Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s Six-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.
Let’s get started.
@terpinyc Are the Capitals troubles related to a lack of locker room leadership? Loss to Dallas similar to Game 7 vs NYR last playoffs.
Yes, Tuesday night’s debacle was a flashback to Game 7 against the Rangers last year. Was it a reflection of locker room discord? I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you the loss prompted a meeting that, I’m told, included general manager George McPhee. The meeting was described to me as a “raise awareness” session that grabbed the attention of the players. The Caps’ play in their final six games will provide evidence of just how productive that meeting was. Getting back to your question, in my opinion, leadership comes from a player’s action on the ice and not from anything he says in the room. Some of the best leaders I’ve ever seen were the quietest players in the room. That said, Alex Ovechkin playing half shifts does not help his credibility as a leader.
@letsgocaps819 Caps lost 5-0 to Chicago in 08 and then went 7-0 to clinch the playoffs. Do they have what it takes to do that this year?
@The_DC_Unit what in the hell do we need to do to get in?
Do different ways to ask the same question. Do the Capitals have the players to run the table in their final six games? Absolutely. Will they? I just don’t see it. “Pretty tall order,” one player said Thursday before catching a team flight to Newark. According to Sports Club Stats [stick tap to Sky Kerstein] if the Caps go 6-0-0 they have an 83.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Those chances drop accordingly: 5-0-1 drops to 62.7 percent, 5-1-0 to 36.5 percent, 4-0-2 to 36.1 percent, and 4-1-1 to 14.4 percent. Quite honestly, I believed in this team a lot more at the end of last season than this season. Last year, the Caps were trending upward, getting better every game while going 15-2-2. I thought they were good enough to upset the Rangers in the first round. This team makes too many mistakes on a consistent basis to be considered a threat to go 5-0-1, which is what I think they’ll need to do to get into the post-season. With three of their final four games against playoff teams – St. Louis, Chicago and Tampa – if the Caps find a way to get into the playoffs they will have earned it.
@patrOne How much of the Caps’ defensive issues fall on Calle Johansson? Can Adam Oates be salvaged if paired w/ stronger assistants?
Very good questions. Fourteen different defensemen have strolled in and out of the Capitals’ lineup this season, including Tyson Strachan, who was recalled today from the AHL: Hershey Bears and is expected to play with Dmitry Orlov tonight against the Devils. [Julien Brouillette will play with Mike Green]. It is fair to say that of the seven defensemen who have auditioned for the fifth and sixth spots on the Caps’ blue line this season – Steve Oleksy Alex Urbom, Nate Schmidt, Connor Carrick, Cam Schilling, Patrick Wey and Brouillette -- none proved himself capable of playing regularly. It’s also fair to say that some of the risky plays that kept Orlov out of the lineup in the first two months of the season are still being made. I’ve never been on board with playing Green with Orlov because both are risk takers. This has also been a difficult season for goaltender Braden Holtby, who had trouble adjusting to some of the wrinkles assistant coach Olie Kolzig installed back in September. It’s always difficult to say whether a player’s lack of development is the result of the player not having the skills or the coaching he is receiving. It will be interesting to see if Oates will be given the opportunity to retain or replace any of his assistants in the offseason.
@AloeCap10 Caps need a gritty top-4 Dman. Who do you think they could get in the off-season to fill that role?
How do you feel about Brooks Orpik? I know he’s 33 years old and on the back nine of his career, but he’s the kind of gritty, veteran leader the Caps could use on a second pairing with Mike Green. Orpik will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and would certainly know a little bit about how to stop Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If you’re willing to think outside the box, maybe the Caps could make a play for Vancouver’s right-handed shooting Kevin Bieksa, who has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $4 million next season and $2.5 million in 2015-16. To get Bieksa, the Caps likely would need to trade a defenseman and Green would be tough to move at $6.25 million next season. The Caps also have enough depth at right wing to maybe part with someone who could get them what they need the most, a hard-nosed and sure-handed defenseman.
@CottonEyeJones Save for the few players each year the roster is the same since '11-12 season. Why should we believe they win now?
The Caps were a legitimate threat in 2012 under Dale Hunter because they bought into a philosophy of team before self. On paper, that team looked very much like this one, but it played a defense-first, block-every-shot system that served them well in the playoffs, where they were one Joel Ward penalty away from beating the Rangers and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Capitals made strides under Adam Oates last season and were playing well down the stretch but have been incredibly inconsistent under Oates this season, which, with mostly the same players, is hard to explain.
@AloeCap10 What are the chances that Ted Leonsis cleans house (front office and coaches) during the offseason?
That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately and it may be one Leonsis has to address at the end of this season. This team has gone from an NHL-best 121 points in 2010 to a team on pace to miss the playoffs with 87 points. Many of the core players from that 2010 team are still on the roster and the Caps are on their third coach in that time span. Cleaning house from the upstairs may prove to be easier than cleaning the main floor, with 21 players under contract for next season.