F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 01/24/14 at 10:10 PM ET
Anybody who has even paid marginal attention to the Washington Capitals over the past couple of weeks knows they are in trouble. They are in the midst of a season-worst seven-game losing streak. In those six games, they have been outscored 19-8. They are currently playing the worst hockey of the stretch, having gone four straight games without scoring more than one goal. This has sparked a plethora of outbursts from fans directed towards the coach, GM, and the players. While it is clear the players are not performing well, are these the right players from which to expect success?
To evaluate that question, I want to compare this team versus the team that made the Conference Semifinals in 2012. While that was a team that got one of the best coaches in the league fired in November, it's also a team that had a good playoff run despite being a poor fit to the defensive scheme instituted by Dale Hunter. For the purpose of this article, I am going to try to remove the current season from my memory, and focus simply on the types of players that comprise this team.
Of the 21 players that were members featured on that playoff run, 12 are still on this team, and feature night-in and night-out. The nine players that have moved on are Hamrlik, Wideman, Schultz, Semin, Halpern, Perreault, Hendricks, Knuble, and Keith Aucoin. They have been replaced with the likes of Orlov (who did play 60 regular season games that season), Carrick, Schilling, Grabovski, Erat, Wilson, Volpatti, and Fehr.
Defensively, I argue that the team is not any worse off than the team under Hunter. Both Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz became known as traffic cones on the ice. Carrick and Schilling, meanwhile, are much more mobile and even prone to join the rush on occasion. This does create some ill-timed pinches, but they also have a better chance to make up lost ground. Hamrlik and Schultz did bring significantly more size to the ice, but it did not lead them to be any more physical. When it comes to Wideman vs Orlov, I'm a little more torn. Wideman's offensive game made him a bit of a rarity, but he became one of their worst defensively. Orlov has yet to show a Wideman-level of offensive skill, but he is better in his own zone (though far from perfect). If anything, both coaches had terrible defenses with which to work.
Offensively, I argue that Adam Oates actually has a better offensive group. The most notable loss from that 2012 team is undoubtedly Alexander Semin. Despite his enigmatic nature, few can argue as to his offensive skills when he wanted it. To fill that void, this iteration of the Caps has both Martin Erat and Mikhail Grabovski. These are two players have fantastic offensive skill and are easily capable of putting up near 20 goals each. The two of them combined should be able to fill the voids left by both Semin and Perreault.
Mike Knuble, at one point, was capable of scoring 20 goals, but that was not the Mike Knuble that took the ice in 2012. Eric Fehr can easily take make up for Knuble's absence, with more speed and better penalty killing. Matt Hendricks brought great intangibles to the team (and shootout skills), but when it comes to a fourth-line player, that doesn't make or break your team. Aaron Volpatti/Tom Wilson are fine replacements. The same goes for the likes of Halpern and Aucoin.
In addition to just player replacement, the Caps' younger players have matured into much better players. Both Karl Alzner and John Carlson are much better defensive players than they were in 2012. I don't think John Carlson was an Olympian then. Offensively, Marcus Johansson is miles ahead of where he was. And if we take into account this year's production (which I did say I would try not to rely on), Joel Ward is actually playing at the level the Caps expected of him in 2012. I shouldn't even have to mention the difference in Ovechkin between the two seasons.
The fact remains that this team is not playing well. They rarely appear to be even on the same page. In a lot of games, their goaltending is all that keeps the game close, and the offense still can't take advantage of it. And looking at some of the players that see decent ice time, it's easy to see some glaring holes. The issue I wanted to point out is that the Capitals have had pretty much the same glaring holes over the past few seasons and have still remained more competitive than their third worst position they currently hold in the East. Maybe it's time Oates re-examines the strategy he has them playing. I might suggest starting with learning how to get to the slot.
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About F Street Faithful
Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.