Good Morning Caps Fans! Today I'm playing "If I Were Adam Oates" and I think you'll likely conclude after reading this blog just how crazy and clueless I probably am but hey, why not you too?
The Capitals come into this game after an improved 1 point result in New Jersey on Friday Night, but in my view the man who got them that point was primarily a young guy named Michal Neuvirth. Nothing wrong with your goaltender being "the man" and doing it for your team on the road, especially in the second game of "back to backs." And nothing wrong with a comeback point on the road that ends with your coach saying: "Everybody worked for sixty minutes, we played a much much better hockey game." Especially after the quotes and reactions of the team and coaching staff to how they played the first three games. I agree with Veteran Center Mike Ribero who said after Friday's game: "Even though we lost, it was a good game for us to see how we are supposed to play to win, by doing that, I think I will play better and other guys will step up and play better." So we have reason to at least hope we might see the Caps we've come to expect out on the ice when they drop the puck at Verizon Center at 3PM today. You remember that team whose roots ca currently be traced to a team torn apart at the start of the rebuild after the last lockout but who made sure they played disciplined hockey and were never outworked, than transformed to the offensive machine that was fun to watch no matter what the score, and never got out worked under Bruce Boudreau, to that group that took on the playing personality of their interim coach Dale Hunter - gritty, never give up, never say day and keep the puck out of our net at any costs; oh yeah and make sure you occasionally score a few goals so you can win the game ... you remember basically the team we all thought we'd see so far this season. The one that apparently was sighted and seen for sixty - plus minutes in Newark, NJ on Friday Night.
But for a victory to be obtained today, and for victories to again become routine for the Capitals we need to see this team do more than just work hard. We and they need to get comfortable with this "new Adam Oates System"; Coach and Players need to trust each other and work hard to make each other successful - in mind, body and nay even "soul" per say. At the end of today's game at Verizon, the Capital's regular season will be 10% complete, that's just a simple fact. They'll have just 43 games remaining in a tightly packed schedule to drive for the playoffs. That's just 2580 minutes of regulation playing time - they need to all commit this morning to making sure that of the now 2640 minutes of playing time they bring it 110% of every second of every minute. Whether gritty Matt Hendricks, who I predict will see more and more Red "26" Jerseys in the crowd every game at Verizon Center this season; or Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, or Mike Green who can already look into the crowd and see so many fans wearing their numbers or guys in between like Troy Brouwer, Mike Ribero, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward; every member of this team just needs to look at themselves and each other and decide two things: a) how do I play every minute of every game the best I can and b) how do I work with these other guys in this locker room best to ensure we all succeed where success is a winning score at the end of the game. It's really that simple, but then it's really not all that simple at all because every game there's a group of very talented athletes in the other locker room ho should, and usually are, doing the exact same thing. So too that end they and the coaching staff need to continue to step it up a notch. I'm an eternal optimist but I feel, like Mike Ribero said, Friday's game should go a long way in making sure everyone on the Caps roster understand they aren't the only team in the NHL without a W because of the "new system" AND they each have the power to change that condition today, but only if they play as a team and work together.
To that end I look at the first four games and who's doing what and offer the following as my suggested line up and thoughts for today, knowing that 1) I'm out to lunch and really have no idea what's going on in the locker room; 2) the real coach of the Caps is a HHOF member who understands intimately things about the game I don't even realize are involved; and 3) I like being a contrarian and that often leads to trouble when I do things like this.
My first two lines (call them 1A and 1B, please) would be: 25 - 9 - 8 and 17 - 19 - 42. That's right I would NOT end the "Alex Ovechkin to Right Wing" experiment; instead I'd put him on the right side across from another huge, speedy left wing Jason Chimera, who was the #3 goal scorer on the Caps team with crafty vet center Mike Ribero in the center. I know that one of the Caps few advantages coming into this shortened season was supposed to be the ongoing chemistry between Backstrom and Ovechkin and the success they had in the KHL, but so far that hasn't seemed to be the case. . So far they both seem to be looking to pass to the other guy for the "betterer" shot and taking too long to setup so I'd break them up. Of course the problem with the 25 - 9 - 8 line is that so far this season 9 hasn't been winning enough faceoffs and I'd talk to him about that if I were Adam Oates I'd probably have a few suggestions that could help there; but I think 25 - 9 - 8 is worth a try since other then that I see it as a very fast skilled line wit guys who can, if they want to, make sure they get both the artistry AND the gritty goals. In 17 - 19 - 42, I'd have a line with very good guys playing their natural positions and really no question who's supposed to be the "finisher" after all theirs only one guy on that line with a 100 point season under his belt, and we need him to start putting points on the board as much as we need anyone else to do so. If I were Adam Oates I'd tell both these lines, I expect them to play solid and gritty hockey the entire game; my intent is to use the last change to get them out against the Sabres third and fourth lines and as long as they play hard and right I'll keep to my word and they will get 1/2 line ice time. Of course the best way for them to do that is for them to show me that by getting "dirty" goals or taking the pretty ones if for some strange reason Ryan Miller gives them one. If they don't do that they can expect their ice time in the subsequent periods to get more evenly distributed to the other lines.
My third and fourth lines would be: 85-26-15 and 90-83-16. I'd be putting these guys out against the Sabres first and second lines and at the start of the game I'd be targeting them getting ~40% of the ice time so ideally at the end of the first period each of them would have 4:00 TOI and they'd have each skated 5 shifts. I'd also have told 90 and 16 they need to look at the other four guys and play as hard as they've been playing for them to continue to get that much ice time in the second and third periods let alone move up the depth chart. I'm pretty sure 16 will understand and respond; I have questions about 90 right now.
My defensive pairings would be: 52 - 27; 74 - 44; and 3 - 4. I'd have Jeff Schultz as a healthy scratch though right now I consider he and Tom Poti pretty interchangeable; Poti sat on Friday. Like his comments after the New Jersey game seem to indicate I'd be telling John Carlson, don't press it; just play your game and play the system within yourself. I'd be telling Mike Green - "play just like you did Friday evening." Karl Alzner I'd be saying basically the same thing I'm saying to Green. At 38, in his 20th NHL season, if I have to say anything to former first round draft pick Roman Hamrlik then I'm kind of shocked an speechless. Tom Poti, I'm saying you've come this far, I'm sure the Verizon crowd would love to see you have a great game, which you know you are still capable of. John Erskine, if I think I need to say anything to, it too is just play like you always do which is, smart hockey, really hard - like Hendy this guy play his guts out every time he's given a sweater.
To the entire team my "Knute Rockne" I'm not "speech" is: "Let's just play the way we know how and make sure Michal gets the W we all know he earned as much as Brodeur on Friday Night."
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!