Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Playoff lines


The Capitals are officially entering the post-season this week with their worst goalie as their starter, again, and you can read my previous post for my thoughts on that. They have had two practices with the same lines, so they have a good idea of who they are all going to be playing with for at least Game 1 (see link below). All the team's forwards are (at least believed to be) healthy. You have left wingers Ovechkin (8), Brooks Laich (21), Marco Sturm (18), Jason Chimera (25), and D.J. King (17); centers Backstrom (19), Jason Arnott (44), Marcus Johansson (90), and Boyd Gordon (15); right wingers Mike Knuble (22), Alexander Semin (28), Eric Fehr (16), Matt Bradley (10), and Jay Beagle (83); and everyman Matt Hendricks (26). That means 15 players for 12 spots. Another great quote is "A good problem to have is still a problem." This is an issue the Caps had last year, too. Who do you play? Who do you sit? I again am a big fan of playing who is the best with who they play best with. So with that, here are my ideal forward lines (ones I do not expect to see given the shuffling of players that BB has become so enamored with, and ones that are clearly in conflict with what we know they will be):
Hey Matt, you've got a little something in your eye


This means that I am sitting Jay Beagle, which can be expected as he is primarily a Hershey Bears player and an injury callup; D.J. King, which can also be expected based on the fact that he played left bench more often than left wing this season; and Jason Chimera. This last choice is the "problem" part of the "good problem to have," and really is the only debate in who should sit and who should play. Yes, having King in there to scare a Blueshirt or two might be nice for a game or two, but I'm talking about someone to have in for an entire series or Cup run.

Currently, it looks as though Fehr is not in the lineup for Game 1, and I feel that is a much larger problem than not having Chimera playing. Both players scored 10 goals this year. The difference is, Chimera played in 81 games and Fehr played in 52. On average, it takes 107 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time for Chimera to score a goal, and 67 minutes and 6 seconds to earn an assist. Fehr requires 65 minutes and 27 seconds to score a goal, and the same amount of time to earn an assist. Chimera was also a team-worst -10, with Tyler "Oh-my-God-the-puck-is-over-there-now" Sloan finishing second-worst with a -6 and Fehr finishing even. Chimera is also a good bit more familiar with the penalty box than F16, averaging .790 penalty minutes a game compared to Fehr's .308. Fehr is a player who scores more per game, assists teammates more per game, is on ice for fewer even strength and shorthanded goals, and takes less than half the penalties as Chimera. I don't see how this is a contest, but it again shows BB's weakness for certain players (Chimera, Steckel, Johansson) and utterly illogical disdain for others (Fehr, Fleischmann, Perreault). Chimera should probably get some ice time during the series, but I would prefer it was at the expense of someone who performs worse, not better, than he does.

Fleury and Boudreau were equally shocked to see Fehr on ice.
I also have Fehr on the top line. The Caps just inked Knuble, who now has eight-straight 20-goal seasons, to a one-year, $2 million extension. Knuble has been one of the more durable forwards, and while he has dry spells, he has been one of the more consistent guys, as well. However, he is set to turn 39 on Independence Day, while Fehr will only be turning 26 come September. One of these guys is probably going to be the team's top-line net crasher for the foreseeable future, and I think I'd put Knuble's new contract on Fehr being that guy. He is younger, faster, plays a similar style, and for the past two seasons has been one of the top goals-per-60 guys in the league. Why not give him the chance to make up for last year's disappointing outing in the playoffs with the best odds of doing so? He was a killer of flightless birds on New Year's, and still managed to hit 10 goals in an injury-plagued season (thanks Steckel).  On a team with so many skilled forwards, it is not a punishment for Knuble to play on the third line. A man with his skills should help youngster Johansson and speed demon Chimera put their skills together for a goal or two.


The defenders are a lot easier to set up than the forwards. Firstly, the Caps are decimated at the blueline by injuries. Green, Poti, and Wideman, all out. Green, at least, should be back for the first game. Don't be surprised if Poti makes a surprise showing by Game 2, either. Secondly, it is pretty easily apparent which guys, in a healthy world, are best set playing with the cushy chairs in the press box. In case you don't know who they all are, the Caps' D-men are Green (52), Schultz (55), Carlson (74), Alzner (27), Hannan (23), Wideman (6), Erskine (4), Poti (3), Sloan (89), and recent call-up Sean Collins (62).  That being said, here are my picks for the defensive pairings:


This setup may actually be a little controversial for the Caps faithful, so let me explain. Carlson and Alzner have put together a spectacular season, with Carlson getting some much-deserved Calder talk, even though the award will certainly go to a forward, and Carlson would be a surprise nomination. With Green having missed so many games, and Hannan being so lackluster offensively, there is no reason to take the two youngsters off top-pairing duties. They, in my opinion, are at the core of the new system. Green is one of the league's elite defensemen, a two-time Norris finalist, and Hannan has finally developed into the solid shutdown man the Caps thought they traded for in the first place. But as noted, missed games and no knack for the net delegate them to the second pairing, at least for now.

"Well hey there, little fella! I just
need to get on through here, don't mind me.
Normally, Schultz plays with Green. However, I've always believed that Schultz held Green back, and Green made Sarge look good. This year has shown a lot of that, with Green's diminished numbers and Schultz making a good number of mistakes in his own end. Green would benefit from Hannan's experience and vocal nature, especially when he is just returning from injury. Schultz, on the other hand, being the Cap's biggest player, would benefit from playing a bit more physical - a role more at place for a third-pairing guy, and a role Erskine knows well. Were Poti healthy again, I would swap him in for Erskine. Poti is a bit more offensive minded, but can play the physical game, too. Now, in a world where Wideman is healthy, the lines change a bit:


Putting two of the league's better puck-moving defensemen on the same line has the potential to yield quick offensive results, but Wideman's propensity for making mistakes in his own end brings up some serious risks. Luckily, Green has solidified his defensive game and can minimize that risk while maximizing the reward. The skill and experience of these guys demotes the young 'uns to the second pairing, leaving Schultz and Hannan as a big, defensive shutdown pairing. That third pairing is not going to produce a lot of points, but it will absorb a lot of shots and give out the occasional big hit.

Final note: Notice how you don't see Sloan or Collins? Good for you. Sloan is the rare player who has moved between forward and defense over his career, and the still-rarer one of those players that is 30 years old and cannot keep track of the play when he is (un)lucky enough to get ice time. Collins has shown himself to be fairly capable, and I would actually prefer to have him on ice instead of Sloan, or to give Erskine/Poti a rest. But unless there is a need for him, he can't quite crack the top-6 on the depth chart. Erskine, Poti, and Sloan should never again be in the top 4 on the Caps blueline, and after this season, probably not even on the top six.


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