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The Centre Issue

Throughout the 2010-2011 season, the Capitals employed 7 different centers for extended periods of time: Arnott, Backstrom, Fleischmann, Gordon, Johansson, Perreault, and Steckel.  Of those seven, three remain on the roster this year (Backstrom, Johansson, Perreault) with only two having guaranteed spots on the opening night roster (Backstrom, Johansson).  Even with the signing of Jeff Halpern, the Caps still find themselves short down the middle.  To complete the line-up the Caps have three possible options: Perreault, Sjogren, or Laich.

Perreault is the clear-cut leader when it comes to experience.  Of the three, he is the only one who has played pivot at the NHL level.  Over the past 2 seasons he has featured in 56 NHL games, registering 11 goals and 12 assists.  He is having a strong pre-season, including a very strong game against Columbus on Monday.  His line with Eakin and Bourque was arguably the best of the night.  He recorded an assist on Eakin’s goal and showed great positioning to bang home a PP goal.  The main problem with Perreault is consistency as he has yet to find it in any way.  Only once last season did he record points in consecutive games.  On 3 separate occasions he went 5+ games without recording a point, including a drought of 9 games during the month of January.  This lack of consistency, plus his subpar 45.6 faceoff percentage brings great concern when considering an everyday center.

Sjogren is a sort of wild card in this race.  He is an undrafted 23-year-old who has never played a game in North America, let alone the NHL.  In watching him at rookie/training camp it was clear he had a good skill set and the preferred size in a 3rd/4th line guy.  The one knock on him seems to be his legs.  The NHL game is so much faster than the Swedish Elite League and there is a real question of “Can he keep up?”  Despite all the good hype, I think it would probably be better if Sjogren started down in Hershey.  Remember, the Caps first 9 opponents include Lightning, Penguins, Flyers, Red Wings, and Canucks.  For a kid that has never played in the NHL before, this might be too steep of a learning curve.

Despite being drafted as a center, Laich has spent almost his entire professional career playing on the wing.  With guys like Backstrom, Fedorov, Morrison, and Arnott, it has been more beneficial for the Caps to have him play 2nd line wing than 3rd line center.  Moving Laich to center should allow the Caps to improve their depth on the wing as opposed to limiting the depth at center. With Laich at center the lines could shake out like this (these are just random and do not offer any insight into possible line combos):

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble
Semin-Laich-Brouwer
Chimera-Johansson-Ward
Bourque-Halpern-Hendricks

Now with Laich at wing:
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble
Semin-Johansson-Laich
Chimera-Perreault-Brouwer
Ward-Halpern-Hendricks

By playing Laich on the wing, the Caps are forced to move either Brouwer or Ward down to 4th line playing time, which is not what players of that caliber should be playing.  Both Brouwer and Ward have registered double digits in goals in each of the past 3 seasons and should continue the trend with sufficient playing time.  With Laich at center they both see more playing time and guys like Bourque or Beagle could get a chance on the 4th line. Even if Perreault and Sjogren are believed to be NHL-ready, it might be beneficial to play them on the 4th line wing. This would carry much fewer responsibilities than 3rd line center.

Laich has said he thinks he will play wing, and expects one of the younger guys to start at center.  With 3 more preseason games to play, I think the Capitals would be remiss not to give Laich some serious time at center.  If it doesn’t work out, then nothing is lost, but the potential gains are too great to not at least give it serious consideration.

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Comments

Avatar

2 things
1. Caps have made it clear that Laich will start at Wing.
2. They’ve also made it clear that no matter where Laich plays MarJO will be the #2 Center.
My predicted opening night lines
Ovechkin-Backstrom-Brouwer(don’t be surprised if MarJo starts as #1C)
Semin-Johannson-Knuble
Ward-Eakin-Laich
Chimera-Halpern-Hendricks

Posted by eric from baltimore on 09/28/11 at 07:05 PM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

It’s true the Caps are unlikely to give Brooks a good look at center, I just think they should.  If they do indeed run a line-up that you suggest I have a few concerns.
I can’t see Eakin starting on opening night, let alone at 3rd line C.  His best play this preseason has been at the wing.  Even last night when they did play him at center, it was between King and Beagle who do not appear to have a serious shot at opening night roster.  Also I think it is a waste to put Laich all the way on the 3rd line.  Yes it gives depth but it really robs the Caps of the full potential of Laich.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 09/29/11 at 11:56 AM ET

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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. 

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