Welcome to a new regular feature that will appear once a week online with takeaways – including observations and things to watch moving forward — from the past seven days of the Capitals’ 2011-12 season. So keep an eye out for it and share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Work hard, get rewarded. All the talk about accountability and increased dedication is one thing, but to start the year off Boudreau made no apologies for putting those who he thought worked hard in practice or the preseason in the lineup for the opener. He put Mathieu Perreault on the second line against Carolina and made former first-round draft pick Marcus Johansson a healthy scratch. He rewarded Michal Neuvirth’s superb preseason the same way, starting the 23-year-old instead of Tomas Vokoun.
Count me among those curious to see how Boudreau’s methods evolve over the course of the season, and how he manages things like games, ice time and special teams time in accordance with player performance. The players are completely aware of this policy, so no one should be surprised if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain and find themselves on the wrong end of the agreement.
“I have no problem with that. I think it’s a great way to do things. That way it keeps everybody honest and you can’t really coast through anything,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Hopefully that means 82 hard-working games. I think that was an issue we had last year where we took periods off, games off, and it ended up hurting us and making things tougher than they should have been at times.”
Who will be the faceoff workhorse? Or how will the Capitals get along without one? Gone are David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, who took most of the team’s high-pressure draws for the past several seasons. There’s no more sure thing in the circle, so it’s likely the Capitals will move forward with a committee approach.
Against Carolina, they won 54 percent of the draws with Nicklas Backstrom taking the most (winning 15 of 25). The rest of the way through the lineup, for those who took at least five draws, looked like this: Jeff Halpern won 5 of 12; Brooks Laich won 10 of 16; Mathieu Perreault won 1 of 4. One game is admittedly a small sample size, but it’s worth watching to see how the Capitals fare in crucial draws, particularly on the penalty kill, over the course of the year.
More ‘meat and potatoes,’ please. Yes, it’s only been one game, and of course there is the feeling that Boudreau will inevitably shake things up at some point, but it’s hard to not like what the third line has already showed it can do.
Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward have demonstrated that they can create offensive pressure off the cycle and gritty play down low, turning the tables on opposing teams’ top units. They were matched up against Carolina’s No. 1 line with Eric Staal on Saturday, and don’t be surprised if they face Tampa Bay’s top line on Monday night, either.
Boudreau has assembled a checking line from time to time during his tenure to counteract a particular matchup, but this one could be something that lasts more than an occasional contest.
A balanced blue line should mean a fresher group of blueliners. When overtime rolled around on Saturday against the Hurricanes, Mike Green had some extra jump in his stride and wound up scoring the game winner in the season opener. Green finished the contest with 22 minutes and 48 seconds of ice time, edged out for the team lead by veteran Roman Hamrlik, who played 23:18.
Dennis Wideman was the only other defenseman to reach the 20-minute mark (20:54 exactly) against Carolina while Karl Alzner (18:49) and John Carlson (18:00) saw similar times. Jeff Schultz rounded out the defense with 15:47.
While it isn’t a large difference in time logged between the players at the top of that list, having Green, Hamrlik, Wideman and Carlson all in the lineup should minimize the games in which one of them is playing upwards of 25 minutes. They all like the responsibility, but that extra wear and tear adds up over the course of the season. If Washington can balance out minutes more than in years past, it should benefit the entire group.