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.
@Robostop10 Why is this team so psychologically fragile? Shouldn't they have conquered this when they were in Juniors or earlier?
It’s a deep-rooted question that has dogged the Caps since Alex Ovechkin first guided them to the playoffs in 2008, and I’m sure it will be brought up again in April. The lack of push-back in Wednesday night’s 4-0 loss to the Penguins was shocking to me, considering the magnitude of the game and the fact it was in D.C. By push-back I don’t mean a bench-clearing brawl. The Caps aren’t built that way. But after falling behind by two goals they never put the Penguins back on their heels with sustained offensive pressure or pounded them into the boards. This may be a bad example, and I don’t like the way it was done, but the Flyers are 6-1-2 since that 7-0 loss to the Capitals on Nov. 1, a game marred by Ray Emery’s attack on Braden Holtby. By comparison, VerizonCenter fell silent after the Penguins took a 2-0 lead and the Capitals did little to breathe life into the building. It was just one game, but in my opinion, the way the Capitals lost was more significant than the two points. Until the Capitals start building those blocks of confidence with meaningful wins against quality opponents in the regular season I think they will continue to fall short in the playoffs. Sunday night’s win over the St. Louis Blues was a step in the right direction, but Wednesday night’s loss to the Pens was a big step back. That’s why I’ve got Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 circled on my calendar. That’s when the Flyers visit VerizonCenter and the Capitals visit Pittsburgh for the first time this season. If the Caps can dig down and win those two games it will go a long way toward building the fortitude needed to win in April, May and June.
@Mrduckpins Why are [Brooks] Laich and [Troy] Brouwer still on the same line?
I guess the follow-up question is, where else would you put them? First, the Caps must decide whether Laich is a center or left wing. Adam Oates likes him on the wing and has tried Marty Erat at center with poor results. On paper, the Erat-Laich-Brouwer combination should work. For some reason they’re just not clicking. Laich told me Thursday he’s finally gotten over the physical hump of missing all but nine games last season. At the suggestion of Oates he’s trying a shorter stick with a different curve and lie and he’s still getting adjusted to it after using the same stick for 12 years. If he thinks it will make him better at the end of the season he wants to stick with it. But with five points in 22 games he’s not getting results. Oates reasons that if Laich and Brouwer can kill penalties together they should be able to have chemistry at even strength. The problem I see with Brouwer is that he doesn’t have anyone feeding him the puck for one-timers the way Mike Ribeiro was last season. One option could be matching Laich and Brouwer with Eric Fehr, who’s been a healthy scratch the past eight games, but that seems like a short-term fix. I would consider moving Tom Wilson up to the second line, but do you want Brouwer on your fourth line? Until the third line of Mikhail Grabovski, Joe Ward and Jason Chimera cools off, it looks as though the Erat-Laich-Brouwer line will stick.
@PKLords76 Considering how badly the D have been moving the puck out of the zone I think its time 81 gets a chance.
It wouldn’t be a Friday six-pack without a Dmitry Orlov observation. The Caps will need to make a roster move today to make room for Mike Green and since Orlov has not played a game for them this season I would have to think he’s the one who gets sent down to Hershey and Tyson Strachan sticks around. Your question suggests that rookie Nate Schmidt and Alex Urbom are not the answer on the Caps’ second and third defense pairings and your point is well taken. With John Erskine’s surgically repaired knee swelling up after most workouts, it’s hard to say if he’ll be 100 percent at any point this season. Strachan played well in Green’s absence, so until Schmidt or Urbom play their way out of the lineup, Orlov will sit and wait his turn.
@i_bern_em How many goals do you think [Alex Ovechkin] will finish with this season?
Good question. Dating back to last season Alex Ovechkin has 40 goals in his last 43 games, which would put him in the 8-goal range over the course of an 82-game season. What has impressed me most about Ovechkin this season is that he has not gone more than two games without a goal. He’s scoring from more areas of the ice than at any time of his career and a lot of that has to do with Nicklas Backstrom, who is beginning to look like the player he was in the first half of the 2011-12 season. OK, you want a number, don’t you. Given the fact this is an Olympic year and there is a lot of hockey to play for the big guy, let’s go with a nice, round number – 50.
@BillTruskey Since [Grabovski] was supposed to be the 2C and no way they break that line up, if 21 can't do job, who possible centers 2nd?
A great question without a very good answer. Look at your options. Marcus Johansson, Michael Latta and Jay Beagle are your only other available centermen. Oates likes Johansson on the top line, although I would not be opposed to giving Marty Erat another shot at top-line left wing, drop Johansson to second-line center and move Laich to left wing. It’s a long season and I think if you see Grabovski, Chimera and Ward struggle you may see Grabovski get another shot with the second line.
Tominsocal1 On a scale of 1-10 – 1 being the frozen tundra of Siberia and 10 being Death Valley at high noon in summer - how hot is George McPhee’s seat? And what do you think it would take for Ted [Leonsis] to finally replace McPhee?
Those are loaded questions, but I’ll give it a heat index of 6.5. Now in his 17th season as general manager, McPhee clearly has built the Capitals into a perennial contender that has won division titles in five of the last six seasons. The Caps have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past six years and that is no small accomplishment in today’s NHL. Hiring Adam Oates also has to work in McPhee’s favor when evaluating his future. In terms of recent transactions, McPhee’s signing of Mikhail Grabovski looks like a good deal. The jury is still out on his trade for Marty Erat and Michael Latta, since Filip Forsberg recently was assigned to the Nashville Predators’ farm team in Milwaukee. If there is a criticism of McPhee over the summer it was his inability to address the need for a quality No. 4 defenseman behind Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. As for what it would take to replace McPhee, missing the playoffs this season would certainly top the list. If the Caps were swept from the first round that would also turn up the heat. Aside from that, a lot of bad things would need to happen this season for Leonsis to pull the carpet from under McPhee. I think unless the Caps miss the payoffs or look terrible in a first-round elimination, McPhee’s job is safe.