Caps win a 4-3 thriller in Tampa Bay
Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.
Let’s get started.
@OV3CHKING Where do the Caps see [Brooks] Laich in this organization? Top 6 F? How does he get quick promotion to line up so soon after injury?
When we talked with Adam Oates the other day he said he’s always viewed Laich as a top-six forward. Despite his efforts to return to the lineup and stay there for the first 25 games of the season, Laich clearly lacked the explosiveness he needed to be effective and as a result he had just four goals and two assists and was a minus-10 in those first 25 games. He wisely shut himself down and looks far more explosive now than he did back in November. Oates still believes Laich is better suited to play left wing than center. Does Laich have top-line offensive skills? Probably not. Is he best suited to play third-line center between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward? A lot of fans think so. My guess is that Laich eventually will find a home on that third line and Marcus Johansson will eventually be back on the left side with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. The X-factor in all of this is Eric Fehr, a right shot who has played well enough on the left side to get top-six minutes. To answer your question, when Laich is completely healthy, he is good enough to be in the top six. But if the Caps can get enough out of Johansson and Fehr, I think he gives the Caps great depth and penalty killing as their third-line center.
@ICEMANVA What is the deal with [Martin] Erat and letting him move on? Is this a case of GM [George McPhee] not wanting to admit an error?
That has to be in the back of George McPhee’s mind. When the Caps traded forward prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Erat and center Michael Latta, many wondered if they had given up too much. Many also wondered if the Caps were not entirely sold on Forsberg’s potential. At the time, I thought the Erat deal was a gutsy one and who knows what the Caps could have done in last year’s playoffs is Laich wasn’t shut down and Erat wasn’t steamrolled by Alex Ovechkin that Rangers playoff series. Now, of course, the trade looks incredibly one-sided. There are a few things delaying a deal for Erat. Back when he requested a trade in November, McPhee said he would not retain any of Erat’s salary, which is $3.75 million this season and $2.25 million next. It’s going to be difficult for any team to justify paying that kind of money to a player who has no goals and 15 assists and is currently a healthy scratch. One NHL scout asked me why a team would be interested in a player who has asked each of his last two employers to trade him. It’s a valid question. I’m not sure if Erat saying he was sad about being left off the Czech Olympic team because he’s playing seven minutes a game was the reason Adam Oates made him a healthy scratch in Tampa, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Erat has played his final game in D.C. I agree it’s time to move him and hope Latta becomes a reliable fourth-line center for the Caps.
@naginther When would you expect a trade involving Neuvy [Michal Neuvirth] or Erat to happen? Take what you can get for them and move.
At some point, and I don’t know when, this could come to addition by subtraction. In my estimation, Philipp Grubauer has proven he can play in the NHL. He now needs to prove he can stay in the NHL. Neuvirth has also proven he can play in the NHL, but it’s been three years since he’s been a No. 1 and he’s two games under .500 in the past three seasons as a backup to Tomas Vokoun and Braden Holtby. The irony in this is that Neuvirth is making more money [$2.5 million] than Holtby [$1.85 million] and Grubauer [$578,889]. What is killing any chance of a trade is the same thing that killed Neuvirth’s chances of playing on the Czech Olympic team. He hasn’t played since Nov. 22. I can’t see teams, even ones with questions in goal, lining up to acquire Neuvirth and make him their No. 1 netminder, and with his salary, he’s too expensive to be a backup.
@Tconn1116 You think Neuvirth and [John] Erskine to NYI for [Andrew] MacDonald possible?
A lot of fans would do that deal in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure if Islanders GM Garth Snow is ready to bite. The lower body injury Evgeni Nabokov suffered earlier this week is only expected to sideline him 1-2 weeks, so the Isles are not in desperation mode. If Nabokov gets hurt again and the Isles are close to making a playoff push, that deal could happen. MacDonald is probably the best bang for the buck in the NHL. He’s logging 26 minutes a night, leads the league in blocked shots and leads all Islanders defensemen in points with three goals and 19 assists. All for just $550,000 this season. At 27, MacDonald will get a nice payday this summer, but who’s to say that won’t come from the Islanders? While that may sound like a steal for the Capitals, I can’t see the Isles doing it. At least not now.
@Robostop10 From L/R preference, to a porous defense, to inconsistent offense, how safe is Adam Oates and the coaching staff?
Very. Adam Oates, Calle Johansson, Olaf Kolzig and Blaine Forsythe aren’t going anywhere. Does Oates over-obsess that left shots need to play on the left side and right shots on the right? Perhaps, especially when it comes to young players like Dmitry Orlov, who played most of his career as a left-handed defenseman who played right defense. But for every argument you can make for guys playing their off side, Oates can make twice as many for why he should not. That argument won’t hold much water in the Olympics, when Alex Ovechkin likely returns to left wing. As for the inconsistent offense, the Caps rank ninth in the NHL and third in the conference, behind only Pittsburgh and Boston, with an average of 2.88 goals per game. The porous defense, yes, it’s been pretty shaky this season, allowing 2.95 goals against per game. That ranks 22nd n the NHL and 12th in the East. Some subpar performances from Holtby have contributes to those numbers but the Caps need to be better getting pucks out of their own end, starting with Mike Green. When it comes to job safety, Oates is as safe as any coach in the NHL.
@littlefield19 Who is Oatesy starting tonight? Grubby [against Tampa on Thursday] then Holtby [against Toronto tonight]?
Oates said after Thursday night’s 4-3 win in Tampa that he would name his goalie before tonight’s home game against the Maple Leafs. If there has been anything consistent between the pipes this season, it’s that Oates and Kolzig have rewarded goalies for strong efforts. Grubauer stopped 33 of 36 shots in Tampa, outplaying Anders Lindback and giving the Caps a chance to win on Eric Fehr’s last-minute goal. Grubauer got his fair share of work, but he is coming off four days between games and at 22 there’s little chance of fatigue. My guess is that he is back in net tonight and that Oates is leaning toward Holtby for Sunday’s game against the Sabres. The bigger question might be when Neuvirth gets a start. If the Caps hope to trade him, they’ll have to play him at some point, right?