Washington Capitals 2011-12 season preview

Oct 07, 2011

Washington Post sports reporters Katie Carrera and Tarik El-Bashir discuss the Washington Capitals' 2011-12 season on the eve of opening night.

Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining us for today's chat. Lots going on out here at KCI -- including Michal Neuvirth being named the starter for the opener over veteran Tomas Vokoun -- so let's get right to your questions. 

Did Vokoun ruffle Boudreau's feathers by revealing that he's not starting on Saturday?

The Caps guard injuries and goaltender info like state secrets. I don't if Vokoun ruffled Boudreau's feathers, but I'm sure someone from the PR department will be talking to him soon.

 

Pretty sure the conversation will go something like this: 'Tomas, we don't talk about that around here. Ever."

 

I've always thought keeping injury/goaltender/lineup questions a secret was more trouble that it was actually worth. But, hey, that's probably because it directly affects my job.

Is it really that much of a surprise Neuvy is starting the opener? Rather have Vokoun ready and in net for Lightning, Penguins games coming up.

Short answer is yes. While October features a tough schedule for the Caps, it seems a little odd and surprising that they wouldn't use the grand stage of the season opener to show Vokoun off in front of the home crowd.

He's quite possibly the most important of all the free agents that were brought in during the offseason and Coach Bruce Boudreau has repeatedly stated that Vokoun has earned the respect of a No. 1 goaltender. So why not start him when the season begins and reinforce everything that has been said since Vokoun signed in July?

Who is the best interview on the team and who is the best to go to when you need a money quote?

There are several good talkers in the Caps' room. But if I had five minutes until deadline and could only talk to one player, they would be, in order: Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble and Karl Alzner.

 

Troy Brouwer, meantime, is growing on me. 

Are the capitals the clear cut favorite to win the Southeast Division? I know Tampa will be competitive but if you compare rosters--it would seem the Caps are much deeper in most areas.

I have to imagine so. After four straight division titles, someone must unseat the Capitals before they won't be the favorites here.

While Tampa will definitely challenge the Capitals this season and we could see a rivalry start to grow there, Washington has set itself up to take command of the Southeast once again. 

 

 

Can we "trust" this year's version of the Capitals? In other words, they are again saying all the right things (about being ready, about knowing what they need to do, about "staying angry") but they've being doing that since the playoff collapse vs. Montreal and all that got us was the meltdown vs. TB. Can we trust them this time?

Trust is a strong word. So I don't know if I "trust" them or not.

 

But I will say this: the 2011-12 Caps are the most balanced team I've covered since the lockout. 

 

Another thing I'm a big fan of: The vets that GMGM brought in. There's just a different feel to the room. More grown ups. Fewer folks who are wondering/care whether they fit. Or whether they're going to get sent down tomorrow. Or where the party's at.

 

As a 30-something, I've become a fan of 30-somethings. 

 

 

 

What are your thoughts/predictions with Semin this year? There are a lot of trade rumors floating around, on top of the whole work ethic issue. Do you think he will have a bounce-back year?

I like what I've seen from Alexander Semin. None of the big guns have looked great on the ice yet, but he hasn't missed a practice. He's not nursing an injury. And he's speaking to the media (and, by extension his fans) in English.

 

Little things, but good signs, I say.

 

 

What are the top 3 improvements you see with this team vs. last year?

1. In net. Despite the talents of the Capitals' young goaltenders last year, the presence of a veteran brings stability both from a coaching standpoint and also for the players in front of him. Regardless of whether Vokoun starts in the opener, he is a reliable, proven commodity in the NHL and that can be a valuable thing for a team looking to make a long postseason run. 

2. Grittiness. There's a little more snarl, a little more sandpaper in the dressing room this year. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward help out big time there, but as you watch the Capitals on Saturday take a look at the size the team has up front. They should be able to use their lineup of forwards to establish a physical forecheck night in and night out.

3. It seems like a more balanced group. As opposed to a locker room where the amount of youth stood out, there is now a balance between young and experienced players. There's a better mix of skill and grit, and players who can provide both than there may have been last year as well. 

It seemed like Vokoun was upset with the decision. Do you think that maybe Boudreau didn't agree with the signing of Vokoun and is letting McPhee no about it by doing this?

I'm honestly stunned by the decision. The only thing I can think of is Boudreau decided to reward Neuvirth for a stellar preseason.

 

This season is supposed to be all about accountability, right? Well, one was good in the exhibitions and one was decidedly avearge. Neuvirth had a 1.35 goals against average and a .949 save percentage in three games; Vokoun had a 3.26 and .870 in three games.

 

If you look at it that way, perhaps it's not so stunning.

 

But ask yourself this: What if Neuvy shuts out the 'Canes and gets on a roll? What then? 

How much playing time is he actually going to get? Seems a little strange to keep a scoring player up as a healthy scratch. Is it only a matter of time before Sjogren takes his place, or he gets traded?

How much playing time Mathieu Perreault gets will depend largely on his ability to prove that he's a consistent pro. With his on-ice performance that means making sure he contributes on the scoresheet while avoiding lapses away from the puck and in the defensive zone. Off ice, Perreault mentioned earlier this week that it means taking better care of himself and focusing on his preparation. 

While Perreault likely benefits from his waiver satus, he would have to pass through waivers in order to be assigned to Hershey, he's going to have to earn a regular spot in the lineup. 

How does Mike Knuble look this year? He was a great asset last year and seems to bring a veteran presence to the locker room. How was his game in the pre-season so far?

Mike Knuble had no points and a minus-2 rating in four games. So, not so great. 

 

But the 39-year-old reported in great shape and, after getting bounced around the lineup, figures to be the first line right wing tomorrow night.

Of all the new players on the Caps this year who do you think will have the biggest impact?

The obvious answer about two hours ago was Tomas Vokoun. Now I'm wondering a little bit.

What, in your opinion(s) is more imporant to the success of the Caps this year: Ovechkin's return to his pre-2010-11 scoring numbers or his maturation as the captain of this team?

I don't think I can pick between those two, because the Capitals ultimately need both. Having Ovechkin regain his old form as one of the most potent offensive players in the NHL will help calibrate the rest of the offense, particularly the power play. 

For this team to continue to make forward progress as a whole, though, it needs Ovechkin to work toward becoming a better captain. Whether it's trying to be more of a vocal leader, to attending even optional practices and so on, Ovechkin's actions set the tone for the dressing room and the franchise. 

If McPhee is to be believed, I can relate to how Semin feels in dealing with crowds. The language barrier only makes it worse. Maybe GM should have taken him under his wing sooner. Somewhat rhetorically, should teams employ a staff psychologist?

I agree with you. The Caps should have gotten more involved with Semin earlier. Instead, he was allowed to get away with stuff, like ducking out of the dressing room after losses (or during slumps) instead of answering questions.

 

But, hey, hindsight is 20-20. I'm just glad he's gonna talk this season. 

Why hasn't there been a single spotlight article on why DJKing isn't really considered a part of this team anymore ? Last year he was supposed to be the answer to our enforcer woes. And that didn't pan out. This year he's not even mentioned as one of the guys fighting for a roster spot. His name is out there but no spotlight on him or the enforcer role. Being we're one of less than 10 teams in the league not carrying a 4th line enforcer., worth mentioning, no ? And Erskine doesn't count. You don't use a defenseman as your enforcer because you can't afford to lose a defenseman to the pen box as easily as you can a forward. Thanks !

I wrote a blog post on D.J. when he returned to DC a month ago.

 

You raise a valid question. But I also think you know the answer to it.

 

Boudreau doesn't dress players who don't play a regular shift or contribute regularly on the score sheet. Period.

 

 

What are the lines and defence pairings likely to be for Saturday?

Granted this is based on the assumption that Alex Ovechkin will be ready to play after returning from Moscow following the death of his uncle, but the lineup has looked like this for most of the week.

Forwards: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble/Brouwer-Johansson or Perreault-Semin/Chimera-Laich-Ward/Hendricks-Halpern-Beagle

Defense:Alzner-Carlson/Hamrlik-Green/Schultz-Wideman

If Ovechkin isn't able to play, Boudreau has used either Perreault or Johansson as the left wing on the top line with the other centering the second.

I hope there is a reason like illness for Bruce to pull Tomas Vokoun from starting the home opener. He is an established talent not an AHLer or a reclamation project like Theodore that you can push and pull in and out of the lineup. Is this Bruce trying to 'motivate' players again? Can't he just leave well enough alone?

Tomas is not sick or injured to my knowledge. He hasn't missed any practice time.

 

BTW, he just walked past media room with his parents, wife, kids and others, all whom I presume flew into town for tomorrow night's opener.

 

Surprise!

 

 

BB's certainly not shy about throwing change-ups with his netminders. Still, I'm pretty surprised. Perhaps BB rewarding Neuvy's stellar preseason and/or sending a message to TV29 that, while you're our No. 1, you gotta play/practice like it?

As I mentioned in a previous post, Boudreau has been sending messages all preseason. He's called out veterans, he's benched a player or two, he pointed to the goal line when Alex Ovechkin pulled up short in the conditioning test, etc.

 

Maybe this is another one. Maybe not.

Do you think after another early exit from the playoffs last year that the players will have a hard time getting up for the regular season this year?

This year it seems like the Capitals are putting the emphasis on the process, from conditioning and working hard in practice to making sure they take the regular season seriously. 

Last year everyone was in such a rush to get to the playoffs, heck Alex Ovechkin admitted he tried to play himself into peak shape for the playoffs rather than the season itself, that the details were lost through the cracks. If the Capitals stick with the message they've been sending about accountability, they shouldn't have a problem focusing on the results of the regular season. While it isn't the ultimate goal, they can't spend 82 games developing bad habits that will come back to bite them in the playoffs. 

Thanks for joining the first live Capitals Insider chat of the 2011-12 season but unfortunately that's all the time we have for questions today. Tarik and I must get back to working on our stories -- there's some news about the goaltenders -- but be sure to join us next time. 

 

In This Chat
Katie Carrera
Katie Carrera covers the Capitals for The Washington Post.
Tarik El-Bashir
Tarik El-Bashir was The Post's Washington Capitals beat reporter from 2005 through the 2009-10 season. He still reports on the Capitals for The Post while also covering the Georgetown men's basketball team.
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