Sunday, November 4, 2007

Key to a Successful Road Trip? Change the Lines

It's not too far fetched for the Capitals to pick up five, or even six points on their upcoming three game road trip (Carolina, Atlanta, Ottawa), and the team should pick up at least four.

The Capitals are sitting at 5-8-0 through their first 13 games of the season. On the down side they are 14th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. On the plus side they're still only two points out of a playoff spot (although this is held by a team with three games in hand on the Caps) and three points out of the 7th spot (on whom the Caps actually hold a game in hand).

The team has played better than it's record and if we were going to go by who who has played the all-around better game I would say the Caps should be 8-4-1, even with Clark, Semin and Poti missing the time they have.

The Capitals have allowed only 35 goals in 13 games - 2.69 per game. And that's including the 7-3 loss in Buffalo (without that it's 28 goals in 12 games; 2.33 GAA). Defense hasn't been the problem for the Capitals, scoring has, which has been exactly the opposite of what most people expected going into the season.

The Capitals generally outwork their opponents and control the play, and with the team playing like they have defensively if they can do a better job of putting the puck in the net, they'll start winning. But it's not going to happen with the lineup the Capitals have been putting on the ice the last few games.

The lines need to be changed. Now.

If everyone were healthy I could see the logic in playing Ovechkin with Kozlov and Clark, given that Ovechkin and Kozlov like playing with one another and Ovechkin and Clark have such great chemistry. But with Semin and Clark out of the lineup, Nylander needs to be on the top line.

By putting Nylander on the top line the Capitals will give Ovechkin a great playmaker to play with. It also allows Kozlov to play the wing, where he's had 18 shots in his last four games (how many have gone in? Zero, but it's still nice to get the shots on net). Since Steckel has been so good on draws and has been on the ice for, I believe, one even-strength goal against he should be fine playing on a checking line. Thus, Hanlon could move Gordon to the second line. This way Backstrom can stay on the wing if the coaching staff feels he isn't ready to move to center. Fleischmann can go on that line too, since he's the most offensively talented right wing left. Pettinger and Laich would play with Gordon/Steckel to form a respectable checking line. The result would be:


Backstrom/(Gordon or Steckel)/Fleischmann
Pettinger/(Gordon or Steckel)/Laich

Tell me that isn't top-to-bottom better than what the Caps have been throwing out recently.

I've always liked Hanlon. He's been positive with his players, stood behind them and helped the Caps establish a respected reputation as a team that works hard night in and night out. But I am starting to question his common sense and ability to throw together solid lines. He's an NHL caliber coach in my mind, no doubt. But if he can't see the writing on the wall and put together lines than make sense he may be better suited for an assistants role.

Here's the bottom line and the fearless prediction:

If the Capitals come out on the their road trip with these lines they will pick up at least five points

Unless of course they decide to get lazy or a goalie has a terrible game or something. So I guess I should say if they come out with these lines and otherwise play the way they have the last five games, they'll pick up at least five points.

The Caps need to have a successful road trip (at least four points). Let's just hope the coaching staff has the sense to put their forwards in a position to succeed.


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