Saturday, September 20, 2008

NHL Four-cast: Washington Capitals

1 - Why is this team worth watching? AO. When you have a player who can do this, and this, and this, and especially this and enjoys it this much, you have it made. Ovechkin's enthusiasm is infectious and a true pleasure to watch.

2 - Are they better or worse than last year? Worse. Yes Ovie and Backstrom and Semin all have more experience under their belts but they don't play defense. Letting Cristobal Huet go and replacing him with Jose Theodore is a definite downgrade, especially as Theodore stepped up his game purely to get a new contract, and he didn't even do that great in going 28-21-3 with a 2.44 GAA and .910 save percent. Huet, who went a remarkable 11-2 with a 1.63 and .936 in 13 regular season games with them, is still proving he is a top goaltender in the NHL and this team needs a star in net, especially with their poor defensive corps. Mike Green was a revelation last season with his offense from the blueline but there are no Rod Langways, Scott Stevenses or Brendan Witts back there to help out the netminder. Letting Ollie the goalie go is just depressing as he was synonymous with Washington for a long, long time. They still have the rock solid Brent Johnson as a backup but they had better pray that their offense can average at least four goals a game ... And I don't understand why they let Matt Cooke go to Pittsburgh, he added good grit to a pretty soft roster, especially with Chris Clark injury-prone.

3 - Who should YOU draft in fantasy? I had the first overall pick in one of my (many) leagues and picked Ovie. Backstrom and Semin should both be good for 70 points. Viktor Kozlov is still dangerous and good for 50 points, and Michael Nylander will get that number easily if he stays healthy. If. Mike Green had a spectacular year and a lot of people think it was his arrival. Some people also draft Tom Poti for blueline points but I want to punch those people in the face. I hate Tom Poti. A lot. And, as you could guess, I wouldn't put much faith in Theodore either. Keep an eye on the Caps depth chart because Brooks Laich had a strong finish to his season and if he gets on a scoring line, he may be able to keep the momentum. While I am a fan of Clark, with his injury and the progress of the other forwards, he may have lost his spot among the scorers so he isn't likely to bounce back to his 30 goal form.

4 - "Maybe next year the Stanley Cup?" Sorry Ovie, you can keep winning individual trophies but it doesn't look like your team will take the hardware this year - not unless they make a big trade at the deadline and get a 2002-esque performance from Theodore. I think they can in a few years, if Ted Leonis can accept a few seasons of first or second round playoff exits and keeps Bruce Boudreau around while prospects like Simeon Varlamov, Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Chris Bourque grow up. The first three will secure the Caps end of the ice while Bourque will be another sniper up front to help draw attention away from Ovie.

3 comments:

usually frustrated caps fan said...

Scotty:

Get real - the Caps defense is solid; Huet didn't want to play here - now he'll fight for time in Chi-town. Theodore' wants to be here and I think he'll be solid once again. His season and Huet's last year had a lot more in common then they were different. You could say Huet only turned it on for a big last contract too.

Anonymous said...

I agree Scotty--the caps are like swiss cheese on the back end. Green is a very good offensive player but he is all over the place in his own end. Watching him at the Worlds closely this summer was like being on a roller-coaster. Dangerous at both ends of the rink. There doesn't seem to be a stabilizer or a defending d man back there. Every winning team needs to be able to play solid team d and the caps haven't showed that...or even close to that.

I am not sold on Boudreau either. I tend to gauge a coach on how their teams play and I find his team to play very messy hockey. It is wide open, run and gun, style and unless, like you say, you can score 4 per game it is a crap shoot (which is exactly what happened with the Caps/Flyers series--Biron just was a hair better than Huet in the end).

Re: Huet and Theodore--they are a wash to me. I am not convinced that either of them are that great. I didn't like what I saw out of Huet vs. the flyers.

Eli said...

Huet looked slightly better than Theodore in last year's playoffs IMHO, but Huet is also older, more injury-prone,less accomplished and less experienced in the NHL and the NHL playoffs than Theodore. I'd rather have a good goalie all year for two years than a slightly better goalie who might miss more and more games to back spasms over four years at a higher price. (no pun intended on the name of Carey Price, the teenager Huet just lost his Montreal job to, after Huet got blown out by the Capitals for what, eight goals? Talk about motivation.)

So, yes, I liked Huet, but I think the Caps could still be lucky that Huet followed the money out of town, and they were forced to pick up a guy Huet used to watch from the end of the bench. Even luckier that they got the overall better option on a more advantageous contract.

Also, while there are many philosophies on how best to guarantee victory in a hockey game, Boudreau is a breath of fresh air for a town that has watched brilliant defensive coaches fail to capture the Stanley Cup with great defensemen, great goaltending and guys like Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr scoring goals at will.

Any review of a team that features Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov and Brooks Laich should start with the premise that they will score goals. So what if Boudreau expects four goals a night? That's more combined depth at Center and Left Wing than any team outside of Detroit. Farmers gamble that the sun will rise up in the morning, travel slowly across the sky, and then, sometime in the evening, set. Sometimes it's cloudy, or the ref blows a call at the end of game seven, but usually it works out.

The team's slim chance at this year's Cup will certainly depend upon the continued maturation of key players like big, young stay-at-home defensemen Shaone Morrisonn (the return on the Gonchar trade), Jeff Schultz (a top-fifteen pick in '04) and Milan Jurcina. Just as important, the team needs to see the emergence of oft-injured but high-scoring right wing Eric Fehr and two-time-AHL-playoff-scoring-leader Tomas Fleischmann. The first three have got to play physical and start intimidating opponents. The last two have got to speed up their feet and get used to the NHL.

Any cup chances will also, as Scotty points out, depend on how much defense the Alexes play. With Sergei Fedorov there to teach them, though, that might not be such a problem.