Thursday, October 04, 2007

Your 2007-2008 Washington Capitals Preview Part III

So let's cut to the chase here, you already know I'm picking the Caps to finish fourth in the Southeast Division. Last year I said that the Caps were two years away from making the playoffs and nothing the Caps have done since then has made feel any differently.

The CW UFA shopping list included two top line centers (Michael Nylander and Nicklas Backstrom) a top line right wing (Viktor Kozlov), and a shutdown #1 defenseman which was not acquired but who in the NHL isn't looking for one of those? Tom Poti is another nice addition but it will take time for all these new parts to gel. There were some interesting moments in preseason with some nice skill demonstrations but, it was only the preseaon and all of it should be taken with a grain of salt. It should be noted that only 2 of the 6 forwards on the top two lines (A.O. and Alexander Semin) played in the season opener last season. While the overhaul of the top lines was needed, the changes will take some time to set before we really can get a sense of if they will or will not work in the long run.

However, two glaring deficiencies last year were not addressed in the offseason. Though to be fair to George McPhee and Glen Hanlon, there isn't anything you can do to give inexperienced blueliners experience short of playing them and letting them take their lumps. Furthermore, I don't know how you can blame the management when the players play better in front of Olie Kolzig than they do in front of Brent Johnson.

The other problem I have is that the Caps seem to be everbody's "darkhorse" and "sleeper" team. If that is the case, just how in the world are the Caps a "darkhorse" and "sleeper" if everybody is expecting it? Could the Caps win the Southeast Division? Well, I like their chances in the Southeast better than their chances of winning the Central Division simply because they play in the Southeast Division. The Caps also luck out in playing in a weak Eastern Conference. The Caps only need about 92 points to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs instead of 95 to make it in the Western Conference. That's about two less wins though the Caps only rang up 28 last year. They'll need at least 40 wins and 12 is a large jump to ask of a team with a two new top lines, a young blueline, and aging goaltender.

Yes, next year the goaltender will be even older, but with any luck, Michal Neuvirth and/or Simeon Varlamov will be ready to challenge for the #1 goaltending position. But the blueline will finally have more experience and that can save an aging goaltender. Just ask Dominek Hasek. But for this season, I think it will be another futile chase.

Finally, last season was derailed by the lack of depth on defense as injury and illness started a tailspin that was never recovered from. The injury to Olie Kolzig simply sealed the Caps fate. The Caps have improved their depth on the blueline so a rash of injury and illness there can be weathered better. Kolzig is still the key to the season, if he goes down or regresses, any hope of making the playoffs takes a huge hit. But the Caps are very vulnerable in terms of depth on their top two lines. Right now the Caps have exactly six forwards for top two lines. Jakub "and Sons" Klepis could be called upon in a pinch to step in but Eric Fehr is injured for the time being. But outside of them, the Caps will be forced to use one of their grinders to fill in on the top two lines. If Captain Chris Clark, Matt "Omar" Bradley, or Matt "Princess" Pettinger spend a considerable amount of time skating with the top two lines, the Caps are in for another long season.

The Caps will have some tough decisions coming up in the next off season but they are heading in the right direction for the most part. I would like to be wrong, but I think this team is still one year away from making the playoffs.

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