My good frenemies over at Capitals Outsider and like to exchange questions and have the opposing team writer respond to them every time the Rangers and Capitals face each other in the playoffs; which is every single season ever. This season, of course, is no different, as the Rangers are set to face off against the Capitals in Washington on Thursday. Here are the five questions I had for Capitals Outsider writer Jeff Kleiman as well as his responses:
Adam: What's the biggest difference between this year's Capitals team and last year's?
Jeff: The short answer here is the system that Adam Oates has implemented. Under ex-coach Dale Hunter, the Capitals abandoned most of their offensive prowess and took up a defense-first mindset. This caused players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Troy Brouwer to suffer statistically and forced them to play in a way that wasn’t natural to them. Oates has reminded his players that defense is an important aspect of the game, however you must score in order to win and has given them the freedom to be creative on the ice. The Capitals have also placed their full trust in Oates and what he’s been trying to implement, and it shows. In an interview with DC media, Adam Oates said that he told Ovechkin “you are the man, we know that, and I want to give you every opportunity to succeed and be the man for us.” That sort of thing never happened under the Hunter regime and it’s caused major dividends to be paid out on behalf of the Capitals.
Adam: All indications are that Brooks Laich will not be available for the first round. How big is his loss?
Jeff: Had you asked this question a few weeks ago the answer would’ve been “massive.” However, the Capitals have been been getting plenty of secondary scoring as of late, which has minimized the impact of Laich’s absence from the lineup. While the guys you would expect to score have been lighting the lamp, guys like Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward have also been producing of late. It’s one of the reasons why the Capitals have been so dangerous as of late. While the Capitals organization revealed on Sunday that Laich underwent a sports hernia surgery earlier this month and his timetable to return is the second round (that is, of course, the Capitals beat the Rangers), any setback could be disastrous for Washington in the later rounds.
Adam: With one goal and two assists in nine games since joining the Caps, Martin Erat has hardly been a difference maker on the score sheet. Has his addition paid off in other ways or was moving top prospect Filip Forsberg looking like a regrettable move?
Jeff: Erat has been a solid pick-up for the Capitals at the deadline. While he hasn’t been putting his name on the scoresheet, he’s been making an impact in other areas, such as playing solid defense, creating chances, and killing penalties. When he was picked up from the Predators, fans got the sense that the trade wasn’t meant to make a large splash but it was meant to be a depth move. Erat is a perennial 50-point scorer in the league, but has struggled a bit this year. He did suffer a leg injury against the Panthers and he may not be completely healed from it either, so I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt in this situation. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would much rather have Forsberg in the system than Erat because of age and projected ceiling, but Erat definitely makes the Capitals better during this postseason run.
Adam: The Capitals have failed to take that next step with a slew of changing rosters as well as a number of different coaching staffs. This year the Capitals have home ice advantage largely because of how poor the Southeast division is. Is the 2013 playoffs do or die time for General Manager George McPhee? How many more chances will owner Ted Leonsis afford him?
Jeff: No, I don’t think McPhee will be gone after this year if the Caps fail to win the Stanley Cup. The clock is ticking though, and if the Caps don’t bring home the Cup within the next year or two he could be looking at losing his job. As much as Ted Leonsis has been portrayed in the media as greedy (and rightfully so for being one of the owners spearheading the lengthy lockout), he is a great owner and has done great things in the DC area. His one flaw is loyalty. The men he hires for front office positions don’t get fired even when there is massive underperformance. If you’re a basketball person, all you need to do is look at the Washington Wizards and wonder how Ernie Grunfeld still keeps his job. At some point, Leonsis will need to sit down and do what he thinks is best for the Capitals if McPhee’s teams continue to fall short in the postseason.
Adam: What do you think will be the key to the series for the Capitals?
Jeff: There are two keys for the Capitals in this series. The first is even-strength production. The Capitals power-play finished first in the league with a 26.8 conversion percentage, so it’s widely known they can score with a man advantage. However, they aren’t going to get a lot of power-play opportunities during the course of the series so being able to beat Lundqvist while at even-strength will be important for Washington to advance. The second key is Braden Holtby. Success in playoff hockey starts at having a hot goaltender, so it will be up to Holtby to stand tall between the pipes. Granted, it will be extremely difficult to replicate the 1.95 GAA and .935 SV% from last year’s playoffs, but he will need to come close to that in order for the Caps to go the distance and bring home their first ever Stanley Cup.
Thanks to Jeff for answering my questions, and for asking me much better questions than Ben Sumner came up with the first time we did this. Go check out Capitals Outsider to see my answers to their questions about the Rangers.
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