +1, he also had 3 SOG, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, and won 55% of his draws going 6 for 11 in the faceoff circle in 15:18 TOI on 20 shifts. After winning two Calder Cups in Hershey this young center is definatly trying to start this season wearing an NHL Sweater, even though it's in Columbus.
8) Bredan Morrison/Eric Belanger: Well as I've already written I'm still not comfortable with the Capitals current choices for this position, but I've already gone on record as explaining where I come down on the whole Eric Belanger episode and situation. As for Brendan Morrison, I can clearly understand why the Capitals let him go, since it seems like he did indeed run out of gas well before the playoffs. I wish B-Mo all the luck in the world in his tryout with Vancouver, a team he has played well for in the past. I'm excited at the longer term prospects here and hope that in the long run MoJo matures as quick as the Capitals other young Swedish Center but I still think that before this season is over, the second line Center will either be Brooks Laich or someone they trade for during the season. However, I'm going to "go out on a limb here" and predict the season starts with Tomas Fleischmann as the Capitals second line pivot.

So with that recap and run down relative to where I obviously got my predictions in May wrong, here's my predicted opening night lineup for the Capitals:

1st line: Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble
2nd line: Semin - Fleischmann - Laich
3rd line: Chimera - M. Johansson - Fehr
4th line: Steckel - Beagle - Bradley
Reserve: DJ King; Boyd Gordon; if Boyd Gordon is unavailable then I'm thinking the last roster spot is a battle between Mathieu Perrault and Kieth Aucoin with the coaching staff all wishing that Steve Pinnizotto had a better game last night because of MP85 and Aucoin's relative diminutive stature.

1st pairing: Green - Schultz
2nd pairing: Poti - Carlson
3rd pairing: Alzner - Erskine
Reserve: Tyler Sloan

Semyon Varlamov
Michal Neuvirth
In Hershey: Braden Holtby and Dany Sanbourin.

Well today is an off day for the Capitals before they get back at it at KCI on Monday and they have their first home pre-season game against the Bruins at Verizon on Tuesday ...

Before I sign off, I want to recommend this article by the New York Post's Larry Brooks. I've had no problem pointing to articles by Mr. Brooks that I've felt were poor or silly. So it seems to me that when he writes a piece I think is really good and insightful, I ought to point that out too. This article is a good one, unless you just don't want to read another letter of type about Ilya Kovalchuck's deal. To me I find it ironic that the way the NHL decided to draw the line in the sand on contracts they felt circumvented the letter of the current CBA was to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of the CBA and even the basic idea of any sort of mutual agreement themselves, so I can tolerate the occassional well-written and thought out article on the topic from time to time. That's what I found this article by Brooks to be today.

Okay well it's that time .... you know the time to bring this overly long post to a close.


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