Friday Six-pack: Are changes in the works?

Friday Six-pack: Are changes in the works?
January 24, 2014, 9:00 am
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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.

@Wikipuff88 Where is the first change of 2014? On the ice or in the front office?

Usually, when a team is in the midst of a losing streak, a GM will try making a “shakeup” trade. George McPhee has not made a trade since sending Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks for minor-leaguer John Mitchell and a fourth-round pick back in September. Before that, his last trade involving an NHL player was the Filip Forsberg for Marty Erat and Michael Latta. While it might make sense for the Caps to make a significant deal before the Olympic break, I’m not sure one is in the works. The Caps could use a reliable, left-handed defenseman, but to get one they might have to part with a core player like defenseman Mike Green, which would still leave them with three blue liners 22 years old or younger. As for the front office, I don’t see Ted Leonsis making any in-season changes.

@SXDrums Is this slump due to a lack of effort or bad luck?

Adam Oates and Troy Brouwer told us Thursday they have not seen a lack of effort this season. Those 5-1 and 4-1 losses in Columbus and New York were not pretty and the Caps didn’t show a lot of push-back after falling behind 1-0 to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday – in fact, Karl Alzner said he felt the Caps looked “dead” after falling behind. That said, Oates made it clear every player needs to work harder than they think they’re working. I’m not a big believer in puck luck and I do believe teams can get outworked. The Capitals can play harder than they’ve played in the past two weeks.

@caddelcreek When do you think we can say the Caps should be sellers? This road trip could be brutal and March isn't looking too hot.

This five-game road trip – New Jersey, Montreal, Buffalo, Columbus, Detroit – won’t make or break the Capitals’ season but it could bring some clarity to where they’re headed going into the Olympic break and the March 5 trade deadline that will follow. And yes, that March schedule is a real challenge, with three games against the Bruins, two against the Penguins and Flyers and a three-game trip to California for games against the Ducks, Kings and Sharks. If the Caps are six or more points out of a playoff spot at the trade deadline, yes, they should be sellers. But I don’t see that happening. I think the Caps will win enough games to stay in the playoff hunt right up until the deadline.

@TerpinNYC Is it time for Oates to go with his top 20 and stick with that lineup for the next 15-20 games? It's time to swim or sink.

It’s rarely mentioned but I honestly believe the roster shuffling on the blue line has hurt the Caps this season. They have been remarkably healthy up front, aside from Brooks Laich’s battle with groin issues, but have rotated eight different defensemen in and out of the lineup since Jack Hillen was injured in the second game of the season. Oates acknowledged on Thursday that with more NHL teams playing fast-track hockey he wants better foot speed on the back end, which is why John Erskine is taking a seat in the press box for Nate Schmidt, at least for now. How would a third defense pairing of Connor Carrick and Nate Schmidt handle a playoff series? That remains to be seen. But the shuffling of the goalies didn’t help much either. All three goalies handle the puck differently and Braden Holtby said there has been miscommunication on exchanges with the defensemen because of the goalie shuffle with Philipp Grubauer, Michal Neuvirth and himself.

[RELATED: Caps facing crossroads as Olympics near]

@naginther What do you think is the number one problem with the Capitals right now? Defense? Lack of scorers?

When a team is losing it’s hard to pinpoint a No. 1 reason. The lack of experience on the blue line stands out to me. It’s not that the young defensemen aren’t capable of playing in the NHL. It’s just that their decisions on the ice are rushed and that makes for mistakes. With a team built around puck movement from the blue line, this is a major source of the Caps’ struggles this season. Could they use another scorer on the left side? Yes. Could they get better goaltending? Yes. Do they need a few more blocked shots? Yes. Does their penalty kill need to be better? Absolutely. When a team is losing there is always more than one reason.

@Robotstop10 Mike Green. He is doing better from the chatter around the league. To send a message that no one is safe, will the Caps save this team by moving him for a top 4 defender?

It’s a valid question, but I’m not sure George McPhee is ready to take that step. The emergence of John Carlson as a power play threat has made people wonder if Green is expendable. While I agree the Caps’ blue line could use that reliable No. 3 or 4 defenseman, I’m not sure McPhee is prepared to trade one of his core players to get him. Green’s game has been up and down this season and the offensive tendencies of him and Dmitry Orlov tend to result in turnovers. From the looks of things, it appears McPhee is willing to wait this out and see how the Caps handle this five-game road trip.