On my site (www.GuysNation.com), one of my authors wrote an interesting article breaking down the roster scenarios for the upcoming 2011 NHL Winter Classic hockey game between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here's his perspective on the Washington Capitals:
For the past three years, the National Hockey League has treated us to a one-of-a-kind game on New Year’s Day. Two NHL teams take over a large outdoor venue and play a regular season game, reminiscent of kids playing on a frozen pond. Weather isn’t a factor, as the teams have been known to brave extreme cold and snow. This tradition is known as the Winter Classic.
In case you’re unaware, 2011’s rendition of the Winter Classic features what is arguably the biggest rivalry in hockey today. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals will square off in Pittsburgh, PA., at Heinz Field—the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The whole world will have an opportunity to watch the league’s two prominent stars, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, showcase their abilities. If it’s anything like their previous meetings, you won’t want to miss it.
A lot can happen between now and January 1. Injuries, slumps and recent breakouts will most likely all factor in the game’s lineup. While there’s always the possibility of new injuries what about the players currently nursing injuries? Will they be ready to go for the big showdown? Sure, I believe that most guys would do anything to suit up for a game of this caliber, regardless of nagging injuries, but the bottom line is each team can only have 20 players dressed.
Then there’s the issue with goaltending. Most would say that Marc-Andre Fluery is a sure bet to tend goal for the Penguins, but who gets the start for Washington? In the end, the decisions will all come down to the respective coaching staffs. In this brief article, I give my rundown and predictions on the line-ups. You can think of it as my line-up wishlist.
Washington Capitals first forward line
Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble.
If you’re on the east coast and you’ve had a chance to see these three in action, you’ll know that they’re the real deal. Ovechkin is possibly one of the most talented players in the history of the NHL (I think HBO’s 24/7 refers to him as the best player in the solar system), and Backstrom’s play making skills are the perfect compliment.
Mike Knuble is an extremely likable, hard-working veteran that was made for this type of game. I have no doubt in my mind that these three stars will all be dressed for the Winter Classic.
Washington Capitals second forward line
Alexander Semin, Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich.
Alexander Semin lets his numbers do the talking. I honestly can’t believe he was a “write-in” on this year’s All Star ballot. He’s currently in third place (in the entire NHL) for goals with 18 and in fifth place in points with 33.
Brooks Laich is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of the team. He’s a fan favorite, a solid two-way player, and a staple in the Capitals powerplay. Youngster Mathieu Perreault is a name that might be unfamiliar to even some Caps fans.
He was a standout in Hershey (Washington’s minor league affiliate), and he’s shined in every opportunity he’s had to play at the NHL level. With the recent trade of Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado, the Capitals had room to call up a fresh face. It just so happened that Mathieu Perreault received that call, and responded by scoring two goals in his first game back. If he can keep it up, look for him to earn a spot in the line-up on New Year’s day.
Washington Capitals third forward line
Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, Eric Fehr.
While Chimera is mainly seen as a gritty, two-way forward, what a lot of folks don’t know is that he just so happens to be one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. If he’s given the chance, look for him to “fly” on the open ice in Pittsburgh.
Johansson is a rookie center with a ridiculous amount of potential. Some look at him and say, “He’s just another Swedish playmaker, like Nicklas Backstrom”. It’s true that he might possess a similar skill set, but his strong finish is what sets him apart. It’s becoming evident that he wants to be way more than a “set-up man”.
He’s not afraid to rip shots on net, and his accuracy is improving with each game. Eric Fehr doesn’t quite put up the numbers that would qualify him to be a top six forward, but he’s a gem on the third line. He definitely knows how to score in clutch situations.
Washington Capitals fourth forward line
Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Bradley.
This trio is the Caps’ energy line. They’re known for getting the puck down low and really putting on the pressure. None of them are snipers, per se, but they still manage to find the back of the net. Look for them to win a ton of faceoffs, throw their bodies down to block shots and play an important role on the penalty kill.
Coach Bruce Boudreau has been rotating Matt Hendricks into this line periodically, but Gordon, Steckel, and Bradley have really developed a great chemistry together. I really hope to see those three on New Year’s Day.
Matt Hendricks, DJ King
While Hendricks has proven himself as an energy line type of guy, he’s the new kid on the block. I don’t believe he’s as highly skilled as any of the forwards on the 3rd line, and like I said above, I think that fourth line should be set.
DJ King, on the other hand, is only on the squad to beat the living crap out of opposing players. If someone even looks at Ovechkin wrong, he gets sent out to throw down. I don’t think that’ll be necessary, as the Winter Classic doesn’t really cater to that type of physical play. Though the rivalry is strong, so is the mutual respect from both clubs, despite what people would like to think.
Washington Capitals first defensive pair
Mike Green, Scott Hannan.
Mike Green is billed as one of the league’s top defenseman. Most true hockey fans know that’s not entirely accurate. Green’s game would be completely sub-par, if it weren’t for the fact that he scores a tremendous amount of points.
His numbers are right up there with most of the NHL’s top forwards, and his stick handling and skating skills are top notch. The past three Winter Classics to me have seemed more like All-Star Games, and that’s an arena in which Green could really excel. Scott Hannan is a hard-nosed veteran, whom the Capitals just acquired by trading Tomas Fleischmann.
He’s a great linemate for Mike Green; He’ll stay back while Green skates past his own forwards.
Washington Capitals second defensive pair
John Carlson, Karl Alzner.
This young duo has surprised the masses. It’s not normal for a first and second year defenseman to pair up, but these two go way back. They played a countless number of games together for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Separately, their inexperience is sometimes visible, but together they rarely miss a beat.
Washington Capitals third defensive pair
Tom Poti, John Erskine.
Known for his solid, stay-at-home defensive play, Tom Poti is perhaps the best defenseman on the Capitals roster. He might get buried on the depth chart, but he gets plenty of minutes each and every game, in both five-on-five and special teams situations. It’s plain to see he’s a leader out there, and he plays consistently smart hockey. Erskine is having a phenomenal season. He’s not known for producing points, but so far, he’s doing just that.
His size allows him to clear players out of the crease with ease, and when he lays into the puck, he’s got a wicked shot. He’s not one of the Capitals faster skaters, but he gets the job done. He’s been known to get into a scuffle from time to time, but he’s more reactive. He always sticks up for his team. I’d love to see him get a sweater for the Winter Classic.
Tyler Sloan, Jeff Schultz.
Tyler Sloan is another one of the Capitals up-and-coming youngsters. He’s already got his feet wet in plenty of NHL contests. Normally I’d say seniority rules, but in Sloan’s case—Carslon and Alzner play so well together and the other four d-men flat out trump him.
It’s most unfortunate that when the Caps lace up their skates and take the ice at Heinz Feild, they’ll be without Jeff Schultz. He broke his thumb last week, and he’ll be out for four-to-six weeks. He’s regularly Mike Green’s defensive partner, and I believe that his absence will provide a spot for John Erskine.
I consider “Schultzy” to be one the Capitals most valuable defenseman, and I’m truly disappointed that he won’t be a part of the Winter Classic.
Washington Capitals Starting Goalie
We’ve all seen what Michael Neuvirth has accomplished this season, but I still think that Varly is the premier goaltender in Washington. Neuvirth’s numbers are slightly better, and don’t get me wrong, he’s incredible. He’s just not as exciting.
When Varlamov is on, he will do everything and anything to keep that puck out of the net. He stands on his head and flails around, and that’s what the NHL needs on New Years. I have a feeling that he’ll get the nod from Bruce, and you won’t be disappointed.
I can’t predict what will take place over three weeks, but I can tell you that I’m counting days to this monumental event. For those of you with HBO, there’s a new 24/7 mini-series, airing Wednesday night’s at 10:00 PM that will give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at both teams leading up to the big game. The four-part series starts December 15th.
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