Photo: Frederick Breedon
After Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, I figured their four days off this week would be a good thing. The team would get a chance to work on its 5v5 play, and the distance of time would give us a bit more clarity on a chaotic, young season.
Nope. I was wrong.
The Capitals don’t intend to tinker with their lines just yet, while the rest of the league seems dedicated to making Caps fans miserable. It’s been a four-day break in which players are still getting paid, but everyone still seems as grumpy as a non-essential government worker.
It all started after the last Caps game. Mathieu Perreault scored his first goal — an OTGWG — for his new team, Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks. Perreault, a proven NHLer, had been traded away in exchange for nothing particular except salary cap space. On Monday’s episode of Marek vs Wyshynski, Boudreau admitted that he and his successors in Washington did not use Perreault effectively (about 29 minutes in):
He’s extremely skilled, and sometimes even when I had him Washington or when they had him after I was gone, we didn’t utilize his skill well enough. He was a guy we always thought could break out. He makes other people better. Alex Semin loved to play with him.
(He just had to namedrop Sasha there, didn’t he?)
Then on Tuesday, former Caps prospect Filip Forsberg scored his first career goal for the Nashville Predators. Forsberg was dealt away at the deadline in April in exchange for Martin Erat. The trade remains controversial: Forsberg’s upside is still unknown, whereas Erat– although a sturdy forward– has missed crucial games due to injury and has just one year remaining on his contract.
Erat, the player acquired in exchange for Forsberg, is currently sharing the fourth line with Tom Wilson, the player made possible by dealing Perreault. Erat is playing under 8 minutes a night, where he will contribute nothing close to what he was purported to bring, and Wilson has yet to make an impression nearly one-third of the way through his big-league audition.
Wilson was drafted 16th in the 2012 NHL draft, one spot before Tomas Hertl. If you don’t know who Hertl is, that’s only because haven’t had a chance to catch up on Tuesday’s hockey news yet. The 19-year-old rookie scored four goals for San Jose in his third game ever, vaulting him over Alex Ovechkin to the top of the NHL scoring race.
Instead of snatching up the Czech phenom, George McPhee picked Tom Wilson, who shall remain under the goon classification until otherwise proved.
I know that all sounds dire, but I’m just making a point. All of this happened in the absence of Caps hockey. Four days without a game is like four days without food. The fasting has made us hypersensitive, aware of all stimuli– including those we’d best ignore.
Mathieu Perreault may continue to do well in Anaheim, particularly when paired with Jakob Silfverberg, but Tom Wilson may yet become some version of a power forward as well. And while Forsberg had one big night in Nashville, he is still a green player on a struggling team with a coach whose name is still a homophone for the biological consequence of eating wild fruit. My suspicion remains that Martin Erat on the fourth line is a temporary affair.
The Capitals play the Hurricanes tomorrow night, and while that team won’t be subsidizing the Caps to score a hat trick against themselves, the Capitals have a good chance of winning. The Capitals have a good chance of winning a lot of games in coming weeks: Avalanche, Oilers, Blue Jackets, Jets, Oilers (again), and the Flames (again). The Capitals should exit October with a harvest of wins and a flourishing of confidence.
The hockey furlough may get us down, but unlike the real one it is temporary. The games are coming back, and all these conclusions will seem absurdly premature in the fullness of time.
We’re only three games in. Forsberg and Hertl may be just flashes in the pan, and McPhee and Oates may yet be vindicated for their choices.
Let the games decide.