By Adam Vingan
With each passing practice, Mike Green nears his return to the Washington Capitals’ lineup. Green has yet to play since injuring his right ankle October 22 against the Detroit Red Wings, but he has fully participated in practice over the last several days and said after Thursday’s practice that he’s “getting better each day.”
Thursday, Green practiced with his original defensive partner, Roman Hamrlik. When Green finally returns to the lineup, however, he shouldn’t be playing with Hamrlik. In fact, Hamrlik shouldn’t be playing with anybody when Green returns. Instead, Hamrlik should be the first healthy scratch to make room.
Hamrlik has been the worst of the Caps’ five offseason acquisitions so far this season. Tomas Vokoun is 7-2-0 and is ranked 11th in goals against average and save percentage among NHL goalies with at least 10 games played. Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer have combined for 14 points through 26 games, while Jeff Halpern leads all Washington centers with a 63.7% success rate on faceoffs. Hamrlik, on the other hand, is a team-worst minus-3, has been on the ice for almost half of the Caps’ total goals against this season (18 of 38, 47.3%) and has only one point this season (tied with John Erskine, who has played in nine fewer games). Meanwhile, in Calgary, Scott Hannan, who Hamrlik replaced as the elder statesman on the blue line, has four points and is second on the Flames with a plus-2 rating.
Hamrlik has been a liability all season long; he can be blamed for several goals against this season, whether it is because of miscommunication, turnovers or overall slowness that comes with being a 37-year-old. To narrow down the sample size, Hamrlik was less than stellar last week. He was on the ice for nine of the 15 goals scored against the Caps in games against the Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Dallas Stars, including all four Ducks goals.
Tuesday’s performance against the Stars was by far Hamrlik’s worst of the season. Two of the five goals can be primarily blamed on him. Michael Ryder was able to score his second of two goals by slipping behind Hamrlik, who lost him amongst the crowding in the crease. Eric Nystrom’s breakaway goal in the third period can also be put on Hamrlik; his pinch on Radek Dvorak in the offensive zone allowed Dvorak’s clearing attempt to get to Nystrom, catching Nicklas Backstrom out of position and Carlson off-guard as he had to cut back in a failed attempt to stop Nystrom.
Hamrlik admitted to The Washington Times‘ Stephen Whyno after Wednesday’s practice that he was to blame for some of Dallas’ goals:
“The second goal was my fault. I didn’t see the guy behind, and he make nice move and put the puck at the net. The power-play goal was my guy, too, pass the puck from the corner and make the pass at the front of the net. You just have to read the play better on the ice and compete for 60 minutes.”
“Accountability” is the word buzzing around the Caps this season. Hamrlik acknowledging his mistakes is not enough to prove a point. Being a veteran of 1,324 regular season games should not be a crutch to keep Hamrlik in the lineup. While Green may be comfortable with Hamrlik, he should get reacclimated with Erskine or Jeff Schultz first. As has been proven all season, no one is safe from Bruce Boudreau’s new-found sense of accountability.
Some Caps fans have taken to referencing MC Hammer when talking about Hamrlik. For at least one game, it’s time to stop “Hamr Time.”