weeeeeeeeeeeeee - Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
Tonight's the first of this year's three matchups against the Capitals, two of which are in DC. We headed over to Japer's Rink and asked noted Caps fan and Montreal sympathizer Becca three questions for her take on things. Because why not? Embrace the hate, etc.
1. WHY ARE THE CAPS SO BAD???? ...just kidding. How has Adam Oates done since Dale Hunter left? For those of our readers who may not have seen a Caps game this year, is the team still playing a more defensive-minded style (or trying to, at least?)
Adam Oates has actually done a pretty good job so far, considering the shortened training camp and the pieces he was given (or wasn’t given) to work with. The focus is still somewhat on defense, but this is definitely not Dale Hunter Hockey – I’m not great at the chalk talk but my impression is that it’s much more aggressive in both ends, no more sitting back and waiting for the other team to come to you, no more ceding the ice to the attacking team. It seems as if Oates and Ovechkin in particular have developed a good relationship, there’s a lot of trust there and the hope is that Oates can (eventually) get the captain back to at least some semblance of his old self.
2. IDK if you know this but Mike Ribeiro is a big ol' jerkwagon who has historically been the target of a lot of rage and hate in Boston. Setting the Montreal bias I know you have aside - what was the justification for Washington to bring him in, and how has he lived up to those expectations so far this year?
I actually DID know that! Ah, memories…
To be honest, whatever Montreal bias I have/had never quite extended to Ribeiro when he was a Hab. I wasn’t a fan of the way he conducted himself on and off the ice, and when he was jettisoned to the Stars I was actually pretty happy. That said, he’s been really great for the Caps so far. He was brought in to fill the second line center role that has been empty since at least the days of Sergei Fedorov, if not before, and that vacant position has been the bane of Caps fans’ existence. So to see it filled (even by Ribeiro) was one of the few bright spots over the summer. He’s really found some nice chemistry with Ovechkin in particular, leads the team in points and has added a spark to a power play that used to be good but has dipped into mediocrity in recent years. Definitely a pleasant surprise.
3. What's the situation with goaltending? Do you foresee the team trading Michal Neuvirth anytime soon? Isn't it crazy how quickly irrelevant the tandem of Varlamov-Neuvirth became, especially considering how high on them as a tandem everyone seemed to be?
Speaking of rare bright spots…the goaltending has been one of the stronger aspects of the team this year (at least in recent weeks). Braden Holtby seems to have found his rhythm again after a slow start to the season and is giving the guys confidence they maybe didn’t have earlier in the season. I don’t see the Caps dumping Neuvirth, though, at least not this year and probably not next, either. Right now the Caps are in the rare and lucky position of having a good, young goalie tandem for the combined price tag of less than $2 million; Holtby may be the #1 guy at this point but Neuvirth is more than capable of stepping in when needed and is still just an RFA this summer, so even with Holtby’s new deal (a very reasonable cap hit of $1.85 million) there’s a chance that the Caps will have a very affordable goalie duo next season.
Really unless Neuvirth wants out or something crazy happens (for example, the Rangers offer to trade Lundqvist to the Caps in exchange for a 7th round pick), I’d imagine the Caps will go forward with these two guys for at least another year or two.
It is kind of crazy how quickly Varlamov-Neuvirth went by the wayside, but not THAT crazy considering a couple of factors. For one thing, the Caps have gone through a lot of goalies since Olie Kolzig parted ways with the team after the 2007-08 season – and I do mean a lot, when Philipp Grubauer stepped in for Holtby last week against the Flyers he was the eighth goalie the team’s used in the last five years. But more importantly, as fun as it was having Varlamov and Neuvirth tag-teaming it between the pipes, there was kind of a sense that of the three goalies in the system at the time, Holtby would turn out to be the best. So when Varlamov basically said he wouldn’t play for the Caps, it just sped up what I think was probably the plan all along.
Whether Holtby will actually turn out to be the franchise guy they've been looking for or not remains to be seen but so far he looks pretty good. You guys should certainly be familiar with his abilities...
BONUS. So which highly-touted future prospect do you think the Caps will be drafting when they inevitably end up in the bottom five? Personally I am a big fan of Jonathan Drouin (duh), but what are your thoughts?
Hey, there’s no shame in ending up in the bottom five this year! …or at least there’s not as much shame. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I also tell myself that the Caps are only a few pieces away from being right back in that contender conversation, so Drouin would be a nice way to recharge the team. MacKinnon could be a good option, too, if he can stay healthy (especially if the Caps trade away Ribeiro at the deadline and need another center).
But knowing the Caps’ luck they’ll surge just enough to end up in that black hole of 9th or 10th in the East and neither will be an option. Hooray! Go Caps.
Big thanks to Becca! Here's hoping her team loses tonight.