Saturday, January 19, 2013

NHL Hockey Is Back... Finally

Just about 4 months of missed NHL action and it is finally here. A NHL season. It may only be 48 games, but it is better than sitting out for four months rather than 12, or longer. And tonight is the night. The Washington Capitals will start on the road taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hockey is back in DC.

I had to go back and look at my season's previews that I saved, only to realize I did not save them. Bummer. And since everything seems to happen last minute, why don't we condense a season preview of the 2013 season for the Capitals. I will throw in some interesting tidbits and what ever is left over, I will find a link for you to follow. Deal?

Short Season

The lockout accomplished one thing, it will be a sprint to the playoffs. With only 48 games on the docket, teams will have to push to keep up with points early and often. The Caps are no different, and in a division where it seemed everyone got some talent it is going to be important to take a few points from your own division.

There is good news however, the Capitals will make a return to some aggressive offensive play. Adam Oates' new system will allow for the Caps to use an aggressive forecheck and let the defensemen jump in the play when the conditions warrant it. It is a system that seems to be more in tune with the personnel the Caps have this year. Unlike Hunter's defense first philosophy, the Caps will have some opportunity to attack in the offensive zone.

Savior of the Power Play

You probably have heard a 1-3-1 being tossed around on the blogs about the Capitals new power play system. Like Japer's Rink, Dump 'n Chase and Peerless to name a few. Until we see it in action, there doesn't seem to be a way to gauge if it will work or not.

For the Capitals, their system under Bruce Boudreau depended heavily on the power play. It allowed the team open space 5 on 5 and they took full advantage of teams not wanting to in any way take a penalty. But when the power play faltered so too did the offensive production at even strength. Teams found away to better defend the Caps potent offensive strife as well as played much tighter on snipers like Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin with out worry that if they took a penalty, their team could kill it off.

Oates' system will depend on the power play somewhat, but he also wants his players to make better reads. A thinking offensive player is better than a head first into the zone then work it out approach makes better sense with the players Oates has to work with.

Get It Gone

Capitals sort of revamped the back end defensively speaking. Calle Johansson, assistant coach and former Caps D-man, has the boys getting the puck out of the zone quickly. The faster the puck is out, the more on the heels the Caps can have their opponents in transition. This requires a lot of work for the defensmen and the center who have to find outlets for the puck. Passes out of the zone to wingers or dumps off the glass, the Capitals will be looking to getting the puck out of their zone as quickly as possible.

Now that strategy could change game to game, but the overall scheme the Caps want is a quick transition game. How that will work with Tampa's infamous 1-3-1 trap, we will find out tonight.


Braden Holtby might get the start in net tonight against the Bolts. But the way Oates is going to be handling his goaltenders, there really isn't a number one or number two. 

"In my mind I think both guys are going to play a lot," Oates said of his goaltending pair. "There is going to be a lot of back to backs, it is going to be a different schedule, so I'd imagine both guys would get a lot of hockey."

Michal Neuvirth and Holtby will be tag teaming a lot of games. Especially the seven back to back games on this schedule. Riding the hot hand may be tough to do during the season, but the playoffs are another beast all together. So we will leave that beast for later.

Both goaltenders won't be taking any ego hits because of the way Oates plans to use the tandem. Both seem ready to accept their roles together.

"The one thing that is certain," Holtby said, "is that we will both be needed and be needed to win games in order to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a good position." 

It's Poti Time

It seemed like an unlikely return. Most of us had written him off. In fact you would have to go back nearly a year and a half for in this blog to even see his name mention (with out bringing up the salary cap). Tom Poti may make his long awaited return to the ice for the Washington Capitals tonight. It would mark an outstanding return for a player that has not seen NHL action in nearly two years.

You can read about his amazing journey back to the Capitals on Mike Vogel's Dump 'N Chase. Short story was Poti thought he just had a recurring groin injury, turned out to be a fractured pelvis. He keeps in shape, works out a plan to return, spent some time in Hershey (2 games) and has made the opening night roster. Uh, Bill Masterton trophy anyone?

What Needs To Be Done

All aspects of their offensive numbers, 5 on 5, power play, shoot out, empty net, needs to improve over this 48 game schedule.

If the Capitals want to return to the playoffs and make it deep once they get there, some key points will need to be addressed for it to happen. The overall census though is for the Capitals to return to being an offensive power house. What was once praised for their creative, explosive and consistent goal scoring prowess, needs to make a return for the Capitals to do well.

Ovechkin numbers need to improve, and Oates seems to have a plan for that. He has moved him to the right wing to open the wingers vision to more of the ice. Ovi, a right handed shot, had been playing left wing. Normally a scorer of his magnitude, being a right handed shot on the left side makes it easier for one to cut into the center of the ice and have your shot on the forehand. By moving him on the opposite side, Ovi will have better protection of the puck and a quicker release with out having to pull the puck back to his forehand side. Got it?

While we talk of offensive numbers improving, the team overall has to play with much better cohesion. That does not just mean chemistry through the lines, but also how the team moves as a unit transitioning from offense to defense and back again. Wingers have to get back, centermen have to cover defensemen on the defensive side, while the green light is given to defensemen to jump up in the play, creating odd man situations and more open reads for wingers looking to pass to open players.


Mike Ribeiro will play an important role in that second line setup to complete the one two punch. The second line has to support the top line with goals as well, something that has been thus far inconsistent for the Capitals. A crafty centerman, his talents will also be helpful on the Caps' power play.

Wojtek Wolski should add some stability to that second line as well. He will also bring some pizzazz to the shootout, an important part of the new NHL and important for the Caps in this shortened season to grab points where they can.

Final Thoughts

This is actually a very exciting time for the Washington Capitals. New coach, new system, new players infused with the old standards will make for an interesting season. Can it translate to wins? Can the Capitals finally make some headway in the playoffs? All of those questions will be answered staring with game one tonight against Tampa. As hockey pundits put it, we won't know until we play the games.

But no one, not even the coaching staff, is going to think a Stanley Cup is anywhere in the Caps near future. Oates admitting himself the first game of the season will be a sloppy mess. That is to be expected coming out of the blocks this way.

Players playing to their potential, should give Caps fans something to cheer and look forward to. After all, we waiting four months for this. Now it is here. NHL hockey is back.

Caps Notes:
Finally, Let's Go Caps

No comments: