Friday, November 16, 2007

The Glen Hanlon Watch, Day 10

In the useless print edition of The (Com)Post today is an interesting stat. The Caps right now are on pace to score just 193 goals this season. That would be the third lowest total not counting the 1995 lockout shortened season.

So I took a look through my brand-new media guide and saw that the under the intrepid direction of Glen Hanlon the Caps have scored about 629 goals. 116 in the firesale 2003-2004 season (186 total that year but don't forget Hanlon took over on December 10th), 237 in 2005-2006 after the lockout, 235 last season, and 41 so far this season.

As a matter of fact, 193 would be an improvement on the 186 in that disastrous pre-lockout season that lead to the firesale. However, last season's 235 goals for were more than any Caps team had scored since the 1995-1996 team that scored 234. Caps teams that had Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra only topped out at 228 goals in 2001-2002.

Now this may look as a case FOR Hanlon. After all, with only A.O. to really run the offense through, what more could you ask for? Well, first of all, Ron Wilson and Bruce Cassidy (and the Sundance Kid) were shown the door after the weak offensive output that was at least supported by better defensive numbers (Crazy Ron only twice had a negative goal differential, the second occurrence came right before he was fired and in his one full season Cassidy was +4 and neither gave up as many goals as Hanlon has). Secondly, the Caps offense had Jagr, Bondra, Oates, and Lang to name a few, who all missed time during those seasons due to injury or had uninspired play.

But the real cause for the concern is that the offense is declining after hitting a high water mark right after the lockout with a Rookie A.O. and a team of cast-offs and other rookies. While I am not making a case for the return of Jeff Halpern, Dainus Zubrus, and Brian Willsie, I do wonder what happened to Matt Pettinger who scored a career high 20 goals that season? What's the deal with Brian Sutherby not being able to crack our offensively deficient line-up when he posted a career high 14 after finally getting a full season's worth of icetime that year? We also had Ben Clymer score a career high 16 goals that season.

And remember, Alexander Semin wasn't in Washington that season either.

Some of it has to do with scoring settling back down around the league after the rule changes that were made right after the lockout. However, most of the players I just listed were more than willing to score the "dirty" goals the Caps keep talking about how they need to score right now. This of course brings to mind some of the problems right now. There's no doubt that A.O. will score a dirty goal (he did last night), Captain Chris Clark has made a living scoring dirty goals, but does anybody remember Michael Nylander camping out in front of the net? And while Viktor Kozlov, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tomas Fleischmann showed some impressive chemistry early on, does anybody believe that they'll get their noses dirty to score a goal?

Now I know certain factions will point to this lack of "grit" and blame George McPhee. However, McPhee does not set the line combinations. I don't think it was an accident that Clark started scoring when he was reunited with A.O. While Matt Pettinger may not be a true right wing for the second line, you know the guy will go to the net and score goals because he's done it on that line before. Sutherby is another guy willing to get to the front of the net when he's been given the chance. There's also the question of where will Semin skate when he returns? Will Hanlon break up A.O. and Clark again? Or his he going to try Semin in Fleischmann's place on the second line? (As long as Semin and A.O. aren't manning the point together on the Power Play...)

But the point is this, Hanlon somehow was able to mange more offense with less offensively skilled players than he is with more offensively skilled players. This my friends makes the injuries excuse moot because you can't reasonably explain how we were able to score considerably more goals with less talent than we are now. The predictability of our offense right now is staggering as everybody knows just who we're trying to feed the puck to and who we want taking the shot. Trading A.O. to force the rest of the team step up is not a viable option. But a new coach who is willing to develop other scoring options is.

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