Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2006-2007 Washington Capitals Preview Part I: Defense and Goaltending

Well, here it goes what you all have been waiting for, my excessivly long and quixotic look at the upcoming Caps season. It's only fair because I've been taking potshots at other people so far.

I'll start off with the Defensemen and Goaltenders in this post and look at the forwards in another post. If I get around it to, I'll look at the other teams and throw in some pithy comments about them.

But onto the topic of this post, the much maligned Washington Capitals defensive corps. On paper, there isn't much too like. Last year the Caps gave up 300 goals, the second most in the league. They should be maligned for that but not as much as they are. Gone are Nolan Yonkman, Ivan Majesky, and Mathieu Biron. In comes Brian Pothier and John Erskine. Pothier signed a 4 year $10 million contract in his first year as a UFA. Pothier was on the third defensive pairing in Ottawa and will be on the first paring with second-year defenseman Shaone Morrisonn here in Washington. The Caps are hoping that this pairing can be the shutdown unit. I'm not as optimistic. Morrisonn is clearly a good defenseman but is going to need time to develop and Pothier is taking a huge step up in class. There was a reason why Ottawa let Pothier go and I don't think it had to do with them not being able to afford him. Throw in the typical first year funk that UFA's have after signing their big contracts and I wouldn't be surprised to see Pothier struggle for most of this season. Only time will tell if this acquisition was a good move.

The second defensive pairing will have Ben "What A" Clymer skating with Steve Eminger. Clymer is returning to the blueline after playing forward for the past few seasons with Washington and Tampa. Clymer is a known quantity in this league and if his move back to the blueline doesn't work out, the Caps at least know that they have an effective third line winger. Eminger is coming off a false start of a rookie season. Emmy got off to a good start last year; he then hit the wall, and then injured himself and missed the last part of the season. Eminger needs to show that he can get through the season first and avoid the drop off that hurt him last year. But like Morrisonn, Eminger will also need time to develop.

The third pairing looks to be rotating Mike Green, Jamie "Home Run" Heward, and Erskine. Green is looking to spend his first full season in the NHL. Heward will provide some help on the Power Play from the point position while Erskine is here for depth and extra muscle.

So there you have it, two second year guys (Morrisonn and Eminger) and a rookie (Green) comprise exactly half of our defensive corps. The other half is a UFA taking a step up (Pothier), a defenseman returning to the blueline (Clymer) and two journeymen (Heward and Erskine). That isn't a recipe for success but it is what you get during another rebuilding season.

The goaltenders these guys are protecting are the same from last year, Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson. After these guys, well let's hope that they both stay healthy. Kolzig is Kolzig and you have to wonder just how much time he has left. The Caps are likely to rely on him too much again this year. While it may sound like good news that Kolzig showed up to training camp in the best shape of his life, I have that sinking feeling that it will all be wasted as Kolzig gets hurt. I seriously hope I am wrong about that. As for Johnson, he was once the #1 goaltender in St. Louis and then began an odyssey that brought him to D.C. He didn't distinguish himself well during the first part of last season but picked up his play in the second half and deserves another shot at the #2 position. Could Johnson eventually become the #1 here in Washington? Maybe, he'll turn 30 this season and that is about the age that goaltenders finally mature. But first Johnson will have to show that he is a more than capable #2 goaltender.

The penalty killing which was awful last season, and 28th overall, could be better. The Caps though will be helped more not by improved play on the penalty kill, but by fewer penalties. Nobody was shorthanded more than the Caps were last season and they gave up 16 goals while killing a 5 on 3. The easiest way to kill penalties it to not take them in the first place.

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