On Tuesday night in Boston, Michael Nylander had one of his better games in recent memory. Granted, that's not saying much, but given that the Caps are more or less stuck with him for the foreseeable future, it was not only encouraging, it was almost enticing.
Nylander's fifth goal of the season - and first from in front of the net and off his stick since mid-October - came on a night when he saw his most total ice time (16:00) since New Year's Day and had more than 4:45 of power play time in a game for only the second time since October 21 (Nyls is currently eighth among Caps forwards in power play ice time per game).
As Nylander hums along averaging one point every other game (the third-worst rate in his 15 NHL seasons and worst in a decade) while seeing the lowest amount of ice time per game that he has gotten this century, the question isn't whether or not the Caps can make lemonade out of this apparent lemon, but rather whether or not a team with aspirations as lofty as those the Caps hold can even float the wedge in their collective glass of water without fear of what it might do to the rest of the drink.
The answer, it seems, begins and ends with Bruce Boudreau - his system, his lines, how much time he gives the old Swede, etc. - so let's look at how Nylander has performed since Boudreau took over behind the Caps bench:
Eighteen points in 19 games last season ain't bad at all. In fact, that would be the third best rate for any season in Nylander's career. The minus-eleven sticks out, but don't forget that those 2007-08 numbers included 13 games played with a hurting shoulder (making the 18 points all the more impressive).
So it can be done.
In fact, to a certain extent, it is being done - Nylander averaged an even strength point for every 45.25 minutes of total ice time last season and one for every 41.99 minutes this season. The difference in overall production, for the most part, is the result of the fact that he's seeing just 2:35 of power play time per game this season after getting 5:14 per game last season (which includes the Glen Hanlon era).
That's not to say that what the Caps need more of is a pirouetting playmaker on the perimeter. It's also not to say that Nylander deserves more minutes. But given that Nylander is likely going to be a Capital for at least the rest of this season, it's time to define a role for him and hope that his pride - and undeniable skill - does the rest.
Nylander has noted his lack of regular linemates and reduced ice time, and that first point certainly seems to be fair - according to FrozenPool.com, Nylander's most frequent even strength linemates (307 occurrences) are Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann, followed by Clark and Brooks Laich (200 times), Viktor Kozlov and Flash (171), Laich and Alex Semin (161) and Alexandre Giroux and Kozlov (143). By contrast, Nicklas Backstrom has skated well over 85% of his even strength shifts with Alex Ovechkin. While it may be difficult for Michael Nylander to generate any chemistry with certain players, the constant shuffle can't help matters.
So give him consistency. Give him ten games with Fehr and Flash. Give him fifteen or sixteen minutes a night. Give him another real chance.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
It turns out that shots on goal differential correlates closely with playoff success, which is nice, as the Caps' have the best differential in the Eastern Conference.... Apparently the world (at least two guys at ESPN) is hoping the Caps and Pens meet in the first round.... Live chat with Corey Masisak today at 2:00 (and who wouldn't want to chat with such a fine looking young gentleman?)... Is it a bad sign that Chris Bourque (23-years-old today) shares a birthday with such notable scrub Caps alums as Roman Tvrdon (28), Jason Doig (32) and Ed Kastelic (45)?