But, first a rant. The officiating against the Caps recently makes me want to throw up. Two slashing penalties, one against Alex Ovechkin in St. Louis and one against Jeff Schultz in Dallas that both ended with broken sticks and didn't get called. Schultz got a penalty because he pushed the guy into the boards although I'm glad he did. Then, Jason Chimera is bleeding everywhere after three non-slashing calls in the game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Really refs?
Now, back to tonight's subject. The Caps much maligned blue line got better with the acquisition of Scott Hannan from the Colorado Avalanche for Tomas Fleischmann. I don't agree with columnist Adam Proteau that the Avs got the better player. Regardless of Fleischmann's potential upside as he's only 26 v. Hannan's 31, the Caps got the player they've needed for several years and Fleischmann struggled in Washington this season. He became an unnecessary spare part on a team full of talented forwards, he was not effective as the team's second line center and he gets pushed off the puck too easily, especially in the playoffs. However, I wish Fleischmann the best of luck in Colorado and I hope the change of scenery is a good one for him.
Scott Hannan, on the other hand, finally, gives the Caps a veteran stay-at-home defenseman that has 73 playoff games to his credit with the San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche, including an appearance in the Western conference finals. He's also known for his durability and consistent play. Everything I've read about him and seen, so far, including his vocal leadership on the ice, tells me that the Caps found the perfect person to mentor this young corp of blue liners starting with John Carlson.
Carlson played horribly tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but, in general, has been impressive this season. There's no doubt he's going to be a super star in this league, but he's also going to have more games like tonight where he's caught out of position and isn't moving bodies out of the crease like he needs to. He's only 20 and yet he's tied for the lead among rookies in plus/minus at +8 and shares the team lead with Jeff Schultz in blocked shots with 62. Carlson is also in the running for the Calder trophy and leads all rookies in time on ice. One of his best games, worthy of the 2nd star, came against the Tampa Bay Lightning where he blasted a shot off the faceoff from Marcus Johansson past Mike Smith to start the scoring. More importantly, he and Karl Alzner shut down the Steve Stamkos, quite a feat against the top scorer in the NHL.
Karl Alzner is more confident playing at the NHL level this season. He's playing plus-1 hockey, prior to tonight, and has 31 hits and 38 blocked shots. Alzner struggled tonight, too, but the Carlson-Alzner pairing is a strong one. They play well together and appear to be taking their AHL chemistry to the next level.
John Erskine spent his summer conditioning with the goal to make more of an impact for the Caps this season and it has showed. He's been a beast on the ice, playing in all games until the last two. He's got a blast of a shot and netted a game winner and first star performance with it against the Atlanta Thrashers back on November 14th. His career high 3rd goal came in the Caps blowout and best game this season against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 26th. Erskine's been defensively responsible, too, and has 68 hits and 43 blocked shots. I've always liked what Erskine brought to the table as he's a tough hockey player, but I like the new and improved Erskine even more.
Tom Poti's been hurt more than he's played this season so I hope that groin is fully healed as he was paired with Hannan tonight. He's a decent defenseman with a nice shot, but, there are times when he frustrates me. This year, however, he's been a steady defenseman making key poke checks or goal saving shot blocks just when it's desperately needed. He's the other veteran d on this blue line with 51 playoff games and I'd like him to stay healthy.
I left the one-two pairing of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz for last. The Caps top duo disappears during the playoffs so they both have a lot to prove this season. After a league leading plus-minus of 50 last year (and, plus-minus is not an accurate measure of defensive play as being out of position can lose a game, for ex, but it's a useful tool for comparing seasons), Schultz is only +5, more than a quarter of the way through the season. He's struggled, at times, this season. On the positive side, he's also tied for the team lead with Carlson in blocked shots with 62.
Mike Green's defensive play has improved this season and it's clear he's focusing on it, but there are still times when Green loses focus in games. He also missed another five games with a shoulder injury. One of his strongest games came against the Calgary Flames back on October 30th. Green picked up a goal, an assist, blocked 3 shots, had 2 takeaways, 3 hits and ended up the night plus-1 for a second star performance. Then, there are nights like his minus-2 with 2 giveaways to go along with his 2 takeaways night against the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 3rd.
My hope for the defense is that Mike Green and Jeff Schultz find that consistency and show up in the playoffs, that the rookies John Carlson and Karl Alzner continue to develop, that the new and improved John Erskine hangs around, that the injury prone Poti stays healthy and that newly acquired Scott Hannan teaches all of the them how to clear the crease, how to play the body instead of the puck, when needed, and how to get them all to stay focused on sound defense. I've already seen him do all of that. A tall order, I realize, but that's what I'd like to see and before April.
Other Caps notes:
....Caps took a four goal lead into the 3rd period against the Toronto Maple Leafs and blew the game against the 16th seed in the Eastern conference in a shoot out. Once again, the Caps let off the gas and collapsed in the 3rd period. This is an all too frequent occurrence and the players should be held accountable for it. Whether or not they will be is another question.
....The Captain. After giving up an empty netter goal to end his goal drought by passing to his teammate Nicklas Backstrom, Ovie outdid himself as captain tonight. Colton Orr harassed Ovie early on in the game against the Maple Leafs so DJ King took him to task and they both went off with 5-minute fighting majors. Ovie scored and skated over to the penalty box to tap his stick against the glass in a salute to King. Classy move.
...Mathieu Perrault announced his intention to compete for the second line center with his energetic two goal and 2nd star performance in his latest call up from Hershey. Here's hoping he can show the consistency he needs to stay.
The Caps play the Florida Panthers on Thursday. I hope they show up for it since they're no longer number one in the East and Florida's ranked 13th.
Let's go Caps!
Labels: John Carlson, Mathieu Perreault, NHL, Scott Hannan, Washington Capitals