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Heward, Playoff Spot Getting Close

Defenseman Jamie Heward hopes to return to the Caps' lineup Monday, just 11 days after getting his face sliced open by a skate blade.

If the 35-year-old veteran manages to make it back that soon--Washington hosts the Penguins--it would mean he missed only four games. Which is quite amazing considering the damage that was done by Mike Modano's skate.

Heward has been skating on his own for the past few days with a full metal cage attached to his helmet. He figures he'll have to wear it "for a while" before switching to a longer style clear visor (think Dany Heatley). Heward estimates that it's been 21 years since he's worn a cage.

"There's no sense in reopening this scar," Heward said. "It's actually doing very well."

Heward's wounds have healed as well as could be expected. In fact, from a distance it's actually hard to see the skin-colored bandages covering the nearly 100 stitches holding his cheek together. The swelling has subsided, though he's still wearing a plastic brace on his nose.

On another subject, I wrote the other day that a victory over Ottawa would help me decide whether the Caps were making a "serious playoff push" or if this recent run was simply "fool's gold".

Well, I still haven't decided. But I'm getting closer. Another strong performance tonight against the NHL-leading Ducks might clinch it for me. A Caps' victory would give them five in a row for the first time since March 2002, and possibly put them in a playoff position.

What's the consensus out there?


By Tarik El-Bashir  |  December 8, 2006; 12:26 PM ET
 
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Next: Turning The Corner?

Comments

I think it's way too early to predict a playoff berth. I'd wait until late Januray to get excited.

BTW, it was nice to hear you on the Team 1200 in Ottawa before Wednesday's game.

Ottawa's biggest Caps fan

Posted by: Luc Comeau | December 8, 2006 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Agreed- still too early. But, given the clubs' propensity for "waking up" in JAN/FEB (USUALLY after the 'Skins have finished), I would lean toward giving them the playoff nod even at this early point.

Posted by: dah1963 | December 8, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I want so badly to believe these guys will make it, but I just don't think they can crack in. I think they just miss.

To my mind, they miss too many crucial opportunities. Too many times a pass bounces off a stick or an open net backdoor isn't put home. A team that wants to make the playoffs needs to nearly always capitalize on these chances. The Caps youths just miss a little too often for me to be convinced. I think they do it next year.

Posted by: false_cause | December 8, 2006 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest not making a decision based on the Ducks game. The Caps have won four straight, and the last three have been outstanding performances against top-tier teams. Any team, even playoff contenders, cannot maintain that level of excellence, particularly since the next opponent - the Ducks - is arguably the best team in the league and has the sort of defensemen - Pronger and Niedermayer - who can shut down snipers like Ovechkin and Semin.

My suggestion is that rather than deciding whether the Caps have sufficient talent, teamwork and moxie to be a potential playoff team on the basis of one game, that you say that they have the potential, but let's see if they can maintain some consistency over a period of time, such as the next month or two. Like baseball, the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Posted by: Monty | December 8, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Until the Caps admit that players like Bryan Muir are horrible defensive liabilities and that we need to add at least 2 quality defensemen to this roster, this team will still be on shaky ground. If you haven't noticed, Pothier hasn't exactly been Norris trophy material this season with the added ice time. He moves the puck well and skates well but he makes too many mistakes in his own end and loses too many one-on-one battles for the puck and in the crease. He's not a top 4 in this league, no way. And at his age,he never will be. He is what he is, more effective in small doses.

Posted by: AJ | December 8, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Waaaaaaaaaaaaay too early to even think playoffs. They could just as easily lose 5 of the next 6 as they could win or earn a point in those same 6 games.

Posted by: Steve | December 8, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Too early to tell. I can't say I know either way if they're going to the playoffs or standing on the other side. It is, however, quite encouraging to see this team play at such a high level from night to night. They rarely produce any clunkers. The fact that they always seem to be in games is a reason why the playoffs are a possibility. If they play well for the balance of the schedule and just miss, that'll be OK because of the marked improvement they've shown. It also means it'll be time for Mr. Leonsis to open up that checkbook and get this team competing in year three of the rebuilding effort.

(I wish the Orioles would notice what the Caps are doing. This is how you rebuild a franchise. It should take three or so years, not nine.)

Posted by: Colin | December 8, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I think with the talent at the forward position and the goaltending they are getting from both Kolzig and Johnson they are in the hunt.

The team has five guys on pace to score around 30 goals or more (Ovechkin, Zubrus, Semin, Pettinger and Clark) That's depth in goal scoring - something they were lacking last season.

But the Defense simply gives up too many shots and this will be the weak link for the team all season.

I think they will stay in the hunt all season long for the playoffs. Maybe a trade deadline aquisition for a steady defensive defenseman will put them over the hump.

Posted by: C-A-P-S | December 8, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

the large number of shots Kolzig/Johnson faces game-after-game, I think, will keep them just short of a playoff spot. if the CAPS were to sign another solid defenseman, however, I think the playoffs are in reach

Posted by: not-so-mighty ducks | December 8, 2006 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Tarik-

Good article about Kolzig. I think alot of times goalies don't get the credtit they deserve when a team is doing well, or they get too much blame when a team plays bad.
Having said that, I think the other important component in the Caps' turnaround has been the increased scoring from the "second" line of Pettinger/Beech/Semin. Pettinger is turning into an awsome two-way player, Semin has unbelievable skills, and kudos to Beech for hopefully carving out a niche here in his second stint as a Cap.

Posted by: Dave | December 8, 2006 3:32 PM | Report abuse

As others have commented on it seem way to early to talk playoffs, IMO. Lets see where this team is after the all star break.

Though at this point of time this team appears to be acclerating the time line for the rebuild and will be interesting to see what Leonsis does this off season if the teams continues to play/develop this well.

Posted by: usiel | December 8, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

The caps will finish between 10th and 7th in the East. If they pick up another defenseman, maybe from Philly, then they'll have a much better shot, I agree, Muir and the lack of depth on the blueline will determine this the playoffs

Posted by: wackycap | December 8, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Four wins following six winless games following a pair of wins in a row strikes me as too streaky to get a good handle on their chances. They have 12 games left this month, including tonight's. If they get, say, 15 or more points (giving them at least 45 in 39 games -- a 94-or-more point pace), then I'd be more inclined to think that they are in the thick of it.

Posted by: ThePeerless | December 8, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Trade deadline of Feb. 27 is when you can decide if Caps are making a serious playoff push. 37 games between now and then, more than the Caps have played so far. I think they'll do it, but the proof is in the pudding.

Posted by: Steve in Jersey | December 8, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The key to understanding the Caps is to remember that this team is improving. Many writers at the beggining of this season looked at the Caps final position in the standings, and the off-season trades, or lack there of a huge talen pick up, and figured they'd finish in the same position. But that didn't take into account the huge progress made over the season. This season is the same. The Caps at this point are hovering just one point below where they should be to make one of the last two playoff spots, but this is only four games removed from there worst strech of the season. I predict they finish in seventh place, and make the playoffs.

Posted by: Capsannapolis | December 8, 2006 5:03 PM | Report abuse

One thing that the Caps SHOULDN'T do is trade prospects for rent - a - players at the trade deadines. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but not at the expense of mortgaging the chance to become a really elite team a few years from now. STICK TO THE PLAN, TED

Posted by: JD | December 8, 2006 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I think the caps will just make the playoffs this year. But I dont think they will be picking up any D at the trade deadline. Anyone worth having who is avaiable at that time will be in HIGH demand and would not be worth the price. However, Ive been to see the Bears 3 times this year and must say I was impressd with the size and skill of the young D there.

I must also agree with the above comments about the Pettinger Semin line. Having a second line that is a real scoring threat is why this team has improved. Cant wait for Backstrom.

Posted by: caps fan | December 8, 2006 5:35 PM | Report abuse

It may be too early still. I'd like to see some more wins, against the SE division, before I make any playoff predictions.
I enjoyed your article on Olie, he has to be proud of his career; he's the best goalie the Caps have ever had!

Posted by: Matt | December 8, 2006 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Withholding judgement until after playing the best team in the league isn't how you judge a playoff team - it's how you judge a Stanely Cup-contending team. Having the result of the Anaheim game affect an opinion on simply making the playoffs is misguided.

Posted by: Empty Maybe | December 9, 2006 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Memo to Ted: Everyone wants to pick up the Kool-Aide and start drinking! Add a defenseman to the mix and something might happen!

This is a very young team that has the talent to win 4 straight against high-level competition and the immaturity then to turn around and show the way they did against a premier team last night. They will probably go through cycles like this several more times this season. It's a learning process. I think all that can fairly be said right now is that nobody has a lock on the playoffs in December, but a team can play itself into such a hole that it has no real chance of getting there. This team hasn't done that. We're way ahead of last season, and maybe ahead of The Plan. I still think that without more defense, however well the forwards play and however good our goaltending is --and overall it has been exceptional -- in the end it won't be enough. However unfair it may seem based on one game against an incredibly talented team, last night said less about an 8th playoff spot to me than it did about the continuing need to improve on the blueline. I could not agree more with the comments about sticking with The Plan and not giving up prospects for rent-a-players. As I understand it, though, The Plan has never been to grow 100% of this team through the draft. Given what seems to be a shortage of defensive talent in the system, I think this is the "key acquisition" that needs to be made at some point to get to the next level.

Posted by: Fred | December 9, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

You are spot on. Great analysis.

Posted by: Fred | December 9, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

sorry, Fred. that last comment was from me. not fully awake yet.

Posted by: Tarik | December 9, 2006 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Loved your Kolzig article (above the fold too!). As for the Caps' playoff prospects, I agree with wackycap that the team is hovering on the edge. A few good bounces and they'll be the 6th or 7th seed. A few BAD bounces and they miss the playoffs.

Last night's win-streak-ending loss to the best team in the NHL is hardly an indictment of the Caps; it simply makes clear that the team isn't quite to the elite level yet. But I tell ya, there aren't many teams in the East who'd want to play us in the first round at this point...

Posted by: OrderedChaos | December 9, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I think the next 10 games will be what decides the season for the Caps. Five at home and five on the road, seven against teams that are (as of today) within 3 points of the Caps in the standings. If the Caps are really playoff bound, this stretch of games before New Year's Day will prove it.

Posted by: zamboni | December 10, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Agreed that it's way too early to talk playoffs, but the team is definitely playing like they want to make them. One name that hasn't popped up at all here (or anyplace else that I can tell) is Hanlon's. He's doing an amazing job with this young squad. He's getting consistent effort out of them, developing a winning attitude here when it had been decidedly lacking, and NO ONE'S talking about him! Tarik, I'd love to see an article on him and how he's managed to motivate this team.

PS. Luc Comeau! I haven't seen your name on the washcaps listserv in years. Cheers, big guy!

Posted by: Geauxcaps | December 10, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Man, i'm getting to this one late!!
The Caps have played great hockey since the Islanders game. The only loss was to the Ducks, who are as solid as solid can be; like detroit in the late 90's. I knew we lost something when Carlyle left. The Caps offense is spreading out through the team and that is a great sign. I think the Caps can make the playoffs, though likely as the 7th or 8th seed, and likely by the skin of their teeth, given the defense's inablilty to clear the fricken puck from the zone sometimes. Will they win the series? I won't count on it. But the important thing, this year, is to get there. This team is improving!!

Posted by: Kerplunk | December 10, 2006 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and Pettinger has come of age! This guy is a great example of what a systematic training of prospects can achieve. 10 goals and he was missing in the beginning of the season due to injury.Talk about catching up. What I like to call the Beach Week line (Semin-Beech-Petty) is highly productive. Beech continues to get better, he and Petty work well together and their is chemistry with Semin. Couldn't ask for more.
But where does the majority of the credit lie? Hanlon. Definetly.
By the way, Tarik, how about an article about the asst coaches? We know nothing about them, really.

Posted by: Kerplunk | December 10, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I think the team is capable of making the playoffs based on how teams are put together today.

I think, however, that with the standings as they are now there could well be 12 teams within reasonable striking distance of a playoff spot when the trade deadline roster buildup starts.

Between the Caps road heavy schedule in March and the ownership's discomfort with making any sudden moves, I think its more likely that they fall short in the late going to a team(owner/management)that wants it more.

Posted by: Rob | December 10, 2006 10:21 PM | Report abuse

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