Becca H. of Japers' Rink took some time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about the Washington Capitals. We thank Becca H and Japers' Rink for their time.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.
Jeff Chapman: The Capitals are allowing the fifth most shots in the league at 34.3 per game. You noted in a recent write up that the Caps have allowed 30 or more shots seven of nine times so far this year. Last year wasn't much different, as the Caps averaged just over 32 shots allowed per game on the season. What's keeping this number so high?
Becca_H: It's probably too easy to just say "bad defense"... but that's really what it's been so far.
One of the biggest deficiencies in the Caps' lineup coming into this season was the lack of a legitimate fourth defenseman to skate with John Carlson, and it's shown in the early games. John Erskine has taken over that spot for now but ideally he'd be on the third pair (or in the press box), and the rest of the blue line has been rounded out by rookies like Connor Carrick and Nate Schmidt. Combine that with the fact that some of the guys on whom the team usually relies are off to somewhat shaky starts.
And while the actual defensemen have struggled, they're not getting much help from the forwards, who have been prone to sloppy neutral zone play and bad turnovers that have forced Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth to see more than their fair share of shots.
JC: I banged the Mikhail Grabovski drum rather hard when the Oilers were free agent shopping this past offseason. Through nine games, he's got seven points (4-3-7) for the Caps. What's expected of him this year? Are you happy with the acquisition? Is there anything you'd like to see him do better?
BH: I love the signing. Grabovski was someone we had drooled over after the Leafs bought him out this summer, as well, so the fact that the Caps were actually able to get him - and do so at a cap-friendly price - was a really pleasant surprise. He's really expected to provide a solid second-line center for a team that's lacked one in recent years; Mike Ribeiro was probably the closest the team's been to having someone fill that role well, but his departure via free agency actually let the Caps upgrade that position with someone who can (in theory) be more productive five-on-five, be more disciplined, and play better defensively while still keeping the power play moving.
That said, it hasn't been the smoothest of starts for Grabovski, and I think part of that was the huge first game he put together where he had a hat trick and added an assist against the reigning Cup champs in the season opener - pretty hard to top that going forward, and especially hard if the offense suddenly dries up. Oddly enough he has most of his points on the power play (although that's hardly strange on this team right now) but has struggled five-on-five and is actually on the third line at the moment... which kind of defeats the purpose of bringing in a second-line center. He's starting to click with his new linemates, though, so maybe that's what he needs to get going. Beyond that I think it's mostly just continuing to adjust to a new system and finding his spot; the rest will fall into place.
JC: Who is this year's biggest surprise so far? Who is this year's biggest disappointment?
BH: It's probably strange to say that the biggest surprise (or at least the biggest good surprise) is the team's top line, starting with Alex Ovechkin... but after the way last year started for some of the team's better players, there was a bit of concern that the late-season push by those guys was a bit of a mirage. Doesn't seem to be the case so far, which is one of the bright spots of the season so far. Ovechkin looks fit and motivated and is continuing to score in bunches, Nicklas Backstrom is making the scary good plays that we haven't seen from him in a long time (I mean, really) and Marcus Johansson is proving to be much more than just a passenger alongside those two superstars.
As for biggest disappointment... oh the possibilities. As much as I hate to do it, though, I'll go with Mike Green. Expectations were really high for Green coming into this year - he's finally healthy and had a full offseason to train, and yet none of it is translating to his on-ice performance. The next even-strength point he earns this season will be his first (a trend that started last year, actually) and he's not stepping up to be the strong puck-mover that the team needs right now. His defensive abilities are oft-mocked but he has really improved in that department, and it's disappointing to see him slip a bit in that area to start the season.
JC: You're the GM. What's the one move you'd make (or the one thing you'd change)?
BH: Convince Nick Lidstrom to come out of retirement and sign him to play for the Caps? ...or maybe just bring in some other defenseman who can play top-four minutes. Whatever keeps my team under the cap, you know how it is.
JC: The season is young, but it's never too early to ask: is this a playoff club? Why or why not?
BH: I am nothing if not an optimistic Caps fan - which can be a very tough thing to be at times - so I'll say yes. Not the way they're playing at the moment, of course, and they need to get a lot more from a lot more people, but I think it's there to give. On paper this is a good team with a lot of depth up front and some very good young goaltenders. If they can fix the mental mistakes and play more like a cohesive team (and never, ever play like they did Tuesday in Winnipeg ever again) they've definitely got a shot - especially with the Metropolitan Division proving to not be the incredibly tough division some people (weirdly) thought it would be.
I also think if the team is anywhere near contention for a playoff spot by the deadline, George McPhee will have something up his sleeve to perhaps shore up the defense. Maybe. Hopefully.