Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flyers vs. Caps @ Verizon Center This Evening

Well here I am getting psych'ed up for today's 5PM start of a hockey game in the district and then I go on line and find this bad news: "#Caps assign Marcus Johansson to Hershey:" on Katie Carrera's twitter feed. I get it but I don't get it. "It" being both Tomas Fleischmann and Bruce Boudreau's insistence that "Flash" is the right interim answer for second line center for the Capitals. Sorry I know I'm getting to be a harp on this but I can't help it, every game since MoJo's hip flexor injury we've seen "Flash" have flashes of offensive brilliance and mediocre results in both the faceoff circle and the back end when he's sent out as pivot to a second line that includes Brooks Laich and any of the other obvious choices (Semin and/or Knuble) as his wings. I can't say I didn't see this coming. Boudreau has given Fleischmann more ice time and chances both at wing (compared to Eric Fehr) and at Center (compared to either MoJo or Brooks Laich) consistently over the past couple of years. Fleischmann is indeed a talented NHL calibre player, I've said it repeatedly. In fact I'm on record here as saying I think he is worth his $2.3M salary - but I'm also on record as saying he is worth that as a left wing. When you look at Fleischmann as a center, especially as a second line center, well to me it just doesn't make sense. Let's start with faceoffs - to date Flash is 41.3% in the faceoff circle, so sure he won an important one against the Bruins but hey, as John Carlson's uncle who was sitting in front of me that game pointed out, we're talking about doing it against Patrice Bergeron who though he leads the Bruins' centers in that category is only 48.7% "in the circle" and the Bruins who as a team - well in the faceoff catagory this year, they aren't very good. So while Marcus Johansson is the only Capitals Center with a worse faceoff percentage than Flash (MoJo has a 34.)% in the circle), neither are the guy who Gabby is sending out to take an important last minute defensive zone draw when the the other team is on the power play or has their goalie pulled in a tight game.

To me the issue is that for their second line center, the Caps need a playmaker who is as good on his defensive assignments as he is in the offensive zone. The guy who has the potential to do that most is not, IMO, the 26 year old Fleischman who finished last season with 23 goals and 28 assists in 69 games after playing most of the season on the Wings. It might be and I say might be Marcus Johansson, a 20 year old Swede who is clearly a playmaking, vice scoring Center and who so far this season has looked more comfortable and in the right place relative to defensive assignments when he's been the second line Center than Fleischmann has looked to date. Well it really doesn't matter what I think and clearly nobody pays me millions to coach hockey or even to pitch Mercedes, the only right I have to an opinion is to my personal opinion as a rabid Capitals fan who buys tickets. So all I can do is say this - watch this afternoon when the Caps play the Flyers, given Johannson's reassignment and the other rumblings coming out of the Caps quarters today, I'm guess we'll see a second line of either Laich - Fleischman - Knuble or Laich Fleischmann - Semin. So just watch and see how many times during his shifts Flash ends up playing the Left Wing's assignment in the Caps Defensive zone because for whatever reason either Laich or Semin end up being the deep back-checker.

Personally I think this is the result of "Flash" - despite what Boudreau and he say - being a far more natural winger and scorer than Center/play maker. Again I'm not saying Flash isn't good, what I am saying is IMO he's a far better Wing than Center, particularly on the backcheck. Now if the reason to do this is to get Flash the ice time and exposure he needs to become a "tradable asset" then I can be convinced it's the right thing to do. Again Flash isn't bad and he's worth his salary as a Top 6 Forward at Wing on any number of NHL teams. In fact in the right situation, in that role, it wouldn't surprise me to see him score 30 goals a season. That said here in Washington the best I think we'll ever see is where he ended up at the end of last season: #6 in goals (as long as Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Laich are on the team) and # 7 in points with a defensive contribution that is "middle of the pack." Most importantly from my perspective Flash as the second line center seems to make Brooks Laich less effective on the second line across the board. So once again I'm saying that I think Tomas Fleischmann is not the answer as our second line center if we are going to go deep into the playoffs, even in spite of his current play, which has I will grant him, seen him going to the net far more often and aggressively than he did last season. He will score his share of goals - I mean he's been getting an average of 14:30 TOI/Game and that will continue to rise now. However, his defensive play when he's at Center, just plain scares me, especially when the Caps second line find them out on the ice against an opponents first line. Today that would mean that Flash will be going up against Mike Richards ... hard to see him coming up better than +/- 0 in that sort of matchup. Of course if he's up against the Flyers second line he'll be trying to win faceoffs against Jeff Carter who is 57.3% in that category while having an offensive output (5 goals, 6 assists, 11 points) that so far this season is better than Flash's (4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points) though Flash's +7 +/- is better than Carters +2, that's another matchup that I think Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette isn't going to fret too much about.

Well now about the rest of my pre-game thoughts. The Flyers are coming into a game with a 5PM start right off another away game against the Islanders on Long Island last night. In that game the Flyers won 2-1 in regulation. Last night's Flyers - Islanders game was a tight one and another game that saw Flyers Rookie Goaltender Sergei Bobravsky play very well. The 22 year old Russian turned in a sterling 31-save performance and earned the 2nd star of the game. Assuming he gets the nod for the back to back start he will be a player to watch and a key for the Flyers as he has been so often so far this season. Danny Briere will not be playing as he'll be serving the last of his four game suspension this afternoon in the Verizon Center press box, however as I noted the Flyers have a few other weapons who will be playing - their names are Richards, Carter, Pronger, Hartnell and Van Riemsdyk. The Caps come into today's game having won their last three (3) in a row and in second place in the Eastern Conference while the Flyers come in having won their past six (6)games in a row and in first place in the Eastern Conference. It will also be interesting to see which goaltender - Holtby or Neuvirth gets the nod to start for the Capitals today, and whether Alexander Semin starts the game on the first or second line after seeing how the Capitals - Bruins game on Friday evening ended.

In any case, as all of the recent contests between these two teams have been, I expect this will be a very good and exciting to watch game.


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