Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maybe I Was Wrong...

...but it is still too soon to tell. While the Caps have been the most dominant team in the league so far (see Steven Hindle's article for some more details on exactly where the team ranks in different areas), they have not even played 10% of the regular season. Everyone (who is expected to get significant ice time, that is) is healthy, and the competition has either been weak or not at their best. The Flyers are the most glaring exception to this, and that win should be the shining star of this October. Carolina and Tampa Bay are weaker team than they were last year, and while the Panthers are somewhat better, they are still the Panthers. The win in Detroit was a sign of what this team can look like when all cylinders are firing, but they were playing their second game in as many days, on the road, and with their backup goalie in net. The 7-0 start is absolutely impressive regardless of any qualifiers, and it would be impressive even if it was seven straight home games against the Blue Jackets and Jets. However, those qualifiers are still there, are still worth looking at, and do still leave some questions unanswered. This post, though, looks at some of my opinions that may result in me eating my words.
  1. Marcus Johansson should not be the second line center: He has four goals in six games, having been a healthy scratch on opening night due to his sub-par preseason play, including three game winners. All four goals came in the first period. His goal against the Red Wings was the furthest away from the net he had been for any goal. Two wrap-arounds and two hard-angle shots have gotten him off to a hot start. So you know what? I am sticking to my claim here. His primary linemates, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble, have scored one goal each with MoJo in the lineup, and he did not assist on either one. He has been absolutely horrible at winning faceoffs, posting a team-worst 37.5% while getting the third-most faceoffs on the team behind Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom. His goals all came from the sides of the net, three of them to the goalie's left plus the shot from Conklin's right. His offensive awareness is much better than last year, as are his deking abilities. But his skill set looks more and more like that of a two-way winger than of the playmaking center that the team wants him to be. Washington is so deep at forward that there is no reason to force him into a role that he just isn't suited for. Obviously it would take some line-shifting, but doing so early in the season is better than halfway through or during the playoffs.
  2. Jason Chimera will not find success with the team: This one has seriously been put into question. He started off strong, getting four goals (including an empty netter) pretty quickly and not making any glaring errors while playing on the very successful "Meat and Potatoes Line." However, he has been absolutely invisible the past few games. After last season, a successful season for Chimera pretty much means scoring a bit more, hitting a bit more, and generally not being a liability. Obviously nobody expected him to keep up his scoring pace, but the last two parts there are his most important additions to the team. For now, the third line is working so solidly together that it is hard to say that I want them to break up. Nobody was really worried about Laich's productivity or Ward's role on the Capitals, so I think that Chimera is really the key to deciding how long the line should stay together. This bears watching closely, so that if it looks like there might be a better way of matching up players, Boudreau will be able to find the combo sooner rather than later.
  3. Mathieu Perreault is not a good fit for the fourth line: I made this assertion because I think he is too gifted offensively and not physical enough to be an effective fourth-liner, so I thought he should be moved up higher in the lineup. Again, however, this has seriously been thrown into question as a result of the success the fourth line of Perreault, Jeff Halpern, and Matt Hendricks. Perreault is the only to have scored a goal so far, but those were the result of very solid defensive play and awareness. He is only credited with one hit, but he has yet to be on ice for a goal against, and as a line they have just been so good together. MP85's physicality is still an issue, though, and always will be because of his size. It remains to be seen how this will really matter on the fourth line, though, as they are currently playing like an incredibly responsible offensive threat. Perreault's spot on the team, much like Chimera's, is something to keep a close eye on. Again, for now, it seems hard to want to break up the combo.
  4. Boudreau would not be able to coach this team: So far it seems I am just wrong on this one. For the most part, each game has looked better than the last. The lines have not been shuffled much, if at all, since Beagle was knocked out of the lineup in the Pittsburgh game. Just about everything is clicking. Two possible signs of weakness: (1) the shots against are sky-high, and Vokoun (probably?) can't possibly keep up this level of play throughout the year, and (2) the PK has fallen back down to the middle of the league. Luckily Vokoun has been stellar after his debut game, and the team has been responsible and hasn't had to go on the PK much. While I certainly do not want to go back to the non-scoring ways of last season, something needs to come together to give Vokoun a break and get the penalty kill working at a similar level to last year. If the team can keep up the offense, and get the PK percentage up, BB may actually have another shot at the Jack Adams (as much as it paaaaaiinnnsss me to say it). Once things start to go awry, though, be ready to see more of the line jumbling that we've become accustomed to. Hopefully it'll just bring out more of everyone's best, rather than confusing them as it seemed to last year.
So I will say that I was wrong about Boudreau's ability to coach this team, I'll tentatively say that Perreault and Chimera are doing fine where they are, but I'm not backing down on MoJo being a lousy option at center (but he is not a lousy player). This may be something to return to once a month and check up on these guys' (and my) progress.

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