5 Questions Facing the Washington Capitals in the 2nd Half of the NHL Season

Robert WoodCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2013

5 Questions Facing the Washington Capitals in the 2nd Half of the NHL Season

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    The Washington Capitals have now reached the halfway point of the 2013 NHL season.

    Now the fun begins.

    In only 46 days, the regular season will end. But before then, the Capitals have several issues to address.

    Here are five questions facing the Washington Capitals in the second half of the NHL season.

5. How Many More Injuries?

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    This season, the Washington Capitals have dealt with injuries to a handful of their most important players.

    Marcus Johansson finally returned to action on March 10 after being out for more than a month. The results of a recent neuropsychological test revealed that the 22-year-old Swede had suffered a concussion. Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times stated on March 8 that "the team had not previously revealed that Johansson was dealing with a concussion. The forward did not want to say when he began experiencing symptoms."

    Mike Green skated with the team on March 8, his first on-ice appearance since the February 27 game against the  Philadelphia Flyers. A good sign for sure, but Adam Oates told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post that it is difficult tell when a player is fully recovered from a groin injury, something that has plagued Green in recent seasons:

    I think he felt pretty good. I’ll find out later from [head athletic trainer Greg Smith] after he ices down and all that and how he feels the next day. You think it’s healed but then as soon as you get real contact [it acts up again]. You can replicate as much as you want but until you get into a game in the heat of the moment and take an unguarded hit, you don’t know.

    But now, fellow defenseman John Erskine is injured as well. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post reported on March 9 that "John Erskine suffered what appeared to be an injury to his left hand or wrist in the first period of the 5-2 loss to the Islanders. He took only two shifts for a total of 1 minute 18 seconds of playing time." Erskine has not played in the two games since.

    And Brooks Laich has not played a game yet this season, as he is still recovering from a groin injury suffered while playing in Switzerland during the lockout. He told Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times on February 17 that "it’s been the hardest thing I think I’ve ever gone through in my hockey career.”

    These four players represent a wealth of skill, experience and leadership, and the Capitals' early-season struggles can be at least partially attributed to their collective absences. Any serious attempt the Capitals make to qualify for the postseason would be further thwarted by the prolonged absence of these players, or any other significant members of this team for that matter.

4. Any Goals for Jason Chimera?

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    Jason Chimera had a breakout performance for the Washington Capitals last season.

    Prior to last year's campaign, the 12-year veteran had a career high of 17 goals back in 2005-06. And before last season, he had a total of 17 goals over parts of two seasons with the Capitals after joining the team mid-season in 2009-10.

    Then the 33-year-old Edmonton native exploded for 20 goals in 2011-12, finishing third on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin (38) and Alexander Semin (21).

    But now, Chimera is following up the best season of his career with what could end up being the worst: Chimera currently has zero goals.

    Zilch.

    Nada.

    Goose egg.

    Worst of all, Chimera has played in all 24 games for the Capitals (through Sunday's action). And he is averaging 2.08 shots per game, which is above his career average of 1.95, according to Hockey Reference. 

    Head coach Adam Oates has tried the speedy winger on multiple lines in an attempt to find a combination that works for him. And quite frankly, Jason Chimera really should have scored by now.

    So, whenever you are ready, Mr. Chimera. We are waiting.

3. Can Power Play Remain Powerful?

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    One thing that has worked for the Washington Capitals this season has been their power play.

    Through 25 games, the Capitals rank third in the NHL with a power-play percentage of 25.0 percent.

    Normally, in an 82-game season, a high-ranking power-play percentage does not guarantee qualification for the postseason.

    Case in point: In 2011-12, nine of the top 15 power-play percentage teams qualified for the playoffs. And in 2010-11, only eight of the top 15 power-play percentage teams made the playoffs.

    But the 2013 NHL season is not a normal, 82-game season. Instead, it has been shortened to 48 games. So, to obtain context for this season, we must look back to the last NHL season that was shortened to 48 games: 1994-95.

    During that season, there was a much stronger correlation between a team's success on the power play and that team's overall success. Twelve of the top 15 power-play percentage teams made the postseason in 1994-95. That included nine of the top 10 and all of the top eight power-play teams.

    If that trend continues during the shortened 2013 season, then the Capitals can help their postseason chances by continuing to dominate on the power play.

2. Hot-by or Cold-By?

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    Braden Holtby has been inconsistent this season, to say the least.

    Holtby was expected to split time with Michal Nuevirth this season, as Adam Oates proclaimed in training camp. The first-year head coach told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post that with "forty-eight games, I think both guys are going to play a lot, and I would say when a guy is playing well, he should play.”

    But Holtby started slow. After being named the starter for the season opener, Holtby surrendered six goals on opening night. And in his first four starts combined, Holtby surrendered a total of 18 goals against, including yet another game where he let in six.

    But in his next eight starts combined, Holtby surrendered only 17 goals against, thanks to two shutouts. This hot streak compelled Adam Oates to start Holtby in net for 12 straight games, as the head coach stuck to his word. And the Capitals won eight of those 12 games.

    However, Holtby may be starting to cool off. He was pulled after allowing three goals in the Capitals' 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on March 10. And that marked the second time he had been pulled from goal in his last five starts. Then, on March 12 against the Carolina Hurricanes, in the first leg of a crucial home-and-home series with the Southeast Division leaders, Holtby again surrendered three goals. The Caps lost once more, this time 3-0.

    On the season, Holtby has a save percentage of .909, ranking him 23rd among the NHL's save percentage leaders. And Holtby is tied for second in the NHL in shutouts with three, in only 16 starts.

    At times, Holtby has been hot, and the Washington Capitals were showing signs of life when he played that way. But Holtby has gotten cold as well, and the Caps are in big trouble if that cold spell lasts for too long.

1. Will the Capitals Make the Playoffs?

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    All the questions, concerns and controversies surrounding the Washington Capitals can be eliminated from discussion if the team does one thing and one thing only...

    Make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    But it will not be easy.

    As of Tuesday night, the Capitals are 10-14-1 through 25 games. The Caps have 21 of a possible 50 points and are ranked 14th of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington is seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot and 10 points out of first place in the Southeast Division.

    The clock is ticking on the Capitals. Midnight is April 27.