Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 11-12 Caps, like the 11-12 Flyers

The shower is really a great place to come up with ideas for posts.

This is how I see the Flyers' lineup:

Tough minutes lines: with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter still in the fold, the Flyers had two--one anchored by Claude Giroux and Carter, the other by Richards, with defensively-adept Andreas Nodl and Kris Versteeg occasionally chipping in on both those lines. With Carter, Richards, and Versteeg now out of town, the Flyers have only two proven tough minutes forwards--Giroux and Nodl. Blair Betts has proven himself adept at shot suppression and playing as a secondary checker while starting in his own zone quite a bit (think Boyd Gordon), but now looks like he'll have worse linemates than in years past. Can the oft-injured center play well enough for the Flyers to be very successful? I'm skeptical.

While the Capitals haven't lost anyone remotely close to the caliber of Richards, Carter, or even Versteeg, they did lose Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley, and Gordon. Sturm is a proven tough minutes scorer time after time after time, likely helping Alexander Semin and Jason Arnott dominate down the stretch, and Bradley-Gordon made a good combo to start in the defensive zone. Semin, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, Troy Brouwer, and Jeff Halpern as the proven "heavy lifters" up front. While Halpern may not have declined as much as I thought earlier, he's still a bit of a question mark, considering his age and declining effectiveness. If we assume Backstrom and Knuble don't take tough competition and instead get favorable offensive minutes with Alex Ovechkin, that leaves Ward, Brouwer, Semin, Laich, and Halpern, presumably spread across three (or possibly even four) different lines.

Soft minutes lines: for years the Flyers have been giving Daniel Briere soft zone starts and competition, especially in the playoffs. Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell last season got these minutes as well because they played with Briere. Hartnell was capable of playing second lines a few years ago, but is he now? Moreover, Jakub Voracek in Columbus got similar minutes as Leino in Philadelphia. Put Hartnell-Voracek-Briere together and in all likelihood you have a line that needs to be sheltered quite a bit to be effective. While Brayden Schenn may be the top prospect in hockey, he probably needs a year or two of seasoning before he can hold his own defensively and contribute offensively as well (it's not so much observation as it is a rare player who, two years after being drafted, is capable of winning tough minutes battles). So that makes two soft minutes lines.

For the Capitals, I think slotting Ovechkin's line as the first soft minutes line is fair. Alexander Semin could certainly take advantage of soft minutes, as he has the oodles of skill necessary to take advantage of those extra opportunities. Marcus Johansson got shelled in tough minutes last season, he could use some easier matchups this year. As mentioned above, Halpern may be a bit of a question mark, and even if he's capable, the help on his wings may not be ideal (Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Mattias Sjogren, Matt Hendricks). That makes two soft minutes lines.

Young defensemen taking the lead: while Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are still the cornerstones to that defensive corps, Matt Carle has emerged as a legitimate top-pair defensemen in his own right, while Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros are competent top-4s in all situations.

Between John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz, the Capitals have a solid group of young defensemen.

Veteran starter, young backup: Ilya Bryzgalov : Sergei Bobrovsky :: Tomas Vokoun : Michal Neuvirth

Granted, the Flyers will likely play their top line power versus power, while history tells us Bruce Boudreau will play Brooks Laich against top lines and leave his top lines for easy competition. Both teams, nonetheless, look a defensive forward short. It'll be interesting to see how the coaches handle this problem.

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