Good day, Washington, D.C., the greater mid-Atlantic, and the lesser regional round-ups! Can you smell that? It's the Capitals' play as of late. It smells like pine oil. Last week the Capitals went 2-1-0 for four points and currently sit first in the Metropolitan Division, the Eastern Conference, and the NHL.
Sure, a cushion in the standings is nice; just ask your auntie with the orthopedic pillow. But it's rapidly becoming put-up-or-shut-up, right-the-ship-or-sink time, and the Capitals need to take a real look in the mirror. Who are they, what are their jobs, and who blessed the rains down in Africa? Let's review some resumes and set up some interviews in this week's preview.
The Unemployment Office
"Do your job." It's been the refrain of tycoons, Marxists, hockey coaches, and most recently, that of our very own merry turtle genius, Barry Trotz. A person can only survive by the sweat of their brow, and hockey teams are no exceptions.
It used to be easy to define each Caps player's job. Justin Williams was the skilled pivot that allowed the high-flying top lines to hum. Alex Ovechkin was a shot-generating spam bot. Braden Holtby was Christ. Things were simpler, then.
Now? Well, Justin Williams is being used like a can of hockey Flex-Seal, being employed to patch up leaky lines well beneath his own talent level. Alex Ovechkin has seen his shot production drop off a Siberian crevasse likely due to a niggling injury. Braden Holtby is getting pulled from nets like dolphins in a tuna catch.
Of course, some of these roles have not changed and are simply not being executed as well. Holtby's job is still to stop pucks with his self-meat more often than his counterpart does. Ovechkin's job is score goals and give goofy sound bites. Justin Williams is the churn that thickens the offensive butter.
But what of the fallout of this recent dearth of execution on other players? What happens to them? When someone isn't doing their job, someone else has to, and that causes problems.
Take Dmitry "Dima Bean" Orlov. For most of the season, Orlov's well-understood role was to be disruptive and reliable on defense at best, and not a glaring defensive liability at worst. This role withstanding, he was then expected to help out on offense given his tremendous skills there. But with John Carlson out, Mike Weber inexplicably getting ice time, and other blueliners like Brooks Orpik and even Nate Schmidt not playing particularly well, it has fallen to Orlov to play airtight defense more than ever before. Dmitry Orlov is not a shut down defenseman. He's a serviceable defenseman who can contribute to the offense. He's Russian Mike Green. The job he is now having to do is not his job.
Take Braden Holtby, the fail-safe, the balm to our chapped Caps. His role was to be the rock, that apparatus that allowed the rest of the team with operate with a verve bordering on reckless abandon. Not that his play excused bad overall defense, but the best player on the team was in net, and it showed. His save percentage in all-level danger chances was well above the average, and the surefootedness of his play at the back enabled some dazzling forechecking at the front. Now, his high-danger save percentage has fallen back to earth like Icarus with wings made of vulcanized rubber. He is saving easy ones at a high rate, but not doing anything spectacular, noteworthy, or indeed, much beyond being purely adequate. That is the role of a goalie, but that is not the role of THIS goalie. Holtby's job is to be the Holtbeast, and right now, he's more of a Holtkitten.
And with that preview complete, we turn now to the segment that hopes to normalize relations with Cuba and then abnormalize them...LIABLE TO LIBEL: A BAKER'S DOZEN LIES ABOUT THIS WEEK'S OPPONENTS!
1. Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson is leading all NHL defensemen in points, a quality Caps fans will fondly recall of Mike Green, except, you know: Karlsson plays defense.
2. Recently-traded Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was happy to make the intra-Ontario leap to Ottawa, citing the excitement of living in the nation's capital and the fact that there are no NBA or MLB francises to bring an underperforming hockey team into stark contrast.
3. Right winger Curtis Lazar doesn't pronounce his last name "Laser," but it'd be a whole lot cooler if he did.
4. Patrik Elias has been a staple in New Jersey longer than spray tans and not-very-good Italian food that people say is really-very-good Italian food.
5. After years of confusion, it bears mentioning: "Tuomo Ruutu" is not a Devils player, but rather the incantation you say to summon the devil.
6. Cory Schneider has stopped more New Jersey traffic than a bit of rain or a single off ramp closing.
7. St. Louis Blues captain David Backes is overwhelming, crushing, and fast, which is why his teammates call him "Debt."
8. "Oh, no," the Blues' front office says. "We're happy with the Oshie-for-Brouwer swap."
9. Blues' goalie Jake Allen does not appreciate the pejorative nickname "The Gateway Arch," though he does thank them for his future porn name.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets winger Brandon Saad was not at all disappointed to be traded from the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, and was glad he moved all his Apple stock into Gawker Media, too.
11. Non-hockey fans forget that Columbus has a hockey team, but then again, so do hockey fans.
12. Sergei Bobrovsky downplays his success in Columbus, demurring and saying, "Well, it's easy to prevent goals in Ohio."
13. Boone Jenner is not a Blue Jackets center but a cheap label of supermarket wine.
So, there you have it, Caps fans. There's some playoff-contending meat on the bone this week, as well as some table scraps. Greed is good and gluttony is great, at least when it comes to hockey teams. Let's see if the big dogs eat. Have a wonderful week, and as always: Go Caps!