Monday, November 5, 2007

A tale of two (Southeast) cities

Since shutting out the Hurricanes in their first meeting of the season, Carolina and Washington have been teams headed in opposite directions. Carolina has been inconsistent, but still able to post a respectable 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games, while the Caps have gone a pathetic 2-8-0. Carolina is scoring at a league leading pace (3.79 goals per game) while the Caps have scored a paltry 2.53 goals per game. Carolina sits first in the Southeast division with 19 points, while the Caps sit tied for last with 10.

The Caps have already been bitten hard by the injury bug, with Tom Poti, Alexander Semin, and Chris Clark all missing chunks of the schedule. While Poti may play tonight, neither Semin nor Clark will be available.

So how do the Caps right the ship against Carolina, and gain some momentum going into a stretch of 11 in-division games out of 14? While there are many areas that need improvement, there are three that come to mind:

1. More physical play from the top 2 lines. The Caps may not be the group of rough and tumble grinders from last season, but they need to play more like they are. While nobody expects Nylander or Backstrom to level anyone, every player on the Caps roster needs to rededicate themselves to playing the body. I'm not asking for devastating open ice hits like the one Ovechkin laid on Staal last time the two teams met, but is it too much to ask for Viktor Kozlov to actually lay his gigantic frame into an opposing player rather than meekly swiping a poke check attempt at them?

2. More movement on the power play. Since Hanlon has finally decided to throw all his best offensive players on the ice at once, it would be nice to see them create some confusion among the defenders by having the players shift their positions on the ice, rather than simply passing around the defensive box for a minute looking for a clean shot. The way to create shooting lanes is to draw defenders away from their assigned areas, which can only be done by moving forwards across shooting lanes while the puck is being moved. Doing so has several positive effects. First, it creates a momentary screen, so the goaltender temporarily loses sight of the puck. Second, it either forces a defender out of position if one wing is overloaded or leaves an open man in the position the moving player occupies. The point man on that side then has an option to either skate the puck at goal (if the defender follows the moving forward), shooting through the screen, or passing to the open man at the back post (if the defender does not break formation and follow his man). Any way you slice it, the offense has many more options than just passing around the defensive box. Movement on the power play creates offense. Right now the Caps are standing still.

3. Move Kolzov to the wing and move Nylander to the first line. At this point there is absolutely no excuse not to play your best set up man with your best shooter. Furthermore, chemistry with Ovechkin or no, Kozlov has looked absolutely atrocious his last few outings, and something needs to change. If lining Nylander up with the Russian Machine seemed like a no-brainer at the start of the season, it is even more so now with the Caps struggling to find their way on offense. And the Caps have enough natural centers on the roster to allow Nick Backstrom to continue to play the wing without disrupting the entire lineup if they still feel he's not ready to take on the position. (Never thought I'd be typing that sentence a year ago)

4. Get Mike Green shifts with the first line. Right now Greener is the 4th best offensive player in the lineup (behind OV, Nylander and Backstrom). While he still holds the puck too long and is a genuine heart attack waiting to happen in his own zone, he has the talent to draw defending players to him on a rush, freeing up Ovechkin from the constant double teaming he receives and allowing him to take on defenders one on one after a pass. And any time the Russian Machine is one on one with anybody in the league, it's a good thing for the Caps.

So there we have it. Four ways to improve the Caps chances as they head into a stretch of hockey that may well define their season. Lets hope that Hanlon makes at least some of those adjustments and the Caps right the ship. I don't even want to think about what might happen to the Caps season if he doesn't.

1 comment:

the deuce said...

Grumpy 3 - loved your 3 (or was it 4) points. Of course, I found point three the most salient. Let's see if Hanlon's hijacking of our offense continues tonight. I found this post on Japer's of particular interest:

"Carolina has more depth than Washington, and the coach has been getting really creative with his lines and specialty teams since the last time these two met - and it's working."
- The Sliding Pokecheck

Contrast that with Hanlon, who has certainly been "creative" with the lines (See Gordon, Boyd playing with OV and Softie Kozlov) and specialty teams (See Motzo, Joe, and Brashear, Donald on the 1st PP), but has yet to do the MOST OBVIOUS thing the team needs to get back on track.
I don't know if I can bear to watch tonight. Somebody wake me up whenever Hanlon wakes up.