Browsing all articles tagged with John Erskine
Feb
8

Washington Capitals – Post All Star Break Outlook

If you’re a Capitals fan this season has been frustrating and even disappointing for some. Whenever I go out in public rocking the red someone always asks, “What’s wrong with Caps?” While the team is in the top eight in the Eastern Conference and is only three points out of first place in the Southeast division, the offensive juggernaut fans have come to expect over the past couple of years seems to be gone. It’s time for for Caps fans to change their ideas on what the 2010-2011 team should look like.

The Caps have put up two of their best performances this season in back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. In both games the team was clicking on all cylinders, managing to find the net often in the game against the Lightning and getting solid defensive play against the Penguins. Against Tampa the Caps big guns were rolling as Nicklas Backstrom scored twice, Alex Ovechkin found the net on the power play, and Brooks Laich scored a sweet backhand shot that beat Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson.

The Caps came out skating well against Tampa Bay and for the first time in a while put together a complete sixty minute game. They were physical, put pressure on Roloson, took advantage of the power play, and in turn played one of their best games of the year. They continued to skate well against the Pittsburgh which added up to  consecutive  victories. For the first time this season they looked good in two straight games.

Despite what most would consider a terrible season for last year’s President Cup winner, the team has improved on defense and the penalty kill, their biggest flaws last year. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s offseason commitment to change the team’s game plan and make the Caps  more defensive-minded has paid off big time. General Manager’s George McPhee’s move to bring defender Scott Hannan to DC has helped solidify a much improved defensive unit.

We all knew last year that  defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were going to be a strong pairing playing full time in DC  but I don’t think anyone thought that they would step up and be the number one defensive line. While Jeff Shultz has struggled this year and hasn’t come close to his play from last year, when he led the league in plus/minus, other Caps have improved. Mike Green continues to develop his game, he’s becoming a solid defender and not just a goal scorer. The biggest defense shock has been the play of John Erskine. While he’s struggled a little lately, John Erskine was a player that made fans cringe when he hit the ice last season. This year, whether teamed up with Tom Poti or Hannan, Erskine has been a stable and hard-hitting blue liner.

The teams other bright spot has been the goaltending from all three of the Caps netminders. Michael  Neuvirth started the season off hot and shutout the Penguins in his first start back from injured reserve. Semyon Varlamov started the season on injured reserve but as been strong since his return. Braden Holtby struggled early this season and spent a couple months in Hershey. But he was able to come up when Neuvy and Varly were hurt and deliver 2 stellar games for the Caps.

Hockey experts will argue that the Capitals goaltending situation isn’t as solid as it looks. The Capitals goalies have faced the least amount of shots for a team this season (a tribute to the teams solid defensive play) and there two goals a game average isn’t very good for the amount of shots their seeing. It might be a fair point but I’ll take 2 goals a game this season over the three and four Jose Theodore would give up last season. And yes, Varly and Neuvy have given up some soft goals this year (Varly giving up a goal on the first shot he saw against Tampa), but I’m not concerned about their goaltending situation going forward.

The Caps have a tough road ahead of them – they play San Jose twice and end their season on the road against the Penguins. They have a five game road trip in February and a six game road trip in March in which the team will play the Red Wings, Flyers, and the Canadians twice. The Caps haven’t been a good road team this year and and by the time the playoffs roll around, this team will have been tested.

But the past two games we’ve seen Backstrom, Ovechkin, Laich, and Mike Knuble pick up their games and find ways to score. The team is crashing the net and just throwing the puck towards the goal and it’s starting to pay off. The bounces are starting to work in the Caps favor. Sooner or later the team is going to get  left wing Alexander Semin back, who before his first stint on IR was the teams best forward.  Most fans are optimistic that a fully recovered Semin will be back to where he started the season.

The future is bright for the Capitals. I would agree with most fans that this team hasn’t yet reached their full potential and with players getting healthy, the team should make a strong push in the last two months heading for the playoffs. This is still a playoff a team and one that should be taken seriously.