Caps Full of Surprises
So far this season almost nothing in the Caps play has been as expected. The whole team has been a load of surprises, bar a few minor exceptions – like Tomas Fleischmann’s failure to win face-offs, Mathieu Perreault’s excellent performance when called upon and Jason Chimera playing well enough on the Caps’ third line to show he could be a top six forward anywhere else. Here are some of the key surprises in Washington so far.
Michal Neuvirth: Starting from the back, there were doubts over the Capitals goaltending, with the coaching staff electing to put their faith in two 22-year-olds, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. Some Caps fans, though, were quite confident in the ability of these two, and Neuvirth has certainly done his part to put any doubts to bed. With Varly injured for the majority of this young season, Neuvy has started 11 games, with an 8-3-0 record, posting a 2.31 GAA and .920 SV%. The Czech netminder was named the NHL’s October rookie of the month as he on some occasions almost single-handedly won the game for the struggling Capitals. He has been consistently brilliant, and has the best glove-hand Washington has seen in a long time. Whilst for a long time fans had seen Varlamov as the long-term future Caps starter, many, including myself, are now looking more towards Neuvirth.
Mike Green: Greeny’s had a decidedly interesting season so far. He was sidelined with injury for 3 games, but in the 9 games he has played (though in one he only logged around 5 minutes of ice time) he has notched only 6 points. However the good news is, whilst he isn’t as explosive offensively as he was last year, his defensive play has picked up a lot over the summer, and we’re seeing a much more complete player in Green, which will, especially in the current absence of a top-class defensive d-man (though Jeff Schultz is looking like he could turn out to be just that soon), be extremely good for this lineup.
Alex Semin: After last season’s abysmal playoff performance, many, including myself, doubted Semin would be in Washington for long. But his play at the moment makes it difficult to see him being traded any time soon. Most notably in close wins over Atlanta and Toronto, the other Alex has been almost the only positive in the lineup. Whether it’s due to the lack of production from the top line, or the pressure to perform if he wants to stay, Semin has shown real class; but most importantly has shown he can perform in pressure games. In the past he has gone missing at important times, but now he is on top of his game just when the Caps need someone to step up their game. If he continues like this, he could not only produce very high numbers, but could just earn himself a nice contract extension. But consistency has always been a problem with Semin. Only time will tell.
The Top Line: As I have said before, the top line has not been good this season. Whilst Ovechkin, and less so Backstrom, still boasts good numbers, the line has been pretty abysmal in most games. At first it seemed they were rusty, but the rust should have worn out. They didn’t have an answer for good goaltending and organised defense from the opposition. Mike Knuble was particularly poor, only managing 4 points in 10 games, leading to his demotion to the second line. If these stars don’t find some creativity from somewhere then the Caps will just have to hope the likes of Semin and Neuvirth keep up their play.
DJ King: Brought to give the Caps the enforcer they had lacked the past couple of seasons, King has struggled to make an impact really, looking far from confident in the few scraps he has participated in. And when, against the Devils most notably, things have got really rough, the rest of the team were able to cope well enough without King in the lineup. So at the moment, he isn’t looking to be as good an acquisition as was hoped. For me though, he can redeem it all as long he teaches Max Talbot a thing or two about manners on December 23rd.
Boyd Gordon: The Caps are 6-0 with Gordon in the lineup. He has quietly been playing some of the best hockey we have seen from him in a good few years. Keep it up Gordo!