How will Adam Oates and the Caps try to temporarily replace Ovi?
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.
@Robostop10 - [Braden] Holtby and others have questioned the Caps preparation. What is going on in the locker room?
That’s the question I was asking yesterday. You’re right. A few weeks ago Troy Brouwer was talking about teammates shooting at goalies’ heads in practice and how that somehow affected the way they prepared for games. And on Wednesday Holtby questioned his teammates’ mental preparation, comparing their pre-game routines to a dance party. Fact is, every player prepares differently. Holtby likes to find a quiet place and zone in on pre-game visualization. Jason Chimera might like to crank the stereo and sing along to country music. Last season, Holtby pointed out that the Caps’ 15-2-2 finish began in Winnipeg, when he noticed the pre-game locker room was a picture of quiet intensity. It’s possible Holtby has a good grasp of the connection between pre-game routine and on-ice performance. It’s also possible he’s making too much of this, which appears to be the opinion of his coach and some of his teammates. Either way, it’s probably something that should be addressed.
@yanger1994 - Why is [Mikhail] Grabovski off the 1st PP unit? They were better with him on.
It’s hard to argue your point. In the first seven games of the season the Caps were 8-for-26 on the man-advantage and first in the NHL with a 30.8 success rate with Grabovski working the right goal line. In the past five games with Marcus Johansson working the goal line, they’ve gone 3 for 19. And at practice on Thursday, Grabovski wasn’t even on the second unit, which had Brooks Laich on the goal line, Marty Erat on the right halfwall, Joel Ward in the slot, John Carlson in Alex Ovechkin’s spot in the left circle and Steve Oleksy at the point. It’s hard for me to question Adam Oates when it comes to power play personnel, but I’m with you. I liked Grabovski in Mike Ribeiro’s old spot. Maybe it has something to do with Grabovski’s play away from the puck and the power play is a carrot Oates is keeping out of his reach.
@livnthadreem - Wow he's not even making the trip? C'mon crack that secret code and tell us what's really up with him!
Actually, this might be an easy one. Oates told us Thursday that Ovechkin was injured on that play early in Monday night’s loss in Vancouver when Alexander Edler pulled him down from behind and he crashed head-first into Roberto Luongo. Ovechkin told Oates he was “sore” after the collision and it grew progressively worse as the game wore on. The guess here is that Ovechkin injured one of his shoulders. Oates said Ovechkin could be back on Saturday night against Florida, but my guess is that the Caps might hold back their captain an extra few days to make sure he’s right. We’ll know more on Saturday. Either way, that was a pretty nice burst of speed that led to Ovechkin’s penalty shot, further proof that he’s adapting well to right wing.
@jgarner86 - Think [Tom] Wilson should get top line duty?
Anybody who’s been reading these Friday posts knows that I like Tom Wilson and the Capitals’ decision to keep him on their roster. But even with Ovechkin sidelined I’m not sure he’s ready for top-line minutes. I can tell you this: Adam Oates has considered using Wilson on the power play, but he’s not quite ready to hand him those responsibilities, as evidenced on the second unit that practiced on Thursday. Wilson told me on Wednesday that he’s learning how to better use his big body in the NHL. In junior hockey he could protect the puck by knocking smaller opponents down. But in the NHL, opponents are still on their feet after those same body checks and Wilson said he’s trying to adapt to those challenges. With all of that said, if Eric Fehr is not the answer with Ovechkin out of the lineup, don’t be surprised if Oates give Wilson a chance on the top line tonight or tomorrow night, if Ovi is out again.
@ericfingerhut - Odd that they're mentioning [John Erskine’s knee injury] for the first time a month into the season?
It was during training camp that Erskine told me he had offseason knee surgery that was a little more extensive than expected. As a result he said he was working himself into game shape during camp and that he was about a month behind where he wanted to be. But as Adam Oates mentioned, Erskine is a warrior who tried to battle through the first month of the season, mostly because the Caps needed some experience on the blue line. Although it can be argued that it came late, the Caps made the right call by placing Erskine on LTIR to give him enough time to strengthen his lower body for the long haul. The fact they recalled Dmitry Orlov from Hershey tells me they’re willing to give him a long look during Erskine’s absence. Orlov is in the final year of his entry-level contract and needs to play well this season if he hopes to be renewed. I personally liked what I saw in Orlov two seasons ago, but as Oates said, he needs to prove he can defend if he wants a regular spot with the Caps.
@livnthadreem - What about Nicky [Backstrom’s] tooth? Is he going without or could/did he have it fixed?
Backstrom took a puck in the face during the Caps’ Canadian road trip thanks to an errant pass from Marcus Johansson. Backstrom jokingly told the Post’s Katie Carrera that it was a “tape to face” pass. As a result Backstrom was left with a jagged-edged front tooth. The tooth was bonded on Wednesday and Backstrom was sporting his usual smile on Thursday, which probably makes his girlfriend, his new baby girl and his appetite very happy.