Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Caps Line Musings

Just like baseball geeks can spend hours dissecting batting orders, hardcore hockey fans can talk endlessly about possible line combinations for their favorite team. This topic has relevance for us sports fans in D.C. as the Capitals have all but fallen apart following their stellar opening weekend and it has to at least be, in part, due to the line combinations. Kozlov at center? Two centers on the second line? Who the hell is this Joe Motzko guy? and why are we letting him play with one of the best pure scorers in the world?

The Capitals have two potent scoring threats in Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and each deserves a natural playmaking center with them to make the most of their talents. Fortunately (or so it would seem) the Caps have two such centers in Nylander and Backstrom. Initially the coaching staff was reluctant to use Backstrom at center but they seem to be more comfortable with it now and Backstrom has looked good all over the ice (despite needing to shoot more) and they ought to at least give it a shot and go with the following lines when Semin comes back (which should be this week):



Everyone gets to go back to their natural position: Semin at left wing, Backstron at center, Kozlov and Fleischmann at right wing. Ovechkin and Kozlov get to stay together and Ovechkin gets a playmaker. Semin gets a playmaker in Nylander; Fleischmann gets to play with great offensive talent that won't intimated him like Ovechkin seemed to do and plus the verteran Nylander should have a positive impact on the enigmatic Semin and lost-looking Fleischmann. The solid checking line of Pettinger, Gordon and Clark gets to stay together.

Another option would be to throw Nylander on the first line but I don't like that idea because a auxiliary line of the (again) enigmatic Semin, rookie Backstrom and the lost Fleischmann doesn't sit well with me. Backstrom is an overwhelmingly pass-first guy and Fleischmann was intimidated by Ovechkin so I think it would be easy for the line to become a situation where everyone is just looking for Semin as soon as they touch the puck.

The third decent option would be to stick Semin up with Kozlov and Ovechkin:


This would give the Capitals an immensely talented first line, put together B.F.F. Ovechkin and Semin and let Semin get on a line with players who [literally] speak the same language as him. Plus Backstrom could develop while playing the wing and Fleischmann would get to keep playing with two playmakers. In fact, I think this combination may be the most likely to succeed, with the abundance of talent on the first line and the second line that looks comfortable together already, but - the same time - I think it's the most line likely to fail as well. The first line players may not find enough touches to go around and the second line would struggle to score if Fleischmann can't get pucks in the net. I think it's worth trying though, especially this early in the season and especially with the way the team has played so far. It might be little early in the season to try something as drastic as putting your scoring anchors on the same line, but if the offense stalls again when Semin comes back it wouldn't be a bad Plan B

-The DMG

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