Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Your 2007-2008 Washington Capitals Preview Part I

Great hockey teams are built from the goal on out so that's where we'll start, the goaltending and defense of the Washington Capitals.

Goaltending: The Caps are bringing back Olie Kolzig for his 16th NHL season, his 10th as the undisputed starter. There should be no doubt that Kolzig will remain in the starter's role again this season and therein lies the problem. Kolzig is now 37 years old and will turn 38 right before the playoffs should the Caps make it that far. Last year I correctly pointed out that should Kolzig get hurt, the Caps would be in trouble and the same holds true again this year. It isn't so much that backup Brent Johnson is a bad goaltender but that the team plays infinitely better with Kolzig between the pipes instead of Johnson. Johnson is capable backup and might one day show the consistency he needs in order to become a #1 goaltender. However, Johnson got married this offseason and before anybody accuses me of being a misogynist, I'll quote Mickey Goldmill who said "women weaken knees." Therefore, I don't expect Johnson to have a good season. Beyond Kolzig and Johnson is technically Frederic Cassivi down in Hershey. But the future in goal will be either Michal Neuvirth or Simeon Varlamov. Which one and how soon they can get to the NHL will go a long way in deciding this franchise's long term future.

Defense: The top pairing of Milan "Jerky" Jurcina and Shaone Morrrissonnn returns with a second paring of Brian Pothier and newcomer Tom Poti. Pothier was a little bit of a disappointment last season as he showed why he wasn't capable of skating on a top defensive pairing. He improved as the season went on and Jurcina and Morrrissonnn developed into a serviceable top pairing for the Caps. Pothier will see his ice time decline even further with the acquisition of Poti. However now it is Poti's turn to underwhelm coming off a career year and signing a big UFA contract. Poti will be asked to quarterback the Power Play in addition to eating up minutes of ice time. But expecting another 48 point season out of Poti this year might be a bit of a stretch.

Jurcina and Morrrissonnn will be looking to build upon last season's strong finish. However if either one of them falters or is injured for a lengthy period of time, the rest of the team will suffer. It is also helpful to note that both players are currently 24 years old. For them to be the "shutdown" pair at this stage in their careers is a good sign for their long-term potential. However, there will be some growing pains as they gain experience.

The third pairing looks to be Mike "BEAM ME UP" Green and Jeff "Sergeant" Schultz though they could be paired with Poti and Pothier respectively depending upon the situation. Green has had a strong preseason but MUST carry it over into the regular season. He was rather inconsistent last year showing some flashes of greatness but mostly looked like an out of place rookie. Schultz was less than impressive in Hershey last year but turned it on when injuries forced his call up to the big squad. Schultz has a long way to go and will never be a fan favorite because he isn't a big hitter despite his big size. However, he uses his size rather well and if he can stay healthy (he got injured towards the end of last season) he can be a real asset for a long time to come. But don't expect either player to be anchors this season. Both are still very much learning the game at the NHL level.

Steve Eminger starts the season on injured reserve. What his injury is and how long he stays there are both mysteries. Once he makes it back from the IR he more than Green will have to have a breakout year or he could find himself being traded somewhere else. However, I'm beginning to think that Eminger really does need a change of scenery in order to fulfill his potential.

John Erskine Bowles and Josef Boumedienne are depth players with Boumedienne being parked in Hershey and Erskine Bowles in the Press Box (hopefully). First round draft pick Karl Alzner turned some heads in training camp but is probably at least two years away from being a regular contributor and won't be seen in Washington this season.

Tomorrow, the forwards and my overall outlook for the season.

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