So, there's a game tonight, and a player is returning to face his former team for the first time, eh? Guess we don't have any shortage of things to talk about, so as the Hurricanes prepare to face the Capitals in the first of five meetings this season, we welcome in J.P. of Japers' Rink to give us the lowdown on what the Semin-less Caps will have to offer tonight at Verizon Center.
Based on what you've seen so far, was Alex Ovechkin's hat trick against New Jersey on Saturday - part of his first three-point game since April of 2011 - a flash in the pan or the spark he needs to finally turn his game around and snap out of his long slump?
For five of the six periods the Caps played last week, Alex Ovechkin was the best skater on the ice (and the one in which he wasn't was the only period in which they were outscored, the penalty-plagued third on Thursday night). Ovechkin had the hat trick (and an assist) on Saturday, and between the two games registered 11 shots on goal (and another ten not on-goal) and nine hits, and was on the ice for six of the seven goals the team scored. He also scored twice and drew a couple of penalties at even-strength, which is a very good sign, given his well-publicized struggles coinciding with his shift from left to right wing.
For Ovi, his shot totals are usually a pretty good indicator of how well he's playing, and in ten February games he has 53 shots on goal, a rate he hasn't been at over a full season since his big years. If that's the result of him getting comfortable on the right side and the team getting comfortable in Adam Oates's system (a 180-degree turn from Dale Hunter's), there's no reason to believe that Ovechkin's recent play is just a flash in the pan.
What does Adam Oates plan to do with his goaltenders? Is it going to be a true platoon where each guy plays 25 or so games, or will at some point one or the other guy pick up the starting job and run with it?
Braden Holtby has started the last six games for the Caps and seems to have had a longer leash than Michal Neuvirth has (though Neuvirth did get five starts in a row earlier), and coincidentally (or not) the team announced a two-year contract extension for Holtby yesterday. Holtby has been playing well and the team is desperate, so I'd expect Oates to stick with the hot hand whenever possible; there may have been a time where it was important to let either goalie work through a tough stretch and find his game, but that time has passed - give the team a chance to win and you'll likely keep playing.
After Troy Brouwer went nuclear on Alexander Semin following Monday's practice, has the pressure been ratcheted up on the Caps to back up Brouwer's words by neutralizing Semin? Is it more of an advantage for Semin, knowing the tendencies of his former teammates and trying to exploit them, or for the Caps' defenders who are well aware of what Semin brings to the table?
I don't think I'd characterize Brouwer's comments as going "nuclear" on Semin, but that's neither here nor there. At this point in the season the Caps' margin for error is nearly non-existent if they hope to make the playoffs, so I don't think that those comments have increased the pressure at all - the Caps need this game and whether or not they can stop Semin and his line is likely going to go a long way towards determining the result. As far as in-game advantages, if anyone knows what makes Alex Semin tick, it's these Capitals... that said, no one knows what makes Alex Semin tick, so I wouldn't think there'd be much of an edge there. And if any of these guys - Semin or the Caps - need extra motivation from bulletin board material at this point, they're in the wrong line of work.