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The importance of the Caps' fourth line

By Katie Carrera
Morning Roundup

Even as the Capitals struggled in the second period against the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday, Washington's fourth line stood out. It created offensive chances in a frame with few by doing what it does best --forechecking, cycling and making something out of seemingly nothing plays.

Coach Bruce Boudreau has always believed that a team that can roll four forward lines consistently holds an advantage over its opponents. The combination of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and Matt Bradley has allowed the Capitals to do just that. Regardless of any particular good or bad stretch for the team as a whole, the fourth line continues to plug away, making the most of the ice time it gets -- even if on many occasions the effort doesn't wind up on the scoresheet.

Against the Thrashers on Sunday, they all played at least 14 minutes and did make their mark on the box score.

Hendricks tallied his third goal of the season in 14:48 of ice time, finished a plus-3 and had three hits; Steckel posted two points (1g, 1a) in 15:39, was a plus-3 and won a staggering 19 of 23 faceoffs; and Bradley chipped in an assist, two hits and was a plus-2 in 14:02. Not a bad night's work.

"They were a very positive influence for us tonight and we need that," Boudreau said. "When you have four lines and one isn't going, these guys can play a regular shift -- they're not just players you put out as fourth-line guys with a spot -- they can all play regular shifts. They did and they kept things going."

Although the precise combination of Capitals that Boudreau elects to use has varied from game to game this year, with the addition of tough-guy D.J. King on six occasions and, when healthy, Boyd Gordon has been in the mix as well.

But in the past three games that they've played together consistently, Hendricks, Steckel and Bradley appear to have grown comfortable with each other on the ice and of all the tinkering that's been done lately with the forward lines, they've still stuck together quite a bit. Their continued utility can only help, particularly against opponents who don't treat their fourth line as regular participants.

The team is off today, but colleague Gene Wang will have more on the Capitals' offensive strength on the blueline, as almost all of the defensemen -- not just Mike Green -- have found their way onto the scoresheet recently.

FROM THE POST
If you haven't already, check out the game recap of Washington's 6-4 win over the Thrashers and the post-game blog notes as well.

AROUND THE WEB
Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski takes a look at John Erskine and Eric Boulton's nomination for fight of the year. If somehow you managed to miss this fight yesterday, or just want to watch it again the video is below as well.

By Katie Carrera  | November 15, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks, Morning Roundup  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Erskine scores game winner as Caps defeat Thrashers, 6-4
Next: Alexander Semin named NHL's third star of the week

Comments

That was a terrific fight, one of the better ones I have seen in a long time.

Posted by: PhilR | November 15, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

The Caps' depth is perhaps the one hidden asset that could propel this team forward in 2010-2011.

Other teams have a skilled top line or a top defensive pairing but few have a roster of 23 players who can all play and are willing to accept their roles.

Hopefully in 40 games you will see an even better Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

The talent is definitely there for this club's defense to be an asset as well and not a liability heading into the playoffs.

And then there is Alexander Semin who is playing his best hockey in 5 years in his contract year. A Semin that scores 90 points and contributes on the back check as he has done so far is an asset that may be irresistible in the Eastern Conference.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | November 15, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I watched the game with my 3 year old son, who decided to emulate Erksine on my Boulton. I just wish he got as excited about OV goals as fist-a-cuffs. But it was a whopper of a fight. Glad I can see it now without my boy trying to throw haymakers at my face. My wife laughed at my son's constant refrain: "Where's the fight, daddy?" throughout the rest of the second as I got increasingly grumpy at the Caps. I told him, not in the Caps right now. Poor confused kid.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The Caps are not deep at center or defense.

Has anyone heard how Souray's rehab has been going in Hershey? Is he due to play this coming weekend?

Posted by: zmega | November 15, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

No matter how well Souray rehabs, he has to clear waivers back to Edmonton and if he clears up to the Caps, they can claim him. The Caps, however, are pretty high up the waiver list based on last year's point totals. So, ummm, dead last, yeah. I doubt SS will make it far enough up to the Caps.

But yes, the Caps are a center and two solid defensemen away from being a legit contender -- and give up too many goals.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

No matter how well Souray rehabs, he has to clear waivers back to Edmonton and if he clears up to the Caps, they can claim him. The Caps, however, are pretty high up the waiver list based on last year's point totals. So, ummm, dead last, yeah. I doubt SS will make it far enough up to the Caps.

But yes, the Caps are a center and two solid defensemen away from being a legit contender -- and give up too many goals.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Good write-up and photos from the Bears game last night.

http://www.sweetesthockeyonearth.com/2010/11/15/perreault-and-the-bears-send-senators-packing-8-3/#more-719

Zmega: No official word on Souray's rehab on the hand. We're all hoping for this weekend.

Posted by: tess2201 | November 15, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Erskine has solidified his role/spot as a top-6 dman and isn't afraid to fight anyone; as the only d-man with a physical presence on our team, I'm concerned we'll see more "enforcers" go after him to get him off the ice...Erskine could use a little support to counter the likes of Boulton, Shelly, Godard, Boogaard, Carkner, Orr etc... If we can't absorb DJK's presence in the line-up (skating 4-10mins a game)I'd offer that we're not a championship-caliber team....After the passive, emotionless loss on Sat. night and facing a team with Boulton/Eager/Thorburn in the lineup, I think it was a poor decision by BB to not play DJK yesterday

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 15, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Anyone else impressed with Hendricks?

This was a great pick up - Smart, gritty, softer hands than Chimichanga. Excited he's on our side.

Posted by: Jordan_Kitts | November 15, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

And the Winner of the 2010-2011 Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy goes to.....

JOHN ERSKINE of the Washington Capitals.

Tell me that doesnt have a nice ring to it. :P

JK, nice to see the Lumberjack playing some of his best hockey this season. Although his batting at the pucks in Buf was confusing...I was like seriously man...again?

As for his fight, too bad that sissy kept his helmet on, John seemed to shy up some punches after he would hit the helmet full force. Imagine if all those punches would have hit a non-helmeted person. Ouch. My favorite part though, the little punk from Atlanta faked like he was going to throw something at Erskine and attempted to make him flinch, and Erskine just grabbed him and slammed him agasint the boards ending the fight haha. It was a "Oh you want to play tough guy huh...let me show you how its done" moment. Kudos John, Kudos.

Also, I was not a supported of Erskine this summer and early in the year, but as a 6th/7th D I dont mind him.

I am still unhappy that I cant start my new anti-Sloan pre-game tradition of eating a hot dog every game he is a healthy scratch...and I still havent seen the new Sloan Combo on the Aramark menus (a hot dog, nachos, a seat cushion and a map to the press box) that I proposed. Guess we will have to wait until we sign that 1st pairing D huh? Oh well, a guy can hope.

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | November 15, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

and two solid defensemen away from being a legit contender -- and give up too many goals.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

let me guess....the two need to replace Erskine and Sloan???

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 15, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Tess. Good article/photos.

Posted by: zmega | November 15, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

@saoti

Erskine isn't playing any differently than any other time in his Caps career. Two years ago, he was a monster and was our best dman in the playoffs even while playing on a broken foot. Last year, his statistics were rock-solid but for some reason BB developed an infatuation for Sloan and Erskine became a part-timer because he was "too slow." The man would be idolized in Philly, NYC, Pitts but he gets nothing but ingratitude and back-handed compliments here....I'd take Erskine in the lineup ANY DAY over Shultz and Alzner

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 15, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

i am still scrathcing my head on the makeup of 2nd and 3rd lines. Knuble on 3rd line seems uncalled for given what the 2nd line of 21-14-16 has done of late. MJ90 has a lot of potential but Caps are still weak at center.

that said, super mega monkey props to Lumberjack!! the guy is having a great year. all you donks that were ripping the bargain money the Caps are paying him look very silly now.

Posted by: doughless | November 15, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

@ VT, I like Erskine better than ever, his positional play has been very good. His checking excellent. His foot-speed tells me 6-7, fine, he is there. Sloan is an AHL'er. Nice guy, plays hard, but plays stupid -- often over-committing or out of place. I want at least one tough guy to pair with Green. Another with Poti would be icing. Let BB rotate Erksine and the rookies. Some nights Alzner and Carlson have looked like rookies. If they play poorly (read Buffalo game), BB can sit one and play Erskine. Plus injuries have plagued the blueline so far (Poti on milk cartons), so two more may be the ticket for a long playoff run. Maybe just one. Just saying. And my wife and I are in running for jobs, so the Caps VT population may well be going up.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

@vermontcaps

I have always said Erskine as my 6th D man i am ok with...but I really really hope you arent defending Sloan. The guy will have a "decent" game from time to time...but I get that sinking feeling in my stomach (like the one when a cop pulls up behind you after you have been speeding and you wait to see if he hits the lights and pulls you over) every time I see him sitting on our bench.

Btw, as for all the Ovie talk/bashing...the has looked a little out of place this year, but still is an amazing and dynamic player and wouldnt trade him for Crosby ever. He is double teamed like every shift now which says a lot. He has not started to decline folks...ease up on the Goats Blood shots and reading BigGameSid propaganda pamphlets. People will be all praise of him once he turns this corner (hmm perhaps he should watch a little NASCAR to help with his turning...left turn, and another left turn).

Funny story though, fanohock mentioned a guy in my section that pretty much hates all our Russians...like all of them. Last night walking back to my seats I think I saw the guy he mentioned, as he yelled "Ugh, what are you even doing on this team Ovechkin, why are you even on the ice, what a waste of a jersey". I almost dropped my beers laughing at him. Crazy old senile people are just comical. I actually think it might be Ashton Kutcher in disguise trying to punk me or a Johnny Knoxville stunt.

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | November 15, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I can just see Jhonnie Knoxville speeding down the hill on a scooter with his fake nuts hanging out, lol.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | November 15, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

@vermontcaps

I disagree about his play, after his concussion, he seemed to play very timid last year and looked really really slow. This year he has improved his speed and seems to have shucked any timidness that may have resulted from the year before. I do agree though about his playoff performance a couple years ago. Def our top guy that year.

Posted by: SeminAllOverTheIce | November 15, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

all hail the sexy lumberjack!! haha, but seriously...did boulton spit in erskine's face towards the end of that fight?

Posted by: _stevo | November 15, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I think Erskine is playing way better than in his previous seasons as a cap...he is not the same player as before. He said on the offseason he worked on speed and although he is still slow as molasses, he is much more positionally sound, and a little quicker to fall back and prevent guys getting past him.

Schultz has been struggling a bit lately! He was playing so well last season and had a great start, so I am not too concerned.

Caps D need to do a little better covering the corners of the net...a lot of players are getting shots there b/c we are not clearing it to the corners.

Posted by: capscoach | November 15, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not defending Sloan, I too think he belongs in the AHL. I'm just a big Erskine fan, and have been ever since his days in Dallas. He's old-school to the nth degree, and I think any team needs players like him to be successful. I think he got shafted last year (maybe some might remember me asking if his scratches were concussion-related or if he was a cancer in the clubhouse) and I'm not at all surprised by his play this year. He's perfect in the 5-6 slot and I'd hate to see him bumped out of the lineup so that Alzner and Sloan can get their minutes. I just want us to dominate every team, and without Erskine in the lineup we're still very soft :( (As much as I like Brads and Hendricks, neither of them scare anyone in the NHL.....Erskine is legit and he could use some help tangling w/the big boys in the league)

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 15, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Isles fired their coach...AHL head coach to take over...NHL coaches have to have the shortest shelf life of any other sport! BB is starting to be considered a senior coach!

Posted by: capscoach | November 15, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Question:

Why is it lately that AHL coaches have been replacing Fired ones, but never NHL assistant coaches?

I would have thought it is more prestigious to be an assistant NHL coach than a head AHL coach. In most other sports don't asst. coaches normally get the nod?

Posted by: capscoach | November 15, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Hey Katie, you are doing a great job, but how about some news about Varly's game in Hershey last night? He is still a very important part of what this team needs to accomplish this season

Posted by: caps1 | November 15, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I think Erskine is playing way better than in his previous seasons as a cap...he is not the same player as before. He said on the offseason he worked on speed and although he is still slow as molasses, he is much more positionally sound, and a little quicker to fall back and prevent guys getting past him.

Schultz has been struggling a bit lately! He was playing so well last season and had a great start, so I am not too concerned.
------------

Whatever Erskine did in the offseason, it worked - he has looked like a different player this year, he's still not quick but he's not a half-step behind the play [like at times he seemed last season, for whatever reason].

As for Schultz, no way he should be on your #1 shutdown D-pairing - he gets exposed when the pace of play picks up, as it inevitably does in the postseason. Yes he was good in the reg season last year, but he's been absolutely brutal the last two consecutive playoff runs, and counting. Slow and not-physical is not a great combo for an elite-level NHL d-man.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | November 15, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

@VTCaps - I'd add John Carlson to your list of Caps d-men willing and able to take the body; I think he'd do it even more [he's strong as an ox] if he weren't worried about getting caught out of position, a natural and understandable concern for a rookie NHL d-man!

I am envious of your for living in VT, btw.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | November 15, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

@JIMALL...Carlson & Alzner need to play every game for their development, you would not want to alternate them, unless one was sent to Hersehy during that period
...your story of your 3 -yr old hit home, mine did the same thing, now he is 16 and ready to really kick my butt, enjoy the ride!
@zmega...I don't think we are that thin at C, would I love to have a #2 who could handle his ownend & put up 65-75 points? hell yes, but it won't happen in the cap age and with this roster, unless MoJo develops or Flash steps it up...Caps have-Backstrom, Flash, MoJo,Gordo (when healthy), Steckel...Laich and Hendricks can play center & we have Aucoin & Perrault in Hershey, they may not be long term answers, but they are depth for now

Posted by: boomer44 | November 15, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

@Timbo_1

I agree that Carlson has great potential, but I disagree that he'll ever be a physical presence. Case in point, Scott Stevens was a physical presence as an 18yr.old rookie, and Milan Lucic was a beast in the nhl at 19. So, I'm inclined to think that the physical play is innate and I've yet to see it from Carlson. (I've heard about it, but haven't seen it; I also heard that Alzner was going to work on his physicality and try to be more like Erskine; what a joke) The weak links on defense are shultz, alzner, and sloan; Erskine skating in the 6th spot won't hurt our SC aspirations.......As for living in Vt., it's very nice but it's definitely a college hockey state. I'm surrounded by Rangers, Habs, and Bruins fans of those who follow the NHL, and I definitely feel a connection w/Bruins fans

Posted by: vermontcaps | November 15, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

SeminAllOverTheIce says: "As for his fight, too bad that sissy kept his helmet on". These two started punching with helmets on. Boulton knocked off Erskines helmet. I doubt you have ever been in a hockey fight but, it is ERSKINE's job to knock off Boulton's helmet. If you square off before the fight, it is common for both players to remove their lids before the fight.

Posted by: chriscaps | November 15, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

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