Saturday, October 11, 2014

Caps Travel to Boston With 0-0-1 Record Under Their Belt After Disappointing Opener

Well I was traveling for business this past week and missed the Caps opener at home on Thursday.  Now I'll be in my trusty recliner tonight here in formerly bucolic Bristow watching the Caps almost live as they take on the Big Bad Bruins in Boston's TDGarden tonight.  I followed the opening night loss to the comeback Canadiens and like Caps fans everywhere was delighted as I caught stats throughout the first period, growing concerned as the tide turned in the second and third and then disappointed with the results of the shootout.

My biggest concern though was/is the fact the Capitals went 0 for 5 on powerplays to the Canadiens during the home opener.  Even though I didn't watch and I figure that even though Habs goalie Dustin Tokarski played great and in the end was the reason the Habs won the game, the Caps powerplay and lack of production with five chances and no goals  is the reason the Caps lost. Given Alex Ovechkin's stats the last five home openers, it's disappointing that with 4:40 of powerplay TOI, I am concerned that minor changes to the Caps powerplay by the new coaching regime may not have been well advised.  We saw a slightly less aggressive power play the last preseason game and I wonder if we didn't feel it's real effects at Thursday's home opener.  I hope that the powerplay is more productive tonight.  I think it needs to be if the Caps are to come away from Boston with even a single point.

My next concern is how much 5 on 5 ice time Brooks Laich got and how little 5 on 5 ice time Evgeny Kuznetsov did get.  If as we've been hearing faceoffs are important in this address of where the Caps Centers play this year one has to wonder why Kuznetsov who was 4 - 4 (50%) in his eight faceoffs, while Laich was 5-8 (38%) in his thirteen faceoffs got so much.  This seems especially odd to me when looking at the third period when, at least statically, Kuznetsov played as well as Laich.  I've hinted at this before but now I'll just come out and say it directly, at some point if the Caps are really going to propel forward Laich's ice time has to be tied to his ability to help put goals on the scoreboard and not his salary cap hit or "intangibles", etc.  This is especially true with both Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky playing well 5 on 5; and Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Brooks Orpik, and John Carlson are playing on the PK.  Simply put with the new system and the stronger blue line corps its easier for other forwards in the lineup like Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson could likely play Laich's minutes on the Penalty Kill units without a measurable weakening of the team's performance in that area this season.  This is the season that the Caps need Brooks Laich to earn his salary ON THE ICE as well or better than he does being a great teammate in the locker room and a great asset to the community off the ice.  His $4.5M cap hit is far too much for the Caps to stunt the professional development of players like Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, or even Tom Wilson but favoring giving Laich ice time over them if he doesn't PRODUCE like a top six forward is expected to.

The final thing I think that bears watching is a carryover from last season.  On Thursday night did the Caps finally learn that - regardless of the system or how effective it can be - a hockey game is sixty (60) regulation minutes or not?  In other words you have to play "your" system with discipline and intensity the entire game to be routinely successful?  Thursday evening the Caps dominated the first 20 minutes of play but that really wasn't true the rest of the game. 

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing this season's first game against the "Big Bad Bruins" with the feisty, higher energy 2014-15 Washington Capitals. Here's to hoping Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Matts Niskanen have as good a game tonight as it seems they did on Thursday.


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