Fun fact: every single matchup between the Hurricanes and Capitals this season - all five of them - take place on either a Tuesday or a Thursday. This week, it's both days, so we kick off the back-to-back by welcoming J.P. of Japers' Rink back to the hot seat for another set of Three Questions.
- Since last the Canes and Caps saw each other, the Caps are 3-3 - not exactly setting the world on fire, but at least treading water. What's been the single biggest reason the Caps have turned it around, to the extent that they have, and what else is showing signs of life that maybe wasn't there at the beginning of the year?
Prior to last weekend, the Caps went on an 8-3-0 run (which included that Caps/Canes tilt) after a 2-8-1 start to the season. Part of the difference, of course, was becoming more familiar with Adam Oates's system (players talk of it becoming more natural and not something they need to think about), part of it was the schedule (six of the eight wins were against our woeful Southeast Division brethren), and part of it was just the puck bouncing their way (they were never quite as bad as their record over the first 11 games, and not as good as their mark over the next 11 - "puck luck" played a big role in both stretches). You can focus on special teams play as improved, but again, it goes back to those three things - the learning curve, the schedule and dumb luck, in varying degrees.
- Along the lines of the previous question, how close are the Caps to playing the style and type of hockey that Adam Oates would ideally like to see the team play?
Oates pegged them not long ago as 60-70% of the way there, and that's probably a fair assessment, insofar as something like that can be quantified. When they're "on," things look great and you sense they're getting close to putting it all together; when they're "off," they barely look like an NHL team at times. So while they might be 60-70% there, anything short of 100% with some to-be-expected lapses isn't going to be good enough to support any long-term sustained winning. (It's also worth noting that the personnel right now may be less than ideal for implementing this system, in which case the answer to "how close are they?" probably is "Ask me again next fall.")
Should the Caps keep up their recent run of form and not move any closer to a playoff spot, will they look to sell anyone off at the deadline? If so, who's likely to move, and if not, is there a chance they become buyers?
That's the multi-million dollar question, isn't it? On the one hand, the head says that this team needs some retooling, and the assets they could get in return for trading a guy like Mike Ribeiro and others (to say nothing of a high draft pick if they go the sellers route) would certainly help in the long-run. On the other hand, the heart says that anything can happen if they make it into the playoffs, and a few wins here or there and that's a possibility, albeit remote. Ultimately, I think it comes down to which of those two hands is holding the wallet - it might be a hard sell in this town to head back into anything resembling a rebuild, no matter how short-term.