The 2012-2013 Washington Capitals: Five Questions To Ponder

As the 2012-2013 season nears, the Washington Capitals roster is beginning to appear much clearer. Capitals General Manager George McPhee has signed marginal free agents in Jack Hillen, Joey Crabb, and Wojtek Wolski. All were signed to one-year deals and won’t have a huge effect on the upcoming season. He moved youth for talent by trading prospect Cody Eakin for center Mike Ribeiro. McPhee locked up restricted free agent Mike Green to a three-year contract which will pay him just over six million annually. Restricted free agent defense-man John Carlson is still unsigned, but a deal should only be a matter of time. Below are the five biggest questions surrounding the upcoming season in Washington, D.C.

1. What type of system will new head coach Adam Oates employ?

The Capitals roster lacks a true identity. They have offensive firepower in their first two lines in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro, but lack secondary scoring after that. Their defensive core includes two highly skilled offensive defense-men with the likes of Mike Green and John Carlson and two shutdown defense-men in Karl Alzner and Roman Hamrlik. With this type of mix in player personnel, the Capitals can surely not be as aggressive offensively as they were in the beginning of the Bruce Boudreau era. With the young goal-tending this team can’t attempt to be a strictly defensive team, as teams including the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins will tear the Capitals apart.

The Capitals must rely on a combination of the two the top lines taking chances to create offense and role players such as Jay Beagle, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer playing responsibly in the defensive zone. Their power play must return as a lethal weapon for the Capitals to have any shot of contending in the playoffs. This season will be one in which Washington must find out what they have in their young guys such as Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Braden Holtby. A balanced attack both offensively and defensively is the key for a good season for the red, white, and blue in Washington.

2. How will the goalie tandem work? Can Braden Holtby handle a substantial workload?

With Tomas Vokoun signing in Pittsburgh, the Capitals now turn to Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth to lead the Capitals between the pipes in the 2012-2013 season. Braden Holtby become the star in the nation’s capital last spring, starting all 14 of Washington’s playoff games in both their seven-round series against the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. The pressure ceased to affect the young net-minder as Holtby posted an outstanding 1.95 goals against average along with a .935 save percentage in his 14 starts in goal. Michal Neuvirth fell by the wayside due to injury late last season and will enter training camp as the backup to Holtby, making it Holtby’s job to lose. To keep both net-minders fresh, Holtby should receive around 65% of the starts in goal in the nation’s capital, keeping both of the young goalies fresh while letting the tandem compete for the starting job heading into the playoffs and beyond.

3. How will Mike Ribeiro adapt to playing in Washington D.C.?

The Capitals acquired Mike Ribeiro on draft night in exchange for Cody Eakin. While giving up a big piece of the Capitals young talent, Washington received a needed scorer in the process. Ribeiro enters the 2012-2013 campaign following a solid performance last season for the Dallas Stars, in which the 32-year-old center registered 18 goals and 45 assists in 74 games played. He is expected to take on the role of second line center and could play alongside Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera. He also will earn time on the power play, most likely as center on the second unit. Seventy points is a realistic goal for Riberio this upcoming season and he will be an important factor in the Capitals offensive system.

4. Which defense-men will earn time on the third pairing?

The Capitals defense contains four quality defense-men who know their role heading into the 2012-2013 season. The top four consists of Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. These two pairings complement each other very well, balancing offense and defense cohesively. Mike Green brings a rocket from the point and strong offensive prowess from the blue line. He seemed to take a step back offensively last year, however, but was suspect to injury for the majority of the regular season. Green contributed 7 points in 32 regular season games. His expected defensive partner, Roman Hamrlik, plays a different style. Hamrlik brings a reliable defensive presence while contributing offensively at times. He registered 13 points in 68 games, but most importantly was a plus eleven while on the ice. He is a player Adam Oates will always have out on the ice during late game situations. John Carlson plays very similar to Green: highly skilled offensively but struggles at times in the defensive zone. Carlson registered 32 points in 82 regular season games for Washington, but was also a minus 15. Karl Alzner, Carlson’s long time defensive partner, is a shutdown defender like Hamrlik and posted a plus twelve last year. He contributed offensively last season, posting 17 points on the year.

With the top four set for this season, the last pairing remains in question. The Capitals will in all likelihood keep an extra defense-man and two forwards on their active roster heading into the regular season. If John Carlson is signed, Washington will have four defense-men competing for the final three spots on their roster. The defense-men looking for a roster spot include Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Dmitry Orlov and Jack Hillen. With the exception of Dmitry Orlov all of these defense-men would need to clear waivers to be sent to the Capitals’ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. If Washington is looking to avoid losing any players, Dmitry Orlov would be the clear-cut choice to be sent down to Hershey.

This should not be the case, however. Orlov has proven to be a serviceable defense-men, hence his stay in Washington from the beginning of the regular season last year throughout the Capitals playoff run. In 60 regular season games for the Capitals, the 21 year old defense man posted 3 goals and 16 assists. He is the most capable offensively for the final pairing, which should increase his chances. A shut down defense-man would be the perfect partner for Orlov. This leaves Schultz, Erskine and Hillen for the final two roster spots on the blue line.

John Erskine and Jack Hillen should share time as the final defense-man. Erskine brings a physical presence and stands up for his teammates. Hillen also brings a solid defensive presence to compliment Orlov. This leaves Jeff Schultz as the odd man out in Washington. Schultz holds a 2.75$ million cap hit and is signed through the 2013-2014 season. He could possibly be claimed if sent through waivers, meaning a trade is the best scenario for George McPhee. Washington should attempt to move him with a forward or prospect to gain forward depth. With the Flyers continuing to lose defense-men to injury, George McPhee should at the very least give Paul Holmgren a phone call.

5. What will the role be for Dmitry Orlov?

With the fourth question leading into the final topic, Dmitry Orlov has an opportunity for growth this upcoming season. Orlov brings a heavy left-handed shot from the point and a big body that could be used on the penalty kill. He could provide relief to Mike Green and John Carlson, helping keep many parts of the blue line fresh for the playoffs. Another reason Washington should use Orlov is that their recent success has proven that young defense-men can make an impact in the nation’s capital. Washington cannot afford to hinder the young defense-man’s development, however. If he is not going to start on the third pairing, the only other viable option is sending Orlov to Hershey. He would earn time on the top defensive pairing at the AHL level, while possibly manning the point on the first power play unit.

You can follow Matthew on twitter @m_speck and email him at mspeck21@yahoo.com with any questions or comments.

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