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Posted at 8:14 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Five questions facing the Capitals

By Katie Carrera

As the Capitals embark on the final 31 games of the regular season there are still quite a few questions facing the team as they push toward the trade deadline (Feb. 28) and playoffs. Here are what I believe to be five of the biggest questions left for the Capitals to answer, chime in with your own takes and if you think I've left anything out.

Will a No. 1 goaltender emerge?
With both Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth battling nagging injuries throughout the season neither has a clear edge in the race for the Capitals' No. 1 job in net. Washington needs at least one of them get, and stay, healthy to become the Capitals go-to goalie. The good news is neither has had a substantial set-back and that their most recent absences were tied to the same lingering groin/hip problems they've had throughout the year.

Where's the offense?
The Capitals are scoring more than one goal a game fewer than they did in the 2009-10 season, a deficit that can be largely attributed to an inept power play that went 9 for 88 in the last 27 games. Putting the power play back together may be the missing piece in getting the offense back on track as a whole and the addition of Alexander Semin, who is expected to make his return after missing nine games with a groin muscle injury, won't hurt either. But one thing is certain, while the Capitals are an improved defensive team they need to find a way to at least score once in awhile to prevent 1-0 losses like the one suffered in Atlanta on Jan. 26.

Can the Capitals settle on a second line center?
Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault have been part of a carousel audition to determine whether either can succeed - this season - as a main play-maker on the second line. Results have been inconsistent for both and certainly it's not possible rule out the possibility of General Manager George McPhee making a move at the trade deadline to acquire a veteran for that role.

Where is Alex Ovechkin?
Washington's superstar started to look like himself in the few games before the all-star break, skating with power, even recording a point here and there but for the Capitals to succeed in the long-haul they need Ovechkin to make his presence felt on a consistent basis. It doesn't necessarily need to be four and five-points every game but his ability to create and control the play allows Washington to maintain possession and results in increased scoring opportunities.

Can the Capitals win the Southeast Division?
Washington has seven games remaining against divisional foes, four on the road including a very valuable contest in Tampa against the division-leading Lightning on Friday. Granted 31 games is still quite a bit of hockey left to be played and plenty of time for any team to make a run leading into the playoffs, but failing to win the division would likely drop the Capitals to at least a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. With that position they would probably face the second-place finisher out of the Atlantic Division in the first round of the playoffs - likely either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

By Katie Carrera  | February 1, 2011; 8:14 AM ET
Categories:  Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov  
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Next: Capitals recall Jay Beagle

Comments

Why not put all of the grinders on the power play. The Stars can not get it done. The result could not be much worse. All that cute passing and trying to set up the perfect goal. Charge the net and irritate the goalie. Put the guys out there that will work hard and go to the net.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 8:58 AM | Report abuse

"Why not put all of the grinders on the power play. The Stars can not get it done. "

Because if we don't find a way to get the stars back on track, we are sunk. Grinders on the powerplay ain't gonna cut it long term.

Posted by: mikebrady1 | February 1, 2011 9:07 AM | Report abuse

I'd amend question #4 to include Backstrom, with "Where is AO?".
But I still a clue to AO's play, is the corisone shot in the wrist...

Posted by: Hattrik | February 1, 2011 9:08 AM | Report abuse

When Semin gets back in the line up it will cure what ails the Caps. Having that second scoring threat will balance out opposing offenses who, with Semin out, can concentrate soley on Ovechkin. Look for the Caps to get a big roll and do well in the playoffs.

Posted by: sjshanno | February 1, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I think you missed one of the biggest questions: what will GMGM do at the trade deadline?

Posted by: j_strong | February 1, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

mikebrady.

You have a real good point. Although OVI should not be on the PP for two minutes. It is insane. Take away ice time if the top six are not performing.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

yes; dunno; no - trade for one; drinking; no

Posted by: lylewimbledon | February 1, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I think I'd rather see the caps face Pitt or Philly than Atlanta or Tampa. Atlanta and Tampa seem to have our number of late.

Posted by: CAPSHOCKEY2 | February 1, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

pkme - Agree with reducing pp ice time for first unit. Or maybe sometimes start with the 2nd unit and then bring on the first unit for last half of the pp (if 2nd unit doesn't score).

Posted by: mikebrady1 | February 1, 2011 9:23 AM | Report abuse

mikebrady.

we have seen bb do what you suggest. again a great point.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I think a question facing the Caps is: Are they going to make the playoffs?

Currently, Carolina looks like they're going to overtake Atlanta and be in the hunt. Then, they will have their eyes on us. Our record against the teams in the playoffs at this point is not great. And 18 of the 31 games are on the road, where our record is equally not great. I say 93 to 94 points is the cutoff this year, and that means the Caps need to collect about 30 points in the last 31 games. Us missing the playoffs is not out of the question at this point.

Posted by: SuperZ3383 | February 1, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Coach should turn the boys loose for 10 games. They know how to play the style that is needed when needed. Score 2 and you will get 5. We can shut it down in the 3rd to close out games. Fly around and hit everything that moves. Both styles make a good solid team. Coach just needs to figure out when is when and NOW. Tonight is a barometer of the rest of season. Huge!!!

Posted by: ballgame21 | February 1, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Dont forget, it's Dino Ciccarelli Turn Back the Clock Night. And if Semin returns to the line up...talk about stars aligning for a huge Caps win.

Also hoping if Semin returns, BB will keep the 8-19-25 line together.

Time to take it to the Habs and show them we are still taking revenge out on them...

Sweep the leg Johnny....you gotta problem with that?

P.S. No limos to the game tonight please. ;) (too soon?) tee-hee

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | February 1, 2011 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Isn't ironic that the Caps farm team has a right wing who has led the AHL in power play goals most of the season and the GM there went out and got a defenseman who once score 19 power play goals in a NHL season.

Posted by: dull | February 1, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

@pkme

The fact that you are asking posters on this site if they can name the line ups of the cup winning Stars, Devils, Bolts and Canes is weird ! Many of us are serious hockey fans who actually watch the playoffs intently past the Caps exit.

Yes, I can name most of the players on those teams. That's why I'm certain that we are not "cup material". We don't have "playoff men" like that on our team.

All of those clubs were "gutsy". They won 16 games after a long season. After the of the second series you're already a group of "walking wounded". We don't have a group capable of pulling off what those clubs did. There is no character on this team other than the handful of the obvious guys (Erskine, Brads). I'm sorry, but it is the truth !!!

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Nice list, Katie.

The one question (or series of related questions) I would add is: can the Caps avoid the usual heartbreak in the playoffs for a change? Can they put someone away decisively? Can we not choke with another 3-1 series lead? Can we avoid a Game 7 in every series? Is last year's debacle to Montreal out of the players' heads? (I'm afraid not, on the last one).

By the way, Dino was an awesome Cap! We should have "Scott Stevens" night, too. (and a Maruk).

Posted by: CAP-lanta | February 1, 2011 10:19 AM | Report abuse

A #1 goaltender has emerged, Semyon Varlamov. In my opinion, it's at #2 that there's a question between Holtby and Neuvirth. If Holtby could learn to deal with breakaways, or Neuvirth could learn to handle a rebound, then whichever one succeeds in dealing with his chief shortcoming should be the guy.

But a healthy Varlamov is clearly more reliable and more complete than either of our other goaltenders. I still say we ought to go after Cristobal Huet, who is on loan to some Swiss league right now. He was the best goaltender we EVER had.

About our missing offense, well, we have been focusing almost entirely on defense and the results are clear -- failure. On offense we seldom attack in the middle of the ice -- we always take the puck down the sideboards and seem always to try to keep it there, on offense and on defense. You seldom score from there, so it's little wonder that we've seldom scored.

Doesn't anyone on the Caps remember the way we played last year, attack, attack, attack? It's also the way we played before the trade of Fleischmann for Hannan, which looks pretty good for us since Fleischmann's illness but tie decision to pull the trigger on that trade signified our shift in focus from scoring more goals than the other guys to allowing them to score fewer goals than we do. BAD decision. The day of that trade we had a record considerably better than our record at the same time last year. No more.

A defensive posture is particularly unsuccessful in 4-on-4 overtime situations where the first goal wins. 4-on-4 renders defense less relevant because, well, it's DESIGNED to give offenses the advantage -- that was the whole point of the rule change. The result of our defensive posture has become all too apparent in our consistent recent overtime losses.

In our last overtime loss we came out skating four defensemen. What the heck was THAT all about?

Posted by: FergusonFoont | February 1, 2011 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Nice list, Katie.

The one question (or series of related questions) I would add is: can the Caps avoid the usual heartbreak in the playoffs for a change? Can they put someone away decisively? Can we not choke with another 3-1 series lead? Can we avoid a Game 7 in every series? Is last year's debacle to Montreal out of the players' heads? (I'm afraid not, on the last one).

By the way, Dino was an awesome Cap! We should have "Scott Stevens" night, too. (and a Maruk).

Posted by: CAP-lanta | February 1, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

will ted fire mcphee and the entire coaching staff in April, when the caps are eliminated from the playoffs...or wait until June, when it it will be too late to put in a new team for the upcoming draft?

that's the only question - because this team is doomed to failure. there is no "switch" to be turned on - there is no silver bullet out there at the trade deadline. the team is apathetic. they are a worse team this year than they were last year. so why on earth would anyone expect them to do anything other than fail? at least this year's failure can't possibly compete with the absolute epic, generational failure of last year.

Posted by: dingram3 | February 1, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

@ Ferguson Foont statement,"Doesn't anyone on the Caps remember the way we played last year, attack, attack, attack?"

FREE THE CAPS!FREE THE CAPS! FREE THE CAPS!FREE THE CAPS!

Posted by: dezlboy1 | February 1, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

@all Crosby haters

I don't like the Pens or anybody else from our old Division. Crosby is a "playoff warrior". I would take him in a heart beat,
if I wanted to win in the playoffs.

I don't care that he whines and complains.
The man will win several cups. Probably the exact cups that Ted thinks should be ours "in due time".

The way this team lost to Hal Gill and the Smurfs, and now their pathetic response in a "stay angry" year has me wishing for a Crosby on our team. Letang, Crosby, Shrek,
Talbot, Fleury these are playoff men. We've got playoff wimps. How did we get down 1-3 to a Rags team that couldn't score on some of the better Frederick Fury
mite teams ? Playoff wimps ! I'll take Cindy any day, and the future Cups that come along with her.

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

hunter,


I enjoy your posts. It was not meant to be insulting. My main point is people remember the team winning more than the individual players on those teams. They had a winning system. It is not like Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Dennis Potvin or Billy Smith running the table. It is not like Gretzky, Kuri, Messier, Coffey or Fur running a clinic. I was highlighting that those teams were not star studded teams but a team that played as a team. I find BB comparison last season interesting when he compared The Caps to The Oilers. Granted the Islanders and Oilers did not play in the salary cap era. I know everyone on here follows hockey beyond The Caps but everyone here could name the complete line-up of the 1980's Islanders and Oilers without even thinking about it. Or most could name most of The Red Wings team in the 90's and beyond when they were winning Cups. We will see. Also Dineen and Hunter would be a coaching duo. BB really should be let go.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

@dezlboy1

Yea, jail break hockey is gonna' win you the cup. Get a clue !!!!!!!!!

Did you see how a "real NHL level" coach game planned us out in the first round with our "jail break hockey" ??????????????????????????

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

pkme

I get your point. BB should go. The GMGM can't spot playoff guys. He needed to draft guys with Hendrick's attitude who have more skill.

We're Charmin soft, and the B's or Pens or Flyers will make that obvious in 31 or so games.

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Another question from Katie should be, " Where is Backy ?"

My answer. Not in the slot !!!!!!

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

@Ferguson -Was enjoying your post until the Huet being the best goalie the Caps have ever had.

Do you remember a guy named Kolzig?

Had to stop reading after that.

Posted by: jwash4472 | February 1, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

If I were a betting man I would say the Bruins will win the conference this year.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

And last time I checked Kolzig got The Caps to the finals.

Posted by: pkme | February 1, 2011 11:16 AM | Report abuse

We limit teams to 3 or less very well now. Score a few PP goals and things will loosen up. Root for the team and quit whining. Some sound like you could do a better job. If that was so, everyone would do it. I still like this team and the playoffs are a tourney with a journey. While I have concerns, let the season play out. McPhee is well respected in NHL offices.

Posted by: ballgame21 | February 1, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

@dingram3
@CAPSHOCKEY2

Capshockey, the Pens and Flyers were built for the playoffs. Look how many times the Flyers have visited the finals since they won their Bobby Clark Cups: six.

The Pens have won cups in our generation with 2 unrelated groups of players.


I don't want to face either team. These organizations chose their rosters based on playoff Grit. GMGM truly does not realize that the playoffs and regular season have vastly different rules. Thus, we exit early with both teams he's constructed.(GMGM told us all that we don't "know hockey" during the HBO series. My response:
McPhee your a loser, who only has the silly Baker award and even more silly Pres. cup to show for your entire management and playing career.)

Dingram3, My biggest worry is that GMGM will trade playoff type guys like Eakin at the deadline in a panic. The Flyers want Eakin badly. (Which of course shows you that he has a "play off type" personality.) GMGM has dangled Eakin already, and I'm really upset about it. When Ted finally gets a play Stanley caliber GM in here, that new GM will need Eakin to build around. Vermont Caps my burn down the Phone Booth if GMGM trades Eakin to the Flyers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And I'll help !!

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

@ballgame21

Yea, The guys in the Flyers and Pens front offices have a "laundry problem" when they think of the "play off monster" McPhee has built.

I'm sure the Butch Cassidy hiring is admired in Detroit as they realized he was a drunk during their veting process. We found out against the Bolts that "Yes" he was Butch "The cocktail napkin kid" Casidy.

LL in Jersey has floated this nonsense about McPhee being a great GM. Based on what ? The President's Cup ? Winning the Ovi lottery ? What evidence he's great ?
Every GM in this league could have us to this point with all the first round picks we piled up. McPhee couldn't sign a hometown boy in J.R.(J.R. wanted to play here until he started dealing with McPhee. I would choose Philly too. They're more "Stanley Serious" there.) We got forced into a corner with Jagr, since Ted wanted to do "something". The wheel feel off the cart. It's still lying on the side of the road !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

@ballgame21

No, we know we are not qualified to GM a club. That being said, MOST General Managers in the league would have had us deep in the playoffs with that many first round picks and winning the Ovi lottery.

GMGM can't spot play off talent !!!!

His three coaching selections have been horrific "play off" wise !!!!

The guy stinks !

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

@pkme

I agree the B's will respond to the @ss kicking they took from the Flyers in a much bolder fashion. The Bruins don't need "stay angry" T shirts to remind them that they totally collapsed. They are ready and waiting.

The Caps, keep talking about "play 60 minutes". Doesn't sound like a group ready to kick rear and take names on a mission to snag the Big Ugly Fruit Bowl.

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | February 1, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

grinders on the power play may work for a game or two, but its not a good long term strategy. There biggest problem on the PP is that they are too apprehensive. They hold on to the puck too long not wanting to make an errant pass. The best PPs cycle the puck and move it around not just side to side, but down low and up high. This wears out the defenders and they start huddling closer togethor in the middle rather than out challenging which opens up the ice for someone to drop into a shooting lane. This also has the effect of creating screens in front of the goalie. Its more agressive which of course also increases the risk of a giving up a shortie, but if you are scoring enough PPGs, that won't matter.

Posted by: akmzrazor | February 1, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

@Ferguson
Huet? Oh come on, you judge this by quarter of a season and a horrible playoff performance against the flyers? Kolzig is still top 25 all time in wins and was in the top 25 for all-time GAA and SP up until his final three years when he was playing behind a rebuilding team (2 in DC and 1 in Tampa).

If we had Kolzig in his prime behind this team we would have won two cups by now.

Posted by: akmzrazor | February 1, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

HOW IS GETTING SIMEN BACK GOING TO HELP THE POWER PLAY?? HE HADN'T HAD A GOAL SINCE DEC. 1ST BEFORE HE WAS HURT JAN 8.???

GOD HELP THE CAPS IF SIMEN GETS ANOTHER HANG-NAIL? HE WILL BE LOST FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.HE'S TO DELICATE FOR A HOCKEY PLAYER --MORE SUITED FOR TIDDLE-WINKS ME THINKS.

Posted by: duckyjimpond | February 1, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Caps have coaching issues right now, not personnel.

Posted by: alanb1 | February 1, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Ferguson...the problem is that you make too much sense. You're absolutely right.
Huet/Kolzig...who gives a rat's axx. Let's fix whatever's wrong with this team.
NOW.

Posted by: scmonty1 | February 1, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Kolzig, when are the Caps going to get around to having a Kolzig Day and retiring his number?

Prediction, GMGM makes bold trade day moves and saves his and BB's jobs.

Posted by: tslats | February 1, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I think the principal question right now is whether the Caps are playing the right system. Granted, they need to have more defensive capability than they had last year, but have they gone too far in the opposite direction towards tryingto be the New Jersey Devils of recent years (not this year)? The Caps have been designed for scoring, and rather than just emphasizing more forechecking and backchecking when needed, especially against defensive-oriented teams in close games, they have gone to a defense-first, trapping system that has got them very discouraged. The way things are doing, it looks like swinging that far in the opposite direction is not going to get them as far this year as the run and gun got them last year - i.e., into the playoffs.

Posted by: west1805 | February 2, 2011 5:20 AM | Report abuse

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