Wow, what the hell happened? I turn my back on the Capitals for two weeks, and they fall right apart!
Needless to say my absence has left me pretty far behind on my recapping, but really, do you want me to re-hash the last couple of weeks, game by game? Didn’t think so.
So, while I was gone, I see the Caps traded Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for some much needed salary cap space and Jason Chimera. Word is the Caps saved $2 million on the deal. In an example of pennywise and pound foolish, the Caps announced the trade a few hours before they were supposed to face division rival Carolina.
Carolina was a game the Caps should have won easily, but they didn’t, and they haven’t won since.
Now I’m not going to make as big a deal about Chris Clark being the “Captain” as the media did. I liked Clark well enough, but felt his impact on the ice was negligible. Clark missed most of the past two seasons and the team played fine without him.
Milan Jurcina on the other hand was not the flashiest of defensemen, but he was solid especially in the corners. Sure the Caps had more than a handful of defensemen, but I could certainly think of better candidates to ship off.
So what was this trade really about? Chimera isn’t good enough to warrant two players by himself is he? Of course not! I’ll tell you, I think the Caps are so deep in Hershey right now, this trade was used to free up salary cap space to be able to call up more guys.
Now Chimera obviously isn’t shy about contact, his penalty minutes show that. I’m thinking that Chimera was brought in to be a “goon”. Think about it, when the Caps had Brashear, they had an enforcer to mix it up with the other team. He was referee bait; without him, the refs are targeting Alex Ovechkin. Clark made a nice effort trying to be the team’s enforcer, and he got in a couple of fights, but Clarkie’s not a fighter.
Don’t get me wrong; Clark can throw down when he has to, but he’s not the guy that’s going to skate out there with a chip on his shoulder looking for a scrap.
With Chimera, the Caps may just have that referee bait they’ve been missing that will free up Ovie from the wrath of the whistle. It may not work, since Ovechkin is officially on the refs’ radar, but it’s worth a shot.
The hard part now is chemistry along the lines. Chemistry is important. I know the Caps have only added one new guy in Chimera, but combined with the loss of Clark and Jurcina it has a snowball effect.
The first thing that happens is that as the coach, you shuffle the defensive pairings. Jurcina was a big hole to fill in ice time, so now you have new pairings that you may not have had before. You get used to the guys you’re skating with, so when you have someone new, you tend to play a little more cautiously.
Not just the D-pairings, the forwards start to get a little more cautious as well. They might take a shot, and instead of pursuing the rebound into the corner, they are racing back towards the blue-line. This creates fewer scoring chances. So what does a coach do when his team isn’t generating offensive pressure? He mixes up the forward lines trying to find the right combination that will generate consistent offensive pressure.
Now you have more guys skating with other guys they don’t usually skate with, and they are doing so knowing the pressure is on them to produce. They feel like they have to compensate, and do more, so instead of trusting the guy across the ice to do what he’s supposed to do, or be where he’s supposed to be, they make sure they are there instead; which usually means they are there also. Now if you have two guys sharing the same 5-feet of ice, that’s not directly in front of the crease; one of them isn’t where he’s supposed to be. They both know it, so in a similar situation next time, nobody will be there because the one will go back to where he is supposed to be, and the other will vacate the spot assuming the other guy is going to be there.
If you’ve been watching the Caps through each of these losses, than you have seen examples of what I was just talking about. Caps players skating into each other, or passing the puck to empty space (where you probably said what I usually do; “who was that pass to?”) or sometimes trying a drop pass that becomes a turnover because the guy skated into the zone thinking he had a trailer that wasn’t there.
So, I know the big question is “can the Caps get their mojo back?” Sure they can, they just gotta relax. The only new guy is Chimera. Don’t grip the stick so tight when taking a shot, and make those scoring chances count. Trust the other guy to do his job, and focus on doing yours. There is still a lot of hockey to be played between now and the post-season, so a few losses won’t hurt too much.
The Caps played better in LA than they did versus Carolina so they are starting to get it, and I expect we’ll see the Caps return to form tonight at home versus Montreal.
At least, I hope so!
Sorry about my recent absence, I hope to be back to my regular Caps Recap next week with nothing but good things to say about our favorite guys in the Red, White and Blue.