Capitals Begin to Replenish Depth at Skill Positions with the Addition of Kuznetsov

Posted on March 11, 2014 by Adam Stringham

Kuznetsov's first game as a Cap

Photo Credit: Chris Gordon / russianmachineneverbreaks.com

George McPhee's post 2004-2005 lockout Capitals were intended to be modeled after the Detroit Red Wings team that won back to back Cups in the late 90's. That team would consist of talented players who could transition from defense to offense quickly to create counterattacking opportunities, and then sustain those transition opportunities with continued zone time. McPhee stayed true to his vision and saw the Capitals become one of the league's most exciting and dynamic teams under head coach Bruce Boudreau. 


Of all of those exciting Capitals squads in the Ovechkin era, the 2008-2009 team is my personal favorite. The '09 squad was a statistical force, ranking in the top five for both shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60) and shots for per 60 minutes (SF/60) during 5v5 play. Let's take a look at how that Capitals squad was assembled. The following were the Capitals' lines for Game 3 of the '09 Eastern Conference Semi-Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins:

LW

C

RW

Ovechkin

Fedorov

Kozlov

Fleishmann

Backstrom

Semin

Laich

Steckel

Bradley

Nylander

Gordon

Clark

LD

RD

Morrisonn

Green

Poti

Jurcina

Sloan

Pothier


There is a clear separation in levels of talent between the Capitals' top "skill" lines and their specialization and shut down players. The top two lines were clearly scoring threats and were dominant at possessing the puck which sheltered the Capitals' weakness on defense from being exploited. I believe a similar situation currently exists in COL this year. The third and fourth lines utilized strong faceoff men and gritty wingers (minus Nylander) to keep the opposition's best players at bay. I would actually argue that our current defensive personnel is better than that of the '09 Caps (only Green still plays in the NHL).

Photo Credit: Extra Skater


The team's possession statistics have plummeted since the loss to PHI a little over a week ago. This most recent decline paints a very grim picture of the Capitals' playoff chances. The possession stats improved after a strong game against Pittsburgh, but moral victories are no longer helpful this late into the season. The current possession deficient Capitals squad has a very different identity than that of the '09 team.

The current Capitals have a different makeup from that of their predecessor because the vision from management has changed. The Capitals decided to move towards a tougher grittier type game, and as such they are a much bigger team now than they were in '09 but the speed and talent that defined their transition game is long gone. Nowhere is this more evident than on the team's undefined second line. Oates utilizes his 2nd and 3rd lines as 2A and 2B. While the argument could be made that the balanced attack this approach gives is a positive, I contend that the Capitals only employ this strategy because they don't have enough skill to assemble a true second line. Here is how the Capitals squad is currently utilized:

Photo Credit: Extra Skater


 Mikhail Grabovski gives the Capitals the second line pivot that they desperately need, but they do not have the skilled wingers to play with him. Kuznetsov finally brings the Capitals the skill and explosiveness that they have been lacking on the second line since the departure of Alexander Semin. The Capitals still have a relatively limited pool of top six quality players (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, Grabovski, and now Kuznetsov) but with proper utilization those players should create a strong top six. I believe Laich and Fehr are the most talented players not on that list, and that they would be the best candidates for the last slot in the top six (regardless of handedness). Penner would also be an option.

If defense is truly the problem for this Washington team, which it most likely is, the offense has to take up the slack and hold the puck in the opposition's end. The Capitals have had their most success in the Ovechkin era when they have utilized offense as their best defense. The arrival of Kuznetsov and the return of Grabovski both necessary for this team to have any chance at a miracle run to the playoffs.

Thoughts on the 3/10/14 Caps-Penguins game

  • The defense was abhorrent, specifically Mike Green
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov had the second best CF% Rel. on the team, that being said he did not have a single defensive zone start and he was the most sheltered player in terms of quality of competition
  • The Penguin's third goal can be attributed to a multitude of things, but part of the blame needs to be put on Adam Oates. He decided to match up the Ovechkin line with the Crosby line for that shift and the results were disastrous. The Penguins discussed the breakout in a huddle directly before the faceoff and the ensuing play worked flawlessly following Crosby's faceoff win.
  • Possession wise the Capitals played a very solid game last night especially in the second period. 

Photo Credit: Extra Skater


  • The Capitals were deflated following Pittsburgh's 3rd goal and that momentum swing is clearly observable on the shot attempt chart. 

Weekly Musings

1.       Kuznetsov.

2.       I think Tom Wilson may never develop into the player I saw him becoming during the preseason.

3.       Kuznetsov.

4.       I miss the Boudreau era Caps.

 

Follow me on twitter @Stringhama and @talkthered

Thanks to my good friend Andy Hom for reviewing my post before publication. 


next up:

The Rewards and Risks Of Evgeny Kuznetsov

March 10, 2014

Calling up top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov has both risks and rewards.

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