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KOL Season’s Greetings II: Winnipeg

By Adam Vingan

On October 9, the repatriated Winnipeg Jets will officially play a NHL game for the first time since April 28, 1996, when they host the Montreal Canadiens at the league’s new-smallest arena, MTS Centre. Much is still not known about the Jets; their jerseys have yet to be released, but that is not the only question mark. As exciting as the Jets’ return to Winnipeg is, the rabid fans will come to realize that they are indeed watching the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that did not win a playoff game during its decade in the Dirty South.

Perhaps a change of scenery will do the Jets some good, but they are still a member of the Southeast Division for one season (technically, Winnipeg is in southeastern Manitoba, so it checks out) and will log significant travel miles. According to On The Forecheck, the Jets will amass a total of 44.627 miles in 2011-12, the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference (the Florida Panthers will travel 52,751 miles). Maybe the Jets moniker fits in more ways than one?

Save The Date (season matchups): November 23 in Washington; November 17 in Winnipeg; December 15 in Winnipeg; February 9 in Washington; March 16 in Winnipeg; March 23 in Washington.

Stocking Suffers (notable additions): F Eric Fehr (acquired from Washington); F Tanner Glass (free agency via Vancouver); D Randy Jones (free agency via Tampa Bay): D Derek Meech (free agency via Detroit).

Gift Receipts (notable subtractions): F Anthony Stewart (signed with Carolina); F Eric Boulton (signed with New Jersey); F Radek Dvorak (signed with Dallas).

Ghosts Of Christmas Past (last season): 34-36-12 – fourth in Southeast Division – 12th in Eastern Conference.

The Thrashers entered what ultimately became their final season in Atlanta with renewed promise, having picked up several players from the Chicago Blackhawks’ fire sale, including future captain Andrew Ladd and forward-turned-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. A 20-15-6 record during the 2010 portion of the season had Atlanta in the thick of things; they were only three points behind the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division when 2011 began. Yet, the Thrashers only won 14 of their last 41 games and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and 10th time in 11 seasons.

Yet, not all was lost. Byfuglien’s first full season as a defenseman saw him earn a career-best 53 points, while his fellow defenseman, Tobias Enstrom also totaled a career-high 51 points as both earned All-Star nominations. Ladd broke out to with a career year of his own (29 goals, 30 assists) and earned the captaincy in the process. Ondrej Pavelec recovered from fainting on opening night against the Caps to finish 21-23-9 with a 2.73 GAA and .914 SV%, all career highs.

Wish List (season outlook): The Jets have plenty of promise, but a hectic travel schedule and lofty expectations from the enthusiastic Winnipeg faithful might lead to their demise. Fehr is the Jet’s most promising acquisition as he was deemed expendable in Washington with the litany of wingers that the Caps possessed. Fehr will have the opportunity to play on the top six and could be a breakout star.

The Jets’ defensive corps, which besides Byfulgien and Enstrom also features Johnny Oduya, Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart, is formidable with its mix of offensive and defensive skill. The forwards (Ladd, Fehr, Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Blake Wheeler, specifically) will need to carry the load as the Jets’ bottom six is nowhere near as strong as their top six. This team, albeit in a different uniform, city and country, did prove at one point during the 2010-11 season that it has what it takes to compete. With a fanbase behind them, things could be looking up.

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Filed under Capitals, NHL, NHL Offseason, Season Preview

Danick Paquette Looks To Make First Impression A Lasting One At Development Camp


(Photo credit: Cheryl Nichols/Caps News Network)

By Adam Vingan

There is no debate regarding whether the Washington Capitals have been buyers or sellers since the 2011 NHL Draft. Within the last three weeks, the Washington Capitals have made several moves and completely overhauled their roster in the process. Between June 24 and July 6, the Caps brought in Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Vokoun, while losing Boyd Gordon, Semyon Varlamov, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley and Jason Arnott.

The latest transaction made by General Manager George McPhee occurred July 8, when he traded forward Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for a 2012 fourth-round draft pick and prospect Danick Paquette. Unlike the aforementioned additions, Paquette is far from guaranteed a roster spot on the Caps, let alone their farm teams. That is why just three days after being traded to Washington, Paquette arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Monday to take part in Prospect Development Camp.

“It was a strange a little bit, but when I heard it, I was pretty happy to be traded to Washington,” Paquette said Monday. “I didn’t know what to expect about the team, but when I talked to everybody and my family, everyone was happy, so I’m pretty happy.”

Arriving in Washington for camp was just part of a “crazy” weekend for the 20-year-old (he turns 21 July 17) Montreal, Quebec, native. After learning about the trade Friday, he arrived in Washington late Sunday afternoon to join his fellow prospects.

“I got a call from Kevin [Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg GM] and he told me I got traded,” Paquette said. “I asked him where and he said Washington. [McPhee] just called me and gave me all the information and asked me if I could get down and I said, ‘Yes, I want to come here and see everybody and meet the people.'”

While every prospect involved in Development Camp has something to prove, Paquette is at a disadvantage as he is literally brand new. A third-round selection of the Atlanta Thrashers (64th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Paquette scored 13 goals and added seven assists in 59 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators last season. Yet, Paquette made a name for himself during his time with in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Paquette amassed 94 goals and 81 assists in 251 career games with Lewiston and Quebec, but was known for his fists as much as his scoring touch. During his second season with Lewiston (2007-08), Paquette scored 29 goals, but also accumulated 213 PIM. Paquette outdid himself in 2008-09, finishing with 25 goals and 25 assists in 61 games (including eight power play goals and six shorthanded goals), but earned 230 PIM, including a five-game suspension during the playoffs.

“I’m an agitator,” Paquette said. “Sean Avery, a little bit. I can score some goals. I can fight. I can hit everybody. I can do everything I can do on the ice to help my team [and] be a good teammate.”

In his last season in the QMJHL, Paquette finally struck a balance between being aggressive and out of control. He cut down his PIM significantly (230 to 136) and scored a career-best 36 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular season games with 12 coming on the power play and six being game-winning goals. But his reputation as an agitator returned last season with Gwinnett, where he finished seventh in the ECHL with 179 PIM, which also happens to be the highest of any prospect taking part in this year’s camp.

Paquette took to the ice for the first time with Group B Monday afternoon and looked eager to make a good first impression. He possesses deceptive speed and a powerful slap shot, but looked most comfortable along the boards and in front of the net. Paquette seemed right at home when participating in drills that involved scrums along the boards and he came away with the puck on more than one occasion. Paquette, according to Hockey’s Future, “is a perfect example of a player that teams love to have on their own side, but hate to play against.” He is far from one-dimensional and will annoy teams not only with his pest-like behavior, but his knack for finding the back of the net.

Last weekend may have been a whirlwind experience for Paquette, but it pales in comparison to his entire season. Paquette was part of a Thrashers organization that was in limbo throughout most of the season as rumors regarding relocation ran rampant. Paquette did his best to focus on the season at hand, but could not help but wonder about his future.

“You don’t know what’s going on with your career and even where the team’s going,” Paquette said. “You can’t do anything because it’s not in your hands, but in your head, it’s just ‘What’s going on with me?’ It’s crazy.”

But now that he is a member of a Washington franchise that is beginning to establish itself as a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Paquette is excited about the opportunity to play, no matter where he goes.

“It’s a big franchise,” Paquette said. “Everyone knows Ovechkin, so everyone in the world knows the Capitals. It’s a great organization and they take care of the rookies and every guy that gets called up here. Everyone loves it here. It’s a great city, it’s a great time, so I’m pretty happy. With everything that’s going on in Washington, I will not say that they are better than before, but they have more, really good players and everyone wants to come here. For sure, I want to be a part of the Capitals, but if I don’t make it, I want to be a part of the Hershey Bears and a big aspect of this team and hopefully I can come back for the Capitals one day.”

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Filed under 2011 Development Camp, Capitals, NHL Offseason, Player Profile

Resilient Lightning Will Be A Tough Test For The Capitals

Maybe you’re upset the Capitals didn’t draw the archrival Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. Maybe you wanted to get a crack at redemption in Montreal.

On the surface, a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lighting might not seem as exciting, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find storylines abound.

“It should be interesting, they’ve got more gamebreakers for sure than the Rangers had,” said Bruce Boudreau.

Start with Steven Stamkos whose 45-goal season was diminished only by a sluggish second half. Add to that Hart nominee Martin St. Louis and veteran forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone and the Lightning possess a formidable lineup.

Stamkos’s hot start spurred the Lightning into first place in the Southeast, but it became brutally clear Tampa would need a workhorse in net. On New Year’s Day, they acquired 41-year old Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders in a move paying huge dividends to Guy Boucher’s club.

Roloson not only played a pivotal role in the team’s playoff push, but is also second in the postseason to none other than Michal Neuvirth in GAA and save percentage.

The battle of the goalies could be the deciding edge in this series. Neuvirth stymied the Rangers, allowing eight goals in five games prompting Boudreau label him “not ordinary.”

Roloson is old enough to be Neuvirth’s dad but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the rock the Lightning didn’t have with Dan Ellis or Mike Smith.

“I think he’s been really good,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “Like last night, you can see he was the player of the game. [A hot goalie] — those kind of things you need.”

Roloson stopped 36 shots in a Game Seven win over Pittsburgh as the Lightning completed a comeback after trailing 3-1 in the series. In total, he faced 256 shots and only let 13 slip past; a sensational performance with his back against the wall.

“He’s known as a guy who just battles real hard,” said Eric Fehr. “He’s kind of old-school. When you go in his crease, he’s trying to hack at you and punch you and do all those different things so he’s a bit of a different goalie than we’ve seen but he gets the job done.”

While the Rangers played a tight game in front of Henrik Lundqvist, Roloson doesn’t receive quite as much backup from his defensemen. To compensate, Boucher often employs a passive strategy on the forecheck with his forwards supporting the defensive corps.

With all the weapons at their disposal, Tampa Bay has an explosive offense, but Boucher had them tone it down in favor of clogging up the neutral zones. His unique approach has resulted in a team with an ability to play in both low-scoring affairs and offensive shootouts.

“When we played them earlier I think they were still adapting to a new coach and stuff like that,” said Jason Chimera. “It kind of was like a new system that [they] perfected towards the later half of the season.”

During the Capitals midseason swoon, the Lightning emerged as the Southeast division leader. They won nine out of 13 games in January before dropping seven of 10 in March to lose their grip on the Southeast division.

The Capitals recaptured the Southeast with a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers on Mar. 6 and padded their lead the next day with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Lightning, but Tampa’s first round performance has Chimera taking notes.

“Roloson has played really well for them and I think it’s a combination of [him] and them perfecting their style of their play,” he said. “There’s a lot of key factor going into that but they are playing a hell of a lot better.

Yet if Washington can find a way to enter the offensive zone, their chances will come.

“I think we just have to do the same thing we did with Lundqvist,” said Backstrom. “A lot of traffic in front of the net and try to shoot for rebounds.”

Scoring opportunities down low will also give the Capitals a chance to disrupt Roloson’s game with some physicality. In the regular season, he baffled Washington, shutting them out in a pair of games.

Not until Matt Hendricks crashed into him during a Feb. 4th. game did Roloson show any measure of weakness. He lost his cool, punching Hendricks several times with his blocker. The Capitals subsequently scored five goals in the game and won the last two meetings between the teams.

Take what you want from the incident, but I’d expect the Capitals to have it logged away for possible reuse in this series.

Boudreau thinks otherwise.

“When you’ve got the experience he has, he’s not going to flip out if you go near him,” he said.

Time will tell and if the goaltending matchup between Roloson and Neuvirth is any indicator, there will be plenty of it to be had.

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Filed under 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals, NHL, Opinion

What Have The Caps Learned Exactly?

By Adam Vingan

Game 5’s have not be friendly to the Washington Capitals. In 27 Game 5’s, the Caps are just 8-19 overall with a 5-12 record at home and 2-7 record when leading the series 3-1. Lest we forget about last year’s debacle at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, but that’s our job, right, Bruce?

“We have to have a short memory,” Boudreau said. “The only ones who don’t have short memories are media because they got to write about it during the days off.”

Anyways, the players themselves are doing their best not to remember how they were the first No. 1 seed in NHL playoff history to blow a 3-1 series lead. We have seen the metamorphosis of this team from an explosive, offense juggernaut (no pun intended to Jason Arnott) to a defensively-responsible unit and so have they:

“We are a different team and we have a different mindset this year. I think we learned a lot from last year and we got the players in here that have paid the price down the stretch and are willing to play the way we need to play to win games.” – Eric Fehr

“I don’t think anybody is thinking about what has happened in the previous years. This is a different team here. I think going into the game tomorrow, we have our home fans with us and we just got to come out hard. Usually, the fourth game is the hardest to win. We have to be ready.” – John Erskine

“We learned a lot from last year and we’re not going to let it happen again this year.” – Jeff Schultz

“We have learned a lot” seems to be the recurring theme. The question is: what exactly have they learned?

“Nothing’s over until it’s over,” Schultz said. “Anything can happen until the final buzzer goes. It’s just a matter of taking it period by period.”

In last year’s Game 5 against the Canadiens, Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen scored within the first seven minutes of the game and the Habs didn’t need another goal to hold on for their eventual 2-1 victory that ultimately turned the tide in the series. In Game 4 Wednesday, the Rangers scored three goals in the second period (including two in seven seconds) to take control of the game for the time being. For Washington to clinch the game and the series, they must not let up and end up on their heels early.

“I think we need to be a little bit more careful about our changes,” Fehr said. “We got caught a few times and I think their team is trying to stretch us out to take advantage of that. It worked pretty well for them.”

As previously mentioned, the Caps see themselves as a different team and not just in style, but experience as well. This season’s acquisitions (Arnott, Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm and Dennis Wideman) bring veteran presence that was not as prevalent in years past. And more importantly, none of them, along with players like Marcus Johansson and Matt Hendricks, were on the team last year to experience the letdown.

“There are a couple of older guys that have gone through it in the past and now they’re on our team,” Schultz said. “They’ve been helping us game by game with staying positive and sticking to our game.”

What have these “older guys” been saying?

“A lot of teams do go through it, some teams don’t,” Arnott said. “It’s just the way the puck bounces. For this team, they can’t be worried about last year and the year before that. They got to think about this year and the team we have and try to win tomorrow night.”

All the loose ends could be tied up Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. Much has been made about the past (present company included), but that doesn’t matter once the puck drops.

“I guarantee the New York Rangers have forgotten about it like we forgot about Game 3 and everything is brand new,” Boudreau said. “Everything is starting brand new, one-on-one, team versus team.”

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Filed under 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals, NHL, Preview

Who Is In, Out Of The Capitals Playoff Lineup?

In Thursday’s Caps Wrap, we mentioned the plethora of forwards currently on Washington’s roster. The 15 forwards are battling for just 12 spots, making life difficult for Bruce Boudreau when it comes to deciding who will see the ice during postseason play.

We have a general idea what the line combinations will be. The first two lines will probably consist of 8-19-22 and 21-44-28. Boudreau will stick with his usual first line and then likely keep Alex Semin paired with Jason Arnott.

Both wings on the third line and right wing on the fourth line are the positions up for grabs among four skaters. Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley and Marco Sturm are expected to compete for the spots while Jay Beagle and DJ King should be healthy scratches along with one of the aforementioned foursome.

So it’s safe to assume there will be an unhappy individual in the Capitals locker room come mid-April. With Chimera none to pleased about being a healthy scratch against Carolina, we’d rather not envision the reaction from whoever takes a seat for game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Here’s a look at who we think will be suiting up for the postseason run:

Marco Sturm: The biggest concern for Sturm is his health after tearing his MCL and ACL last May. He missed the first two and a half months of the season, but since the Caps claimed him off of waivers, he hasn’t missed a game.

He is 1-5-6 in 16 games with Washington with four of those points coming in the last four contests. His scoring touch remains a bit off, but he is slowly getting comfortable and should eventually improve upon his dismal shooting percentage (under 4%) with the team.

Outlook: Sturm is a seven-time 20-goal scorer with 52 games of NHL playoff experience. He is responsible on both ends of the ice and if Boudreau stays patient with him, he should start shooting closer to his career average of 11.9 percent. Expect to see him on the third line playing left wing.

Eric Fehr: Fehr’s balky shoulder should be a big concern for the Capitals. They have been very cautious after he re-injured it against Montreal two weeks ago. He didn’t play in Detroit or New Jersey, they limited his minutes in Philadelphia and sat him down again against Carolina.

When he’s been on the ice, Fehr hasn’t been as prolific as he was in 2009-10. However, that doesn’t take away from his being one of the team’s best secondary scorers when healthy. He’s tied for eighth on the team in shots and is one of their more versatile scoring threats.

Outlook: If his shoulder is right, then Fehr will likely play right wing on the third line. The Capitals need him to get into a rhythm and quickly. A productive Fehr means Washington will have a solid third line also featuring Sturm and Marcus Johansson. All three bring a different game to the table, but also realize the importance of two-way hockey.

Jason Chimera: Chimera responded to the one game benching with the overtime winner against Columbus, but what the Caps really want him to do is apply an aggressive forecheck and use his speed to create opportunities while playing dump and chase.

Outlook: Chimera isn’t blessed with great hands and he fails to finish off prime scoring chances routinely, but he’s the perfect fit on the fourth line. Too often this season, he’s had to play over his head with highly skilled forwards. As a fourth line player, he won’t be expected to have as much of an impact on the scoresheet. Rather he can focus on wearing down opposing teams in their own zone.

Matt Bradley: With 10 points on the year, Bradley isn’t much of scorer, but he’s a gritty energy line forward who is fourth on the team in hits (150). Bradley hasn’t sat out a game since January 24 due to a broken finger. He isn’t the most skilled player, but he is willing to drop the gloves and take the body, helping Matt Hendricks and John Erskine set the tone as enforcers.

Outlook: Bradley should be a candidate to sit as he’s scored one time since December 18. Hendricks not only brings similar qualities to the table, but can also contribute offensively. It would be ideal for the Capitals to move Hendricks to right wing on the fourth line, making room for Chimera at left wing.

With these proceedings in mind, the Capitals lines should look something like this:

8-19-22, 21-44-28, 18-90-16, 25-15-26

Even if things shake out differently, Washington possesses quality depth at forward. The competition among them only adds to the talent level and if Boudreau can discover the right formula, the Capitals will be in good shape heading into the postseason.

On an aside, there has been some discussion as to Boyd Gordon’s role in the playoffs and we believe he plays a key one. He has taken more faceoffs (672) than anyone except Nicklas Backstrom while posting the highest winning percentage (58%) on the team. The penalty kill also needs him as he’s averaged more shorthanded minutes per game than every forward save Brooks Laich.

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Caps Wrap: Wait, What?

Yes, it happened. For the first time in over two weeks, the Washington Capitals had a higher number on the scoreboard than their opponent. Think about all of the things that have happened since the Capitals last won (there isn’t enough space and attention span to write it out, so log onto CNN.com AFTER you read this). Despite finding themselves down by two goals after the first period in what seemed like familiar territory, the Capitals struck back with three goals in 6:55 to defeat the Ottawa Senators 3-2. As Joe B. said two years ago after the Caps erased a 4-0 deficit to defeat the New York Rangers, “the comeback comes complete.” And the streak is over.

  • Mathieu Perreault: Flu-infected, outpatient, hero. One night after becoming a late scratch, Perreault rose to the occasion, netting two huge goals, the first giving the Caps life and the second giving the Caps the lead. MP85 did the “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Perreault-bot” all night long and provided the spark that got Washington off its schnide. If Matty P doesn’t become a fixture in D.C. now, may G_d have mercy on your souls.
  • The Capitals once again outshot their opponents (34-26 Sunday), but the difference between Sunday’s game and the last two weeks was where the shots were coming from. Shots weren’t just thrown in from the point. The Caps crashed the net, got into the dirty areas and cycled the puck until the opportunity for a scoring chance presented itself. None of the goals were pretty; all three came on broken plays in front of the crease. Even Alex Ovechkin’s distinct kicking motion was in grind-’em-out fashion. Remembering the basics helped tonight.
  • Not everything, however, is clicking. The Capitals had three power play chances after Perreault’s go-ahead goal, but could not put Ottawa away. Despite getting a goal with the man advantage, the Caps are now 4-of-45 since the Dallas game that started the losing skid. The Kings Of Leonsis patented “Killer Instinct” poked its head out, but still hasn’t fully come out from its hole yet.
  • While Perreault was the catalyst for the win, Eric Fehr had a goal sandwiched in between MP85’s pair. Fehr played well with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, would have had an assist on Ovechkin’s kick-in had it not, you know, been kicked in. Fehr, who had a team high seven SOG, almost scored twice; his buzzer beater at the end of the first just missed the horn. Both Fehr and Perreault are guys who need to light the lamp when the scorers aren’t cutting it. Perrault’s positioning around the net is a big plus and Fehr is one of the players who chucks pucks into the crease and grinds out goals. He hasn’t been all the Caps were hoping for since he re-upped with the team this offseason, but he’s a guy who can sneak goals in when the team can’t find any answers from their stars.
  • John Carlson looked very comfortable on the ice tonight. He joined the rush at all the right times and his defensive stickwork was excellent. Only Nicklas Backstrom has more shifts (29) than Carlson (27).
  • Mike Green, on the other hand, was responsible for the second Ottawa goal. He allowed Chris Kelly to get inside position in front of Michal Neuvirth and watched him pot the Senators second goal of the game. Green failed to move his feet and put a body on Kelly camping out in front, leaving the Caps in a 2-0 hole.
  • The Caps certainly were excited to win as they mobbed Neuvirth after the game like they had won a playoff series. Hamming it up for HBO? Maybe, but they won for the first time in two weeks, so we’ll let it slide. Hell, who wouldn’t want to give Bruce Boudreau a chest-bump?

Let us rejoice that the Capitals are winners again, but let us also not lose sight of the fact that there are many games to be played. The New Jersey Devils, who more or less embarrassed the Capitals last time they met, are in Washington on Tuesday. No one needs to be reminded of what happens Thursday. As the British say, “keep calm and carry on.” But really, if the Capitals beat the Penguins Thursday, let’s lose our f*cking minds.

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Odds And Ends: It’s About The Fundamentals

It’s hard not to get a little concerned with the performance of the Capitals through the first few weeks of this young NHL season. Yes, their 6-4 record is respectable and it’s not like we haven’t seen the Caps go all streaky on us before, but excuse us if we are a little skeptical after last season’s meltdown.

Coming into the season all we wanted to see was a newfound sense of grit, patience, and adherence to fundamental hockey. It might sound boring, but working the cycle, controlling the boards, and making crisp passes in the neutral zone win hockey games in May and June and that’s where it counts. The Capitals might pay lip service to those skills, but they have yet to dedicate a stretch of games towards working on them as a team.

Individually, several Caps have put forth the effort necessary to improve the level of play on both ends of the ice. John Erskine, though not as gifted as many on the roster, has been sound in the defensive end despite being pairing with the enigmatic Tyler Sloan. Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr are solid hustle players who skate hard every shift. Fehr also has a nice shot to boot. David Steckel has anchored the fourth line with positive results. In fact, the fourth line of Matt Hendricks-Steckel-Matt Bradley has been the ideal energy line, establishing puck possession and even chipping in with a goal during the Caps’ 3-0 win over Carolina earlier this week.

While the fourth line has stepped it up even without Boyd Gordon, it’s the first line of Ovi-Backstrom-Knuble, which is our biggest concern. It’s not the same line who scored 112 goals combined and were the toast of the town in 2009-10. Ovechkin has continued his disturbing trend of paying little attention to anything save standing at the blue-line waiting to enter the offensive zone; Backstrom is a step slow coming off a career year; and Knuble seems unsure of his role as he plays with two of the best offensive players in the game.

We fully expect Backstrom to shake off his slow start (he had a six game stretch last October where he scored just one point and he recorded just four points during the entire month of October in 2008). Knuble is at his best when is able to establish himself in front of the net, but that can’t happen if Ovechkin refuses to tone down his out of control game in the offensive zone. Ovi pays little heed to cycling the puck and maintaining possession instead preferring to score off the rush. That’s his strong suit, but it doesn’t cater to Knuble nor does it provide consistent quality shifts with Backstrom struggling.

In the offensive zone this year, Ovi’s passing has been sloppy and he’s been somewhat predictable off the rush. But the biggest issue in our minds is his lack of hustle when he doesn’t have the puck. He doesn’t forecheck consistently, his stick is rarely on the ice in the defensive zone, and cherry-picking is the norm. There’s no doubt Ovi is a great player, but this kind of stuff isn’t fitting for the leader of this team. The team will take more pride in every aspect of the game if their captain does so.

Other observations:

-It’s a broken record, but the defense is still in desperate need of a veteran stay-at-home defenseman. Erskine hustles, Carlson and Alzner will continue to develop, and Tom Poti is solid, but it would be nice to add another player to that list just to be safe.

-As much as we root for Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth has looked the part as the number one goaltender. Why “tinker” with a .926 save percentage and some of the best netminding we’ve seen in quite a while?

-We still like little Matty P over Marcus Johansson at center. Johansson is still very, very raw. Matty P is a scrappy player who skates both ends of the ice with equal intensity and his positioning is impeccable.

-And finally for as much heat as Jeff Schultz takes we can’t ignore his improvement. He’s become an even better shot-blocker and seems to have solidified his role on the roster.

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