New season, new ideas - looking at those who have started out hot (and those who have stumbled), that infernal Martin Erat question and more. Debate, discuss, enjoy!
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t kick this off with a mention of Mikhail Grabovski, whose legend has already begun to grow. Why? Oh, no reason, unless you consider 7 points in 3 preseason games impressive. Or the fact that he followed that opening act with a (credited) hat trick and a bonus assist in the season opener against Chicago, and an assist on a game-tying goal plus a shootout tally the following game. The points are nice (…seriously, they’re really nice) but in his brief time here he’s also shown a knack for going to the net, a beautiful skating stride and the ability to get walloped in the face by Zac Rinaldo and keep on truckin’. If that second line ever clicks... watch out.
- Speaking of clicking, the Caps' top line certainly has been so far, as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson have all come out of the gate hot. They're putting up points, and while they haven't been producing at even strength (just like everyone else) they're still maintaining possession at five-a-side and getting their chances - the even-strength points will come. In the meantime, they've looked like a cohesive trio, clearly comfortable with one another and capable of breaking out some dazzling moves. We've seen how this trio can drive the direction of the team; if they keep it up, the rest will (hopefully) fall into place.
- It'll be interesting to see how long Connor Carrick sticks with the team, as each game brings him that much closer to the magical ten-game mark. The decision to send Carrick back to the OHL or the AHL would seem to be a fairly easy one on the surface - give him as much experience as possible without burning a year of his contract. But with Jack Hillen now out for 4-6 months, can the team afford to be without an extra body on the blue line, especially with most of their reserves requiring a trip on the waiver wire? One hopes something like that wouldn't be the reason to keep a kid who, while improving every game, is probably not NHL-ready just yet...
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)
- Hard not to feel a little bad for Martin Erat - this is a guy accustomed to playing top-six minutes with top-six linemates, and instead he's relegated to less than ten minutes a night with a grinder at center and a rookie on his opposite wing. I can't really imagine a scenario in which he remains on that line, whether he's moved up to another line or simply moved, but it really does bring up the question that pretty much everyone is asking: why? Is it something Oates is seeing in him (or rather not seeing) that is keeping him on the outside? Is he simply on the fourth line to provide stability and defensive consciousness to a rookie learning the ropes? Or is it really just a matter of having too many bodies and not enough ice time to give? It's confusing, particularly given how clear-cut most of Oates's decisions have been in the past.
- One of the bigger issues for concern with the Erat situation, though, is the fact that early on it didn't sound like Oates had even communicated a plan or a reason to Erat (although it appears that this has since changed). Combine this with what Mathieu Perreault said shortly before being shipped to Anaheim: "You're wondering a little bit if they're trying to find another guy to play in my spot. I don't know what's their mindset, what they're trying to do." Until now Oates has been billed - and seemed to have lived up to the reputation - as a great communicator, but to listen to Erat and Perreault, it sounds more like the days of Dale Hunter than anything else. Does this communication only extend to those who are "his guys"?
- There's nothing about this Erat situation that doesn't stink. And while debate and discussion is always a good thing and is part of being a fan, am I the only one tired of it dominating conversation? For one thing (and not to get all "time will tell" on everyone) it really is too early to make a determination on whether it will go down as a good trade or a bad trade; talking about it incessantly won’t change that, nor will it bring Forsberg back and send Erat to a place where he can play more minutes. For another, talking about how a situation stinks when it really does stink just makes it worse, and frankly the season’s far too young for me to already be pondering putting my head through a wall. More: Isolating the Capitals' Even Strength Problems Shuffling the Deck: Fehr, Erat and Even Strength Two Dudes: Martin Erat Comes to Washington
- John Erskine is still the Caps' fourth defenseman. Ponder that one for a minute and be sure to take a look at his body of work in the season's early games as you do so.
- We've talked about it before, but while Braden Holtby's start hasn't been all that great (albeit with a noticeably improved outing in Dallas), it's probably not time to panic just yet. He has notoriously been a slow-starter over his short career, for whatever reason, but he's also finished strong. In fact, in the first half of the season Holtby's record is 23-18-2, with a save percentage of .915 and GAA of 2.65; in the second half (including playoffs), it goes up to 25-11-2, .931 save percentage and GAA of 2.05. That'll do.
- Speaking of sparkly numbers, that power play is something else right now. Granted, it probably - probably - won't stay at 50% all season. Probably. But if we were concerned about a dropoff that might occur from swapping out Mike Ribeiro for Mikhail Grabovski, we may not need to be. Oates and Blaine Forsythe are employing Grabovski in a slightly different way (be sure to check out Peerless's great breakdown of how it's worked) but the overall plan is roughly the same. Now if only they could get that five-on-three to be as dominant...
- "Overheard" on Twitter: Sure, this past week's social media scene has been taken over by tales of Joel Ward's bathroom escape... but tell me these two aren't a classic comedy duo:
"Is that the ocean?" -@tom_wilso as we drive along Lake Michigan— Connor Carrick (@connorcarrick) September 30, 2013
Tom Wilson (@tom_wilso) September 30, 2013