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The case for chemistry

By Nicole Weissman

With the Caps’ top line under producing so far this season (and yes, I know that this is highly relative), I can’t help but start to feel nervous that Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Knuble are at risk for being included in the next round of line shuffling. Here I’ll betray my adversity to change by arguing that chemistry is largely developed, not inherent, so it’s detrimental to break up lines or defensive pairings too soon. 

Long past the halfway point of last season, we were still making large changes to our lines, and sometimes Bruce Boudreau got just the spark he needed out of those shifts. The spark that’s harder to gauge, though, is the one that comes from consistency, and at times last season I felt that Boudreau could have gained more productivity by letting players develop some chemistry, rather than looking for an instant “click” that might never come. 

This year’s team is notably similar to last year’s. I think the lack of major changes in the off-season speaks volumes about the front office’s confidence in this team exactly as it was. So I’m hopeful that the lines this year will be more consistent, with less frequent and less widespread shuffling, because we’ve already learned so much from our experimentation last year.  It may be the case that a little more time together is all this team needs to go from great (great, of course, taking the form of an embarrassing first-round exit) to true Stanley Cup material. 

While it remains to be seen whether Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble will be able to go the distance this season, Backstrom’s new contract speaks to the fact that the Caps are interested in developing some long-term partnerships between players who work well together, like Ovechkin and Backstrom. 

Another example of this strategy is in the pairing of Carlson and Alzner which is, in my opinion, pure chemistry gold. The two skated together in the AHL, so while I can’t comment on whether they had instant chemistry, I can say that they’ve developed it as they’ve grown together. Pairing up two rookie defensemen is a questionable move, but it’s become clear that Boudreau sees it as worth the risk of “rookie mistakes” to have these two young guys on the ice together.

Too often I let nostalgia cloud my judgment when it comes to the Caps roster. I’d keep a veteran player and play him on the same line forever because I know what to expect, even if it means missing out on more explosive lines and more consistent defensive pairs. So this season, I’m hoping to see less experimentation, because some tried and true partnerships, like Ovechkin and Backstrom, or Carlson and Alzner, are showing that there’s a lot to be said for sticking folks together and letting the chemistry grow with time.

In the spirit of nostalgia, what are some of your all-time favorite Caps lines and pairings? Is anyone else feeling the Carlson-Alzner chemistry as much as I am?

By Box Seats blogger  | October 29, 2010; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Nicole Weissman  | Tags:  Capitals, Nicole Weissman  
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For chemistry, nothing will ever beat the two-headed Ridley-Miller Monster.

Posted by: topshelf_22304 | October 29, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The caps have been encountering unusually good goaltending, and I think that is the reason they've been struggling so much. They don't adjust to it well. They don't screen enough, they don't put the shots above the pads, and they don't fight enough. I think that this has prevented goals, which halts the caps' momentum and keeps them from overcoming their opponents in other aspects of the game.

This isn't a good excuse. If they want to be a contending franchise, they need to be able to beat the hot goaltender. But when good shots don't go in, I think it holds the caps back in other elements of their game by sapping the momentum.

Posted by: j762 | October 30, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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