Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Caps Burning Questions Revisited: Mike Gartner Edition

Maybe it's early to be reviewing pre-season expectations, but so what? We're now 11 games into the season; why did we wait for the 11th game to write this post? Because we love Mike Gartner, that's why. Move along.

[Getty Images, via Capitals Insider]
10) Can Mike Green put his disastrous playoffs behind him and duplicate the regular season success he had last year?
Green has shown flashes of that Norris Trophy form early this season, and his performance on Long Island last weekend is plenty of reason to be optimistic. He sits at 11 points (2G, 9A) with a +6 rating; through 11 games in 2008-09 he had 8 points (4G, 4A) with a +1 rating. One reason why his goals are down is because he has put 12 fewer shots on goal this season compared to last. But I digress: more points, better plus minus? We'll take it.
9) Will Michael Nylander's contract prove ruinous?
Well, at least the Caps haven't lost any other players to waivers since L'affaire Bourque (C-Bo, by the way, has yet to register a point in three games with Pittsburgh). But Nylander's still on the team's books, and despite his current conditioning stint with Grand Rapids of the AHL, No. 92 still needs to convince some KHL honcho that he's worth their investment. Until that happens, think of Nylander like a buddy of yours from college who moves to town without a job. You offer him your couch and he just sits there, taking up roughly 10 percent of your living space. On the rare occasion he does leave the apartment, he leaves all his crap behind, meaning you still don't have room for that fancy new IKEA media center you've needed for months. Until the guy finds a job, you and your crappy TV stand are stuck with each other.
8) Will the penalty kill take a leap forward?
So the Caps haven't found a way to stop the Philadelphia Flyers power play yet, but as far as the rest of the league is concerned, the penalty killers have been better, currently operating at an 81.5 percent success rate. They finished 2008-09 at 80.6. That's without resident penalty killer Boyd Gordon for the past five games, to boot.
7) Will Bruce Boudreau actually find line combos that work and stick with them?
The 8-19-28 line is clearly something special, but when they have an off night, there isn't enough secondary scoring on most nights to overcome their lack of production. When they're having an "on" night, watch out. In short, Boudreau hasn't changed from last season, not that we're complaining.
6) Can Alex Semin stay healthy for a full 82-game season?
No, not at all.
5) Will a healthy Chris Clark actually be a good Chris Clark?
The Captain looked every bit the Chris Clark of Old through the first five games of the year, but has been less and less noticeable ever since, despite registering his first goal of the season last Thursday in Atlanta. Boudreau's been giving No. 17 about 10 minutes of ice per game thus far, and has even thrown him out on the second power play unit (where he has registered an assist) with some regularity. Yes, he has been the victim of almost-constant line shuffling, which is what happens when you skate on the third and fourth lines, but his minus-4 rating simply has to improve if Clark wants more ice time.
4) If Alex Ovechkin gets hurt and misses time...what then?

Not going there...
3) How will the Capitals make up for the veteran leadership that Sergei Fedorov provided?
"Leadership," in the Fedorovian sense of the word, hasn't been an issue through 11 games. What the Capitals do miss most about No. 91 is his ability to win key power play draws. Too often, the Capitals waste 15-20 seconds of power play time because Nicklas Backstrom (40.5 percent) or Brooks Laich (50.7 percent) can't win the draw. Fedorov's 56.2 percent success rate from last season would be the best on the team among regular draw-takers not named Steckel or Gordon.

2) Will Alex Ovechkin evolve into a more complete player?
Honestly, it's way too early to tell, and when the guy's leading the league in goals and is second overall in points, does it really matter? For the record, Ovechkin has eight assists through 11 games, compared to five last year and seven the year before. Don't change a thing, Ovie.

1) Can Bruce Boudreau motivate his players to play hard every night?
Sure, the Capitals are just four points behind league-leading Pittsburgh atop the standings, but of the 11 games this season, how many 60-minute efforts have we seen? We'll define "60 Minute Effort" as a game in which the Capitals were tied or ahead entering the third period, and did not allow more than a single goal en route to recording a regulation victory (shootout wins don't count). 3 out of 11: at Boston, vs. San Jose and vs. Philadelphia.
As Red Rover wrote, the Capitals are winning on talent more than effort right now. That's fine in October and, honestly, as long as the team stays healthy, it should carry them to another Southeast Division title. But as we learned last spring, talent alone will not win you the Stanley Cup.
Bonus: Are there other burning questions that need to be answered through 11 games?
There are, but the biggest one was answered (for now) Tuesday night: Jose Theodore.


  1. The Nylander couch-buddy analogy is ALMOST perfect, you just forgot to mention that he also would eat all your Taquitos while you're at work, and only drink enough of the milk to leave half a glass so when you finish it, you're on the hook to get the next one too, and he watches it happen and laughs from the couch, while scratching his exposed sack and farting onto and into said couch, and working his way through the Mythbusters marathon he's clogged your DVR with, and he forgot to feed your dog and it's lying dead in the corner.

  2. Great list here for sure. Thanks!

  3. Aww c'mon, Rover. Despite the nightmare of a situation from a roster management/salary cap perspective, Nyls has been pretty classy (read:generally non-reactionary) about the whole situation. On some level I feel for the guy. He should be playing NHL hockey somewhere...he is just horse collared by his salary.

    Though, I guess if he wanted to play badly enough he could mutually end his contract with us... so... I don't feel that bad for him.

    (can that even happen?)

  4. What I'd like to see in the form of a trade (aside from Circles) is some combination of Pothier, Jurcina, and Erskine go. To quote 'Fehr and Balanced' in the comments section of Japers, "Pothier is the anti-Schultz. He moves so well and makes the occasional pretty play so you get fooled into thinking he's better than he really is." His play was never that great to begin with, and has only fallen off since his near career-ending concussion.

    A guy like Erskine can be extremely helpful come playoff time, but he can also be a huge liability. He's slow and oaf-ish out there.

    Jurcina can be valuable when he decides to play physical, which really isn't all that often, but he's no better than the two guys we have in the minors.

    Which is the real reason a guy or two needs to be sent out: to give Alzner and Carlson a chance to make a difference with the big club, something I believe they're more than capable of doing at this point.


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