As Capitals change new realities, leaders emerge
As the Washington Capitals continue the transformation into a balanced, playoff competitive hockey team we are learning more about the strengths and weaknesses of this club. Some new leaders are emerging while some superstars continue to struggle.

New Leader:  Marcus Johansson is without a doubt the best center the Caps have right now. His skating, speed and his two-way hockey acumen make a clear difference when he is on the ice. He creates quality scoring chances by playing good two way hockey.

The grinders are emerging - Guys like Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Boyd Gordon are finally getting rewarded for doing the little things that win hockey games. The trick now is to get the other guys to buy in and start doing the little things that make a difference.

Ovechkin is back: Alexander Ovechkin is finally starting to look comfortable in the new scheme. He has accepted the fact that he is a power forward so he is showing up at the net more often with his stick down. He is also using his physical play to create chances for himself and his line mates.

Something is off with Nicklas Backstrom Despite all of the accolades Ovechkin gets Nicky B. is the main cog to the Caps offense. I still believe that this team goes as Nicky goes because when he is on he elevates the games of everyone on the ice with him.  This season he just seems to be two steps behind and never a factor in the play anymore. He also used to have uncanny puck possession ability but not anymore. Maybe he is still finding his way within the new scheme but it is starting to look like a lack of conditioning to me. 

Braden Holtby is the real deal: The more this kid plays the more he impresses. The Caps have three really good goalies but Semyon Varlamov has not proven he can stay healthy long enough to be the solid #1. Michael Neuvirth is probably the most technically sound goalie of the bunch but has suffered some injuries of his own this season. Braden Holtby had a shaky start but has since elevated his play to amazing levels. The kid is flat out stoning people and if not for a fluke bounce last night versus the Rangers would have earned a shutout. Everyone is floating rumors that the Caps need a veteran goalie but I don't see that. I think the Caps can win with what they have provided they get and stay healthy.

Combat ineffective: Mathieu Perreault, plays a very good two way game and at times is the best player on the ice but he is just too small and gets thrown off the puck too easy. He is the type of player that needs time and space which is hard to come by unless you can create it yourself. I love Perreault but it has become apparent that he cannot be an effective pivot at this level. Perhaps he should lock himself in a room with a VCR and tapes of Martin St. Louis who is small but he knows how and when to pick his spots.

Mike Green is playing good hockey: How ironic that in his worst offensive year stat wise Greenie is playing some damn good hockey. I never thought I would have to encourage Greenie to shoot more but he does.

New Truth: Turn the defense into quality offense - Now that the Caps are playing defensively responsible hockey they need to take the next step and make teams pay for their mistakes. A guy like Semin whose game requires time and space has got to use defense to create that time and space for himself. Creating turnovers is the best way to buy yourself time and space.

Not so new Truth: Smart hockey and hard work is paying more dividends than talent right now. Guys who are going to the net with their sticks down ready to make a play are being rewarded while guys still trying to play cute hockey remain baffled on why they are ice cold.

Old Truth: The power play needs to create more shots. As I watched the Caps power play versus the Rangers last night I got that sick “cute hockey” feeling again. The Caps need to learn that you don’t need the perfect shot to score. All you need to do is get the puck to the net with some traffic and good things happen.



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