Friday six-pack: Are Caps getting into playoffs?

Friday six-pack: Are Caps getting into playoffs?
March 21, 2014, 2:15 pm
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Penn Quarter Sports Tavern Six Pack of Questions

Welcome to our weekly edition of Penn Quarter Sports Tavern’s 6-Pack of Questions, where we aim to keep it real while answering your most pressing questions regarding the Washington Capitals.

Let’s get started.

@MyLifeIsBS_11 If the Caps come away with four points in the West Coast swing, do they make the playoffs?

Yes. That’s a mighty task considering the Caps close out the trip with a Saturday night visit to the Shark Tank, where they have not won since Oct. 30, 1993 when Rick Tabaracci backstopped them to a 4-2 victory on the strength of goals from Craig Berube, Keith Jones, Mike Ridley and Peter Bondra. But we digress. The way I see it, Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Montreal and Philadelphia get in with the top five playoff spots. That leaves five teams – Toronto, Columbus, the Rangers, Detroit and the Caps -- battling for the final three playoff spots. Since one of those three spots is reserved for the third-place finisher in the Metro Division, that gives the Caps a slight edge over Atlantic foes Toronto and Detroit. I still believe 92 points would be enough to get the Caps into the post-season, which means they’d need to gain 15 points in their final 11 games, which equates to a 7-3-1 or 8-4-0 record. None of those 11 games is against any of the five teams the Caps are trying to beat out of a playoff spot. To answer your question, if the Caps can get at least one more point out of this road trip, I think they can get in. But with every point carrying significant importance, if they return to D.C. with just three points of a possible six, they won’t get in.

@CayugaLaker58 If Capitals sign [Jaroslav] Halak, [Dustin] Penner, [Mikhail] Grabovski and somehow acquire a top pairing, tough D-man, are they instant contenders?

Honestly, I don’t see that as their master plan for the offseason. In fact, I’d be surprised if any of those three players are wearing Caps jerseys next season. Grabovski will want more than the $3 million he’s making this season and he’s a cross between a second- and third-line center in D.C. Penner is big and strong and provides an imposing presence in front of the net, but Adam Oates does not see him being fast enough for top-six minutes, so I don’t see him returning. Of the three potential UFAs, Halak might have the best chance of returning, but he would need to get the Caps into the playoffs for the club to consider signing him. And they’ve got to sort out what their long-range plans are for Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. As for that tough defenseman, that has to be their target in the offseason. Whether that comes through a draft day trade or through free agency, the Caps need a top-four defenseman, preferably a left shot to pair with Mike Green, to consider themselves a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

@SXDrums Why didn't Brooks Laich have surgery a year and a half ago if he knew it would help?

Hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to injuries. Actually, Laich had a procedure last April that was supposed to address his groin troubles. The fact he arrived at training camp with some of the same issues was not a good sign and his condition deteriorated throughout this season, forcing the team to shut him down and for Laich to have another procedure. The club is saying Laich could return in 4-6 weeks but for his long-term health it seems like a wise move for him to wait until next season, whether the Caps get into the playoffs or not. If Laich ends this season on the injured list the Caps will not have the option of using a compliance buyout on the final three years of his contract. If that’s the case the club could opt to keep him on its roster but place him on long-term injury to start next season if they believe he cannot play. My guess is that Laich will not give up on playing until he is completely out of options and that won’t happen any time soon.

@BradyMac96 With Laich and Grabo out do you see anyone else [Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov] slotting in the middle? Jay [Beagle] with Ovi isn't effective.

I see your point and you are certainly not alone. Here’s my counter argument. Would you rather lose with Ovechkin scoring 54 goals and finishing the season a minus-36, which is what he’s on pace for, or win with Ovechkin scoring fewer goals and finishing even or plus down the stretch? Let’s face it: The line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson can score at even strength, but it allows far more goals than it scores 5-on-5. By moving Beagle into that top-line spot, Oates is trying to have a defensive presence on all four lines. It’s too soon for me to get a real good read on whether Kuznetsov will be better at center or left wing and what kind of defensive game he possesses. So far I see him more as a playmaker than a finisher, although he looked pretty good in that shootout Thursday night. I think the plan is to stick with Beagle on that top line until Grabovski is healthy enough to play.

@CapsYapp Q: Chris Brown has a good all around LW skill set. Thoughts on him breaking camp w big club next yr?

@CottonEyeJones injuries affect AHL forward call-ups, why is it inconsistent? 0 depth @ center yet Latta/Wellman in Hershey

Very similar questions, so we combined them. The Caps like the physicality Brown and Latta bring to the lineup. Brown is a right shot who has played right wing throughout his career. The Caps are overloaded on the right side with Ovechkin, Brouwer, Joel Ward and Tom Wilson. Since Oates loathes right shots on the left side of the ice, Brown’s only option is at center. Which brings us to Latta. The Caps like his grittiness, but a lower body injury sidelined him in December and an upper body injury sidelined him with the Bears more recently. Latta would appear to have a better shot of making the Caps out of training camp next season as a fourth-line center. Casey Wellman has looked good in call-up duty but he lacks the size and strength to play on a fourth line that is being asked to play dump-and-chase hockey.   

[RELATED: Halak debuts new goalie mask]

@EvanH31 Why is Oates treating @Dustinpenner25 like he did with Erat? Dude can make a difference if used correctly.

From the moment he arrived in D.C. Marty Erat never seemed to fit, mostly because he was a left-handed shooting right wing [see reasoning above]. Penner can certainly fill a role, but Oates does not see him as a good fit with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov has played too well on the second line to keep him on the fourth unit. With Jason Chimera and Joel Ward playing so well together on a third line, Oates isn’t about to break up that tandem either. I actually believe Penner can be effective on a line with Tom Wilson and as a power-play net crasher and that’s how Oates is using him.

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