Thursday, October 04, 2007

Your 2007-2008 Washington Capitals Preview Part II

Yesterday we got the backend today we look at the front end...

The top line heading into the season looks to be A.O. centered by Viktor Kozlov with Tomas Fleischmann on the right wing. Just like his rookie season, A.O. has to spend the start of the season developing chemistry between himself and new linemates. A.O. has some history with Kozlov but has never skated a regular shift with Flash. This is a purely European line so the wingers and center should all be on the same page. It is also the most skilled top line we've had since the end of the lockout. Nicklas Backstrom should eventually take over as center before the season is over. It would more than likely move Kozlov to the right wing and Flash down a line. It largely depends upon Backstroms ability to handle being a center in the NHL because while Kozlov is a natural center, he's horrible on faceoffs. That definciency could ultimately hurt the production of this line because they'll be spending time trying to get the puck back instead of creating plays. Should Flash not keep his preseason performance going, he could be replaced by Captain Chris Clark who has shown an ability to keep up with a top line.

The second line features the other Alex, Alexander Semin centered by Michael Nylander with Backstrom making his NHL debut on the right wing. Here's another totally European line that will have to develop chemistry. Nylander too could pop up in important offensive zone draws late in the game and having two distributors with a noted puck hog could yield high dividends. Look for Matt "Princess" Pettinger to fill in here should injuries or other issues require a replacement. Eric Fehr might also pop in on this line should a need arise after he passes his training camp physical.

These players will also form the base of the forwards on the Power Play units. The Caps will need better Power Play production if they want to seriously challenge for the playoff spot. The sooner these units can come together, the better they will be.

The third line to open the season looks to be Boyd Gordon centered by rookie David Steckel with Captain Chris Clark on the right wing. Clark is coming of a 30 goal season but isn't very likely to repeat that simply because he won't be skating with Dainus Zubrus and A.O. anymore. This will be a checking line with two good defensive forwards and two centers who can win defensive zone draws late in the game. Steckel is getting his chance to show he belongs but the Caps still have plenty of talent to take his place should he falter. These guys will also form the base of the forwards for the penalty killing unit.

The only entrenched player on the fourth line is Mr. Donald Brashear. Right now it looks as if Brooks Laich will be his center and the right winger will be chosen among Brian Sutherby, Matt "Omar" Bradley and Pettinger. Sutherby and Pettinger should get the majority of the time and Brashear will also be a healthy scratch from time-to-time. All three of these guys in addition to Laich can also play on the third line if needed and aren't too shabby on the Penalty Kill. You know Glen Hanlon isn't happy with the Power Play unit when he sends Brashear out to camp out in front of the crease.

In the past the Caps have shown that they had the market cornered when it came to grinding forwards. They now have more skill for the top two lines which means that some of the grinders have to go. This is why Ben Clymer is in Hershey and Sutherby, Bradley, and Princess will be healthy scratches this year. However, that top line skill is still rather thin as the Caps don't have anybody (save for Eric Fehr who is injured) who is being asked to play out of position on a 3rd or 4th line. At least now we don't have somebody playing out of position on the 1st or 2nd lines.

It is in this area that the Caps are improved but the chemistry of the top two lines will make some time to form.

Later today, I'll explain what all of this adds up to...

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