Watching tonight’s Washington Capitals game, and their recent victory over Boston, felt eerily familiar. The Caps’ roster was relatively devoid of superstars; they fought hard, beat a better team (vs. Boston) and lost a close one to a divisional rival (Tampa).
Without Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, this Capitals team is surprisingly similar to the Capitals of almost a decade ago… a hard-charging team that both delighted and frustrated its fans.
How so, you ask? Read on… and while these comparisons are far from perfect, consider them food for thought:
|Steve Konowalchuk||Brooks Laich||Tough, lays it all on the line every shift, scores the dirty goals, everyone loves him|
|Olaf Kolzig||Tomas Vokoun||Savvy vet netminder — not a shutdown goalie but certainly solid|
|Jeff Halpern||Jeff Halpern||Well, duh…|
|Glen Metropolit||Matthieu Perreault||Little guy, constantly underestimated, great speed burst, hard worker|
|Michael Nylander||Marcus Johansson||Remember, back then Nylander was a real asset — and a very solid second-line pivot, like Johansson.|
|Calle Johansson||Dennis Wideman||Reliable puck-moving defenseman overshadowed by a high-scoring teammate|
|Brendan Witt / Ken Klee||John Erskine||Hard-hitting, crease-clearing D… would that the Capitals had two on their roster!|
|Mike Grier||Jason Chimera||Blazing speed, scores in bursts — Grier had 15 goals that season, Chimmy already has 14|
|Peter Bondra||Alexander Semin||European skater, brilliant offensive talent… of course Semin isn’t a fan fave like Bondra was, but both have laserbeam shots and rack up the goals|
|Sergei Berezin||Troy Brouwer||This one’s a stretch, but both were brought in from Chicago for their offense… Brouwer, though, has more upside come playoff time|
|Kip Miller||Mike Knuble||Another stretch, but in the opposite direction: Miller had 50 points that season, but Knuble has yet to find his groove.|
|Jason Doig||Jeff Schultz||Doig hit better, Schultz is better at positioning & shot-blocking — but neither fits the team’s long-term plans|
|Sebastian Charpentier||Michal Neuvirth||Young netminder trying to break into the starter role… but Neuvy is more likely to stick around and claim the starting job next season|
It’s not a perfect match; the old-school Caps had no Karl Alzner, nor a spark-plug like Matt Hendricks, nor a promising young defenseman like Dmitry Orlov. Of course, that team of yore had a disenchanted but still-dangerous Jaromir Jagr—but the current Caps have Ovechkin… and however you feel about Ovie wearing the “C” he’s undoubtedly more deserving than Jagr was, and a wrecking-ball to boot.
Oh, and comparing the coaches falls down just a little bit… while Dale Hunter is another minor-league coach given his first NHL shot with the Caps, he kicks Butch Cassidy’s ass in pretty much every way.
When the 2011-12 team’s Robert Lang (Nicklas Backstrom) and Sergei Gonchar (Mike Green) return from injury, this roster can compete with any in team in the league. The team going through trying times with a depleted roster will build their chemistry and resolve come playoff time.
This limping Capitals team has earned three points in two games, including a tilt against the defending champs… and that’s without three of their big stars. Adding back a healthy Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green down the stretch improves the team dramatically — but in the meantime, a team forced to play without its superstars is also forced to play a balanced, team-focused game.
If Coach Hunter and the locker-room leaders enforce that team-first mentality when their superstars return… watch out, ’cause these Capitals will be dangerous.