This is a regular blog feature that appears once a week with takeaways from the past seven days of the Capitals’ 2011-12 season. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
— Who is that in front on the power play? On Saturday morning at Nassau Coliseum, I asked Coach Bruce Boudreau if the absence of Troy Brouwer on the power play against Carolina was in reaction to the shoulder injury he suffered or the plan all along. Boudreau said the Capitals had drawn up a power play without Brouwer for this weekend, and that’s what they stuck with for both of the back-to-back games.
That adjustment included putting Alex Ovechkin directly in front of the opposing net for the bulk of his time on the man advantage. It’s an interesting wrinkle, to be sure. Ovechkin is a big body but has better hands and a more deft scoring touch than some of the regular net crashers, and he commands the same attention from penalty killers there as he does everywhere else, giving the rest of the group more freedom to move around.
With Ovechkin in front, though, his ability to dictate the course of the power play dips as he’s in a more reactionary role rather than serving as one of the primary puck-carriers. There’s the concern that Ovechkin could be hit by a shot and be injured when occupying the front of the net, where he will also be involved in much more frequent shoving matches with opponents. But Boudreau isn’t worried about the latter much and likes the options moving Ovechkin around gives him.
“I think if anybody’s going to take a beating it’s the guy who’s trying to put the beating on Alex,” Boudreau said. “I’m not worried about that but over the course of the year, Alex will play every spot on the ice on the power play. Every team we play focuses on him, so it’s if he’s playing all different spots they’ve got to scout all different spots because they never know where he’s going to be.”
— On the healthy scratches: When Cody Eakin was the second healthy scratch among the forwards Saturday night, it raised a few eyebrows. Fresh off his second career NHL game, in which he recorded his first NHL goal and point (an assist), Eakin had a solid two games with the Capitals since being recalled from Hershey. But with 13 healthy forwards — now with D.J. King having been assigned to the Bears — there will consistently be someone who sits out.
Over the course of the week, Boudreau scratched Jeff Halpern against Anaheim, Mathieu Perreault in Carolina and Eakin against the Islanders. While Boudreau has made it clear that his policy is play well and you’ll be in, he’d rather not hold players out of consecutive games unless they consistently underperform.
Halpern responded to his night off by scoring his first goal of the year and being part of what was a catalyst fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Mike Knuble in Carolina. While he was brought in as something of a replacement for faceoff gurus Boyd Gordon and David Steckel, Halpern hasn’t taken all that high of a percentage of Washington draws so far.
Here’s something to chew on: In 11 games Halpern has taken 81 faceoffs at a 63 percent success rate but Nicklas Backstrom (180 draws at 43 percent), Brooks Laich (172 at 46.5) and Marcus Johansson (41.9) are carrying the load when it comes to the sheer number of faceoffs they take, likely a byproduct of increased ice time. It also seems like Halpern is being thrown out at the beginning of a shift just to take an important draw less than others might have been in the past.
Meanwhile, Perreault has gotten off to a good start in the first season he cracked an NHL lineup out of training camp. He’s proved to be more malleable when it comes to succeeding either with second-line opportunities or fourth-line chances and he hasn’t looked out of place on a fourth line, even when working with grittier linemates. Against the Islanders he finished a minus-3, though, and the contest marked the fourth consecutive game he’s gone without recording a point.
That brings me back to Eakin, who buzzed his way through his first two NHL games this week. His upside is readily apparent and his speed brings a different dimension to a line than that of bigger-bodied net crashers. How long the 20-year-old remains in Washington will ultimately rest on his play, but it may also depend on what type of lineup Boudreau wants to have. If speed is a focus, Eakin can certainly up the Capitals’ overall quickness.
— The schedule evens out. The Capitals’ schedule has started to pick up steam after a total of nine regular-season games in 24 days during October. They played three in the first five nights of November and will do the same this week, beginning at home against Dallas before home-and-home, back-to-back games with the Devils.
Washington will also play seven games in 12 days starting on Nov. 15 in Nashville and wrapping up on Nov. 26 in Buffalo, with four of those contests coming on the road. While the schedule is an uncontrollable adversary, the Capitals certainly benefited from the lengthy stretches of practice days during their seven-game winning streak at the start of the year. As the true grind begins, it will be interesting to see how they react.
To a man Saturday night, the Capitals said they stopped playing after the first period against the Islanders, and there’s no disputing that fact, but they also looked like a team playing its second game in as many nights on its first set of back-to-back games of the year.