There have been a lot of comparisons of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. Although it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges, many could consider that these two teams were in the same situation a year ago. Both had a superstar rookies, both had disappointed endings to their seasons, and both were looking to their prospects to carry the flag next season.
But the Pens find themselves not only fighting for a spot in the playoffs, but looking for home ice advantage. And the Caps? Playoff hopes are another season away, again.
Where did the Pens go right, and the Caps go wrong? It’s an unfair question, but one just has to go to the Verizon Center and hear that question come out of the mouths of loyal season ticket holders. I have no idea why they ask me either.
The Penguins have seen their young players develop quickly. Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin and others have added goal support for Sid “the Kid” Crosby. With some veteran leadership and a good goaltending, the Pens are currently 4th in the standings and knocking on that playoff door.
The Caps have only seen two players put up numbers, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin. All this offensive “power” and the Caps can’t seem to get anyone but the Alexes to score? The Caps other prospects like Jakub Klepis and Brooks Laich turned in so-so performances this year.
The Caps have only five players with 20 or more points, while the Pens have 8 including rookies Staal and Malkin. Third and fourth line scoring for the Caps nearly doesn’t exist while for the Penguins, every line contributes. Goal support for the star players keeps the pressure of scoring clutch goals every game down to a minimum. With out it, star players take unneeded risks, do too much on their own and can be easily defended.
The Penguins have a hot goaltender too. Marc-Andre Fleury is 29-12-7 with a 2.85 goals against average. Olaf Kolzig’s numbers are less impressive, 19-19-5 and a 3.06 GAA. You could argue shots at the netminders are the reason for this gap. Okay, let’s look; Fleury has faced 1432 shots, Kolzig 1487. Not much difference. Although goaltending may not be the key, the Pens in the last 4 games have let in 17 goals but scored 21. The Caps have allowed 14 goals in their last 4, scoring 10.
Comparing the two teams is a bit unfair, because both are very different. But what are the Penguins doing right, that the Caps aren’t? Both have loaded up on young talent in a rebuilding effort. Both have dumped some of their large salaries in an effort to free cap room. Both have put their futures in young talented players’ hands. And it’s the Penguins that have playoffs in their future while the Caps are making tee times (if the season continues as it is).
It’s obvious the Penguins are getting production from their young players. The Caps aren’t. The Pens are riding their winning streak on the back of a hot goaltender. Kolzig is out with a knee injury. Pittsburgh is getting all the attention. The Caps are struggling to keep fans in the Verizon Center.
George McPhee’s model could be flawed, especially if his prospects turn out to be nothing more than minor league players in NHL sweaters. We all knew that this process wasn’t going to be an overnight success. At the same time, it frustrates Caps fans to see the Penguins enjoy their success off of some hot prospect players. While the Caps struggle nightly to find the back of the net and use the inexperience excuse. Weren’t the Caps supposed to get that kind of effort from their young guys?
Again it’s not fair to compare the two. They have different systems, different players, and different coaches. But with the Caps facing their once divisional foes again on national TV, it certainly brings the question to the fore front. What are the Caps doing wrong?
So it may look as if Richard Zednik’s time as a Capital for a second time could be short. The injury plagued forward could be shipped for (you guessed it) a couple of draft picks. He also only signed a one year contract with the club, so he may look for new digs by summertime anyway. It might be better to get something for him.
A new name came up, Dainius Zubrus. Zubie could be a very valuable addition to teams looking for that fast play making forward for their second or third lines and is solid in the face off circle. Zubie could also land a player and a draft pick in a trade. Although it may sound crazy to trade him at this point considering his chemistry with Ovie, someone has to move off that top line to make room for Nicklas Backstrom.
Also worried about maybe being traded could be Steve Emminger. Emminger has a sub-par season from a year ago, and is only so-so actually defending. But he may add some speed to defenses that need a puck moving blue liner.
It is quite obvious though that the Caps won’t trade for any veterans until the summer. Caps won’t want to lose any of the youth they worked so hard obtaining, so signing free agents will be the aim of the McPhee at the 19th hole between tee times.