Monday, December 18, 2006

All Quiet on the DC Front

- It's very strange when the Caps get back-to-back wins on back-to-back nights - everything goes silent. It's an interesting phenomenon; reporters, bloggers, everyone is exhausted after previewing the games, watching the games, breaking down the games...whew.

At least that's why I've been quiet. I'm worn out.

But it's a good worn out - the Caps pulled off two great wins this weekend, both solid team performances with a sprinkling of Alex magic to make them sparkle ever so slightly. It's nice to just sit back and reflect on these games, reflect on that satisfied feeling that comes from beating two of our biggest rivals, past and present.

We'll have to do it quickly, because as Vogel points out today, things are going to start ramping up over the next few weeks. These two days between games will become one day, which will become zero days. Throw in travel and the fact that the Caps will be facing teams all fighting for a firmer grip in the conference standings and you have the potential for a very tired team.

Which makes me thankful for a lot of things:

  • An average age of just under 27, with 17 players under the age of 30 and 10 players 25 and under...fresh faces mean fresh legs and resiliency on consecutive nights
  • A strong goaltending tandem, with Johnny and Olie both putting in consistently great performances on any given night
  • Recently consistent offensive production from players not named Ovechkin, which enables Hanlon to keep Ovie's minutes per game under 60...
  • A team that is able to respond well after being soundly beaten, which if we're being honest with ourselves may happen once or twice during this stretch
- Bad news - Richard Zednik is apparently out until the end of January after having surgery to repair a torn groin muscle. Poor guy...every time he starts producing he gets injured.

- Lately the Caps seem to be going with a rotating corps of youngsters mixed in with some more established veterans to make up our checking and fourth lines. The result has been scoring and scoring chances throughout the ranks, including improved performances from Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon.

And so we have a problem, albeit one every team would like to have - too many guys playing well. When you get your injured guys back (Zednik, Bradley), who do you bench?

A tougher question and one I don't like to think about as much is this: if the Caps eventually trade for a solid veteran center or defenseman as many people think they should and will do by the deadline, who gets the hook? Who is used as trade bait? Who gets waived or sent down?

If I ran the team (and I'm sure you're all thankful I don't), I honestly don't know that I would change a thing...not yet, at least.

I am not among the majority who thinks the Caps are missing another first/second line center or another puck-moving defenseman. And that's not because I have a whole-hearted love for each and every single one of these guys and don't want to see them leave.

(Okay, that may be part of it...but it's not the only reason.)

I think too many people are seeing the progress of this team and getting overly excited - they want to pick up a rental player or two to catapult the Caps into the postseason right away. We have to be careful with that kind of thinking, though. There's a bigger picture, a long term plan that seems to be going well so far, if not ahead of schedule. The Caps need to learn how to nurture players through the development process if they want any kind of shot at a consistently competitive team. Sometimes experience is the only way to do that, and they've gotten that so far - with pretty good results, might I add. Throw in a veteran player who eats up minutes and you lose that development path. It's harder to learn when you're only seeing the ice for less than 10 minutes a night.

Players are gaining confidence in themselves and each other. Chemistry is good but still developing. It's dangerous to mess with that kind of thing. Look at something as simple as removing Beech from Semin's line - all of a sudden the hottest player in the league couldn't buy a goal, and people were wondering why. Put Beech back, and voila - suddenly we have two lines that can burn you instead of one.

I really am on board - I think we're on the right track, and I'm willing to drink the kool-aid for a little while longer. Let's see how things go at the deadline...there's a lot of hockey to be played until then.

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