As we celebrate the Capitals' 40th anniversary, let's take a moment to...
Stacking the D
Mike Green is still a top defender for the Capitals. (Caps Outsider)
There is no question that a lot of changes were made in the Caps organization this summer. Even though a new general manager and new coaches were hired, one of the most outstanding moves was the acquisition of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. And, let’s face it, they really needed to do something. A faltering defense that had the tendency to collapse or give up and not make the big plays was a big factor in the Caps distressing absenteeism from the playoffs last season.
Caps Top-4 Defensemen:
Mike Green: (Yes, I’m starting with Greenie out of respect for his longevity with the team.) Green, 28, has been with the Caps since 2005. One of the original “young guns,” he emerged as one of the NHL’s finest defensemen. But injuries slowly began to plague Green, and he only played in about 1/3 of the Caps’ games in the past four seasons. Just when fans thought he was back, he wasn’t—the injuries just kept coming. As a result, the former Norris Trophy nominee’s play suffered, and the once unstoppable offensive defenseman played with subdued caution. Green has one year left on his contract, and unless he has the season of a lifetime, Caps fans can wish him a fond farewell in 2015. Nevertheless, watch for him to continue to be in on the power play this season.
John Carlson: Carlson has been playing with the Caps since 2009. The 24-year-old has become regarded as one of the best defenseman in the NHL. Named to the 2014 US Olympic team, Carlson had the opportunity to play with the very best hockey players in the nation, and against the very best in the world. During the 2013-2014 season, partly due to injuries sustained by Green, he would ripen into the Caps number one defender. Carlson would go on to lead the team in ice time and lead all defensemen with a career-high 10 goals. Fans will be watching for this valuable young player to top that this season.
Brooks Orpik: Orpik comes to the Caps by way of the Pittsburgh Penguins where he began his NHL career. Signed by the Caps earlier this summer, the 33-year-old defender brings with him a wealth of experience. Orpik has represented the US twice in the Olympics (silver medalist 2010), and has already been a Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins. His strength and consistency is what the Caps need to help move them into the playoffs. Look for Orpik to play a lot of minutes and continue to be a stay-at-home defender.
Matt Niskanen: Niskanen also comes to the Caps by way of the Penguins. The twenty-seven-year-old defender began his NHL career in 2007 with the Dallas Stars where he played for four years before being traded to the Penguins in 2011. His youth and impressive stats made him a favorable candidate for the Caps, and the organization was thrilled when he decided to sign a seven year contract earlier this summer. Fans can look forward to Niskanen playing tough defense and scoring a few goals along the way.
Fans will also keep their eye on veteran Caps’ defenders expected to kick it up a notch (or two) this year. Karl Alzner, John Erskine, and Jack Hillen will round out the defense with the return of youngsters Connor Carrick, Patrick Wey, and Dimitry Orlov. Taking all of this talent into consideration, it looks like the Caps have the defensive strength and depth they’ve needed for a long time. Now, if they can just get the offense to score at full strength, reaching the playoffs should be a piece of cake.