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Washington Capitals

Jason Chimera Saves The Capitals

Washington CapitalsIt’s been a while since my last post, and in that time we’ve seen a lot of goings on in Washington, including two games against the Penguins – one shootout loss and one historic win in the Winter Classic – highlighted by the culmination of HBO’s stunning 24/7 series covering the two teams. After that famous win, it was thought the Caps might just kick it up a gear, not least Alex Ovechkin and his fellow stars Nick Backstrom and Alex Semin, who were all stuck in a bit of a rut. But still they weren’t firing at their usual rate. Bruce Boudreau was constantly changing line combinations over a period of around two weeks; putting the in-form rookie Marcus Johansson (who is deservedly getting many plaudits for his great play), switching Ovechkin to the right wing, even putting the gritty Matt Hendricks on the top line to try to spark something. But nothing worked. It seemed as though the star players were destined to flop this season. Then, midway through the Caps’ 3-2 OT loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last Tuesday, Boudreau tried out Jason Chimera on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. With Semin injured it was these two the Caps were looking at to get the offense going. Suddenly, there seemed to be a new dimension to their play. Ovechkin had better, more open chances; Backstrom had more time on the puck to pick out the right pass. Over the next two games – wins against the Islanders and Maple Leafs – with the same line combinations, the top line combined for five out of the Caps’ six goals, and Ovechkin and Backstrom managed 5 and 4 points respectively. Why? The incredible speed of Jason Chimera.

Chimera himself only notched one goal and one assist in the two games, but his play is what has got the star pair going. Though the grit and determination down low of the likes of Hendricks and Laich added a bit to the equation, Ovechkin can provide enough of that himself to suffice. The problem was time. Ovi and Nick never had enough time and were always well-marshalled by defensemen. Chimera has given the opposition a new problem to consider. Instead of being able to cover Ovechkin tightly, not giving him space to play, or getting to Backstrom quickly to block the lanes, D-men have to consider Chimera, who can burn them with his pace. It also means the Caps aren’t trying to carry the puck into the opposition zone all the time, as they can dump it in deep and know that Chimera will retrieve it. Simply, Chimera’s speed opens up the play a bit more in the opposition zone and gives Ovechkin and Backstrom more time and space. The question now is; what will Boudreau do when Alex Semin returns from injury? Semin is, of course, a top-six forward. But Chimera is currently filling his spot and with the top line finally producing won’t be going anyway. So it would have to be one of the second-line trio. Johansson’s recent play has been arguably better than anyone else on the roster, as the youngster has settled quickly into the North American game, and more importantly the Caps system, and is starting to show some of the skill and speed that led the organisation to draft him. That leaves Brooks Laich or Mike Knuble. Both are also top-six forwards really, and neither has been exceptionally better than the other of late, although Knuble was slow at the start of the season. The likelihood is that Knuble will make way for Semin, to re-unite the Russian with his usual linemates, and with Eric Fehr also injured a third-line right winger spot is open. In the long term, if Chimera’s play continues to spark the Caps, there may be some line-juggling further down the lineup for the coaching staff, but it is a pleasant dilemma for the team to have, as they are finally playing their quality attacking hockey that we saw last season but maintaining the defensive awareness instilled in the offseason. Finally, the system-change looks like it may be paying off.

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2 comments for “Jason Chimera Saves The Capitals”

  1. I always wonder how well shuffling lines works - it’s hard to get into a groove when things don’t stay the same. Interesting write-up about a case where it works.

    Posted by sharksfanNo Gravatar | January 23, 2011, 11:49 pm
  2. to be honest, if it hadn’t been for the improvement on the top line, thanks to chimera, i would probably have been writing a post criticising boudreau for not allowing the top players to settle and develop chemistry. but i suppose that’s just how it goes in hockey, you can sometimes get a bit lucky suddenyl finding that spark from an unexpected source. it’ll be interesting now to see if it lasts long term

    Posted by colonelbagpussNo Gravatar | January 24, 2011, 12:05 am

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