Four Things To Watch for When the Capitals Return

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Posted February 17, 2014
Mike Green (Caps Outsider)

Hey Mike Green! How you doin’? Seriously, are you better? (Caps Outsider)

There is still a ton of Olympic hockey to go, with the elimination matches starting in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t too early to start stressing ourselves out over what is going to happen when the NHL comes back. Here are four things to watch for when the Capitals resume play late next week.

Braden Holtby

Holtby has been catching a ton of flak for having a poor season, but Capitals fans know that’s not exactly true. Sure, he hasn’t had his best season, but the most of perception of bad play stems from a slump he was never allowed to play out of, thanks to Philipp Grubauer.

Before the break, it looked like Michal Neuvirth was ready to take back the crease until, like so many times before, illness forced him out of the lineup. After not starting for three-straight games following an ugly showing in Columbus, Holtby responded by stopping 59 of the 61 shots he faced against Winnipeg and New Jersey, including a shutout.

The way Adam Oates has been handling the netminders this year, it’s fair to assume he’ll play the hand that comes out of the gate hottest. If Holtby gets the nod against Florida on the 27th, that’s his chance to take back the number one position that has eluded him since December. Even if Neuvirth starts, the Capitals could use both goaltenders to playing as well as they have been.

Marty Erat/Secondary Scoring

Despite all the drama that as surrounded Martin Erat during his time as a Cap, he has been playing his best hockey in recent weeks and was rewarded with his first goal of the season against New Jersey. Playing (and scoring) in the Olympics should raise his confidence, which should in turn keep him from over-thinking on the ice and get back to just playing hockey. If he can start converting on the chances he’s been getting, it will do wonders for the team’s playoff hopes.

The Capitals have scored 163 goals this season, 13th in the league. However, 45 of those have come on the power play (tied for 1st) and 15 of those are just by Alex Ovechkin. The team has been relying on Ovechkin and the power play all season, but if it wasn’t to make any noise in the playoffs (or even get there) they need production throughout the lineup at even strength.

That starts with players like Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich, who haven’t been able to find their groove this season. Troy Brouwer, like Erat, needs to build of his play before the break, and hopefully Mikhail Grabovski will be ready to come back from injury when play resumes.

The Health of Mike Green

With all due respect to Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette, if they are on the roster when play resumes, the Capitals are in trouble.

An already-suspect defense was dealt an awful hand when Mike Green missed three games before the break. Wey and Brouillette played above expectations, but how likely is that to continue if the bottom three defenders are all rookies? Green has his faults, and the Caps could use a bit more production from him, but as RMNB pointed out, he’s been one of the best players at limiting shots. For a team that hemorrhages shots against, that’s desperately needed. He’s also skating almost 23 minutes a night, second only to John Carlson on the team. That’s a big chunk of time to be made up.

The idea that those who still remember Jack Hillen are looking forward for his return, (and that he could legitimately help) speaks volumes of the lack of  defensive depth. They Caps need some sort of help on the back end, and quick.

Which brings us to…

The Trade Deadline

No amount of trades or tinkering can fix what ails this team, but not doing anything will hurt even worse. As presently constructed, the Capitals are not a playoff team, and there is nothing to suggest they are suddenly going to flip a switch and figure it all out. The glaring hole at 4D (which has been talked about at legnth) needs to be addressed in some way, so the goaltenders won’t see 40 shots a night.

But will the Capitals make a move? It’s hard to imagine that George McPhee will sit idle if there is a deal to be made and the team is within reach of a Wild Card spot. Though, with so many teams still in contention for a playoff berth, who knows what the cost of helpful players will be. It’ll be tough for clubs to decide to part with assets. Not to mention the insane schedule coming up has every chance to bury them in the standings. Come March 5th, it could be too late to bring in reinforcements. This will be the most nerve-wracking trade deadline for Caps fans in some time.

So really, all we can do is wait and see how all these scenarios play out. It’ll probably cause us a few more gray hairs than when Washington was a lock for the division, but that’s what we love about hockey. Every single one of the 23 remaining games will mean so much more, and we’ll hang off of every shot until our team is mathematically eliminated, or the playoffs start.

Jonathan Garcia

Jonathan Garcia

Jonathan Garcia also writes for On the Forecheck about the Nashville Predators.
Jonathan Garcia
Jonathan Garcia

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