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The versatile Broks Laich, who has played center, wing and defense for the Capitals, helps the team deal with injuries.
One aspect of an organization that must be examined while assessing the overall status of a team is how well that organization is built to sustain injuries. As armchair general manager, I will do a thorough assessment of this quality within the Washington Capitals, proceeding in my assessment from position to position.
Center is arguably the deepest position in the Capitals' organizational depth chart. Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro are both top-six forwards, and Ribeiro is good enough to play on the first line or the first power play unit. If Nicklas Backstrom were to experience similar injury concerns to the ones he dealt with last season, the Caps would not miss a beat.
Further down the depth chart at center, the Capitals have centermen perfectly suited to their roles, such as Mathieu Perreault on the third line and Jay Beagle on the fourth line. The Capitals have such depth at center that they can afford to play two of their more versatile forwards at positions other than center.
Marcus Johansson was drafted as a center, but is a natural winger. He was moved their last season, and is currently listed as a right wing on the Capitals' depth chart, according to The Hockey News. He could be moved back to center to help deal with an injury.
Even Brooks Laich may find himself playing wing this season. Laich may be supplanted from his normal center position by the arrival of Mike Ribeiro. But like Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich could be moved back to center to help compensate for an injured player.
However, the Capitals are less able to sustain injuries at the two wing positions.
There may be plenty of warm bodies at right wing, with the additions of Joey Crabb and Matt Clackson. But none of the right wings—or none of the forwards, for that matter—are as skilled a power forward as Troy Brouwer. And no right winger possesses the pure athleticism of Marcus Johansson. An injury to either would leave that position sorely lacking.
In terms of scoring, no forward position boasts the same depth as left wing.
Of the players still on the Capitals roster, the top two goal scorers during the 2011-12 season both play left wing: Alex Ovechkin with 38 goals, and Jason Chimera with 20. If Alex Ovechkin suffers an injury—or a suspension—Jason Chimera could be plugged into the first line in his place. Chimera's speed would be just as troublesome to opposing defenders as that of Ovechkin, if not more so.
But an injury to Jason Chimera would expose the overall lack of depth at left wing. Wojtek Wolski has been an inconsistent goal scorer throughout his career, and Matt Hendricks is a grinder extraordinaire who excels as a bottom-six forward. It would be a risky proposition for head coach Adam Oates to rely on either player for top-six production.
Like the right wing position, the Washington Capitals defense has a lot of warm bodies but is not incredibly deep.
There is only one shutdown pair, consisting of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. The rest of the Washington defenders provide balance, but not the same defensive skill as Alzner and Carlson.
Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov and new addition Jack Hillen are offensive minded defensemen. Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine and especially Jeff Schultz are stay-at-home defenders. But these six would be hard pressed to adequately replace Karl Alzner or John Carlson if they suffered an injury.
Finally, the Washington Capitals are in very good shape at goaltender, especially if Adam Oates chooses to platoon his two starters.
Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth could receive just enough starts to stay sharp and well-rested at the same time. The Capitals goalies might be utilized much the same way the St. Louis Blues utilized Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott during the 2011-12 season, with a great deal of success.