Capital Defense: Can Washington's Defense Last the Long Haul?
The Washington Capitals currently sit comfortably in a playoff spot, seven points ahead of their next closest foe in the Southeast Division and trailing by just two points in the Eastern Conference.
With offensive talents such as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom on their roster, putting pucks in the net has not been a problem for the Capitals for several seasons. A much bigger issue, however, might be keeping pucks out of the net at the other end of the ice.
Washington believes they boast seven bona fide defenseman, and one developing blue-liner in Tyler Sloan. Compared to other Stanley Cup contenders, however, the Caps are lacking big name talent on their defense.
Mike Green is undoubtedly the team's number one blueliner. Drafted by Washington 29th overall in 2004, Green has developed through the Caps system and blossomed last year into the team's most relied on defender. He was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy last season, in part as a result of setting the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman.
While Green had stellar season in 2008-9, he is off to a slow start this season. Lingering and recent injuries have plagued the defenseman. Pressures of Olympic considerations must also be on Green's mind.
These factors have caused a prominent drop in Green's production, both offensively and defensively. Green has only two goals through 16 games this season, down from his 31 total goals last year, and several noticeable defensive gaffs have led directly to opponent goals.
When Green suffered yet another injury last night, playing just 2:44 of ice time before leaving the game in the first period, the large burden normally shouldered by Green must be passed off to the team's other seven defensemen.
With the exception of Sloan, Washington's blueline is stocked with experienced defensemen. None of these players, however, have the all star power to carry the team far into the season.
Brian Pothier had a dominant game last night in Florida, scoring a goal and two assists along with logging 25 minutes of ice time. Pothier was a healthy scratch the game before, however, to make room for John Erskine.
Tom Poti also logs a lot of ice time for the Capitals in all situations, but has had defensive struggles of his own throughout the young season.
Washington as a whole has had complications in their own zone, especially when trying to hold a lead. Through 16 games this season, 11 have been one-goal games. Of those 11, the Caps have lost seven games. Washington is winning only 85.6% of games in which they are leading after two periods.
The Capitals can certainly net goals, but they often let in as many pucks and they score. Before their 4-1 victory over the lowly Panthers, the Capitals have averaged 3.53 goals a game but allowed 3.07.
All teams that have lifted the Stanley Cup have been led by strong defenders. The Red Wings had the likes of Nicklas Lindstrom and Brian Rafalski. The Penguins had Sergei Gonchar. The Ducks had Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
Is it plausable that the Capitals can raise Lord Stanley's Cup without a stay-at-home, big name defenseman? Green has the ability to fill such role in the future, but his frequent injuries and inconsistent play prevent him from being that player this year.
The Capitals believe they can win with the defenseman they currently have in place, but the history of Stanley Cup championship rosters disagrees.
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