Appreciating Brooks Orpik

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Photo: Christian Petersen

Reading a recent Adam Vingan piece on Brooks Orpik made me reflect on how hard I’ve been on the Caps defender. Maybe I haven’t been completely fair. Don’t get me wrong: I stand by what I’ve written on Orpik. But there are also positive things I can and should say about him.

I want Orpik to succeed. I’m a Caps fan, and I root for Caps players to do well. On top of that, I also try to be a decent person, so I avoid wishing failure upon fellow persons.

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The Awesome Index: We Needed That

Friends, I am having a bit of a day: Flat tire, bad weather, nasty cold, traffic jams, wah wah wah. In short: everything sucks.

But then I remember overtime, and Eric Fehr seizing victory from the jaws of mediocrity, and I can’t help but think: Man, that was awesome.

Maybe being badly-needed is an essential property of Awesome. Maybe, when things suck, awesome things become even more precious. In this week’s awesome index, only the most indispensable awesome things shall be indexed. And you’re damn skippy I am starting with Fehr.

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caps-good-or-bad

Photo: Geoff Burke

[Editor’s note: Eric Fingerhut is RMNB’s ombudsman. You can follow him on Twitter and read his other work on his blog here.]

It’s pretty clear what most needs to be addressed this month: RMNB’s cheerful and optimistic outlook on the Caps, an attitude not yet shared by many of this site’s readers. Peter has written a number of times over the past few weeks that this current Caps team is not only much better than last year’s Adam Oates-led squad, but also, as he wrote in a November 3 post, “is capable of being really, really good.

Is this team better than last year’s team?  I think Peter’s on pretty solid ground there, and I don’t even think you need to cite advanced statistics to argue that point. Unlike last year’s team, this team doesn’t spend most of the game fending off dozens of shots in its own zone, is actually able to breakout of that zone in an orderly and efficient way, sustains offensive pressure in the other team’s zone and regularly scores even-strength goals, so I think it’s pretty clear the team is certainly better than last year’s train wreck (even if it was hard to tell during this weekend’s two debacles.)

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Finding Roles for the Caps’ Misfits

Evgeny Kuznetsov is among the players for whom Barry Trotz has struggled to find a consistent spot in the line-up. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty)

To break out of their slump, the Capitals needed offensive contribution from their second line. Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky scored four points each in the last three games, all Caps wins. Before that, when the Capitals struggled to get points, their third line featuring Joel Ward and Jason Chimera shone. Right now, the Caps have an eight-plus goal-scorer on each of their top three lines in Alex Ovechkin, Johansson, and Ward.

Coach Barry Trotz has found three successful pairs so far: Ovechkin-Backstrom, Johansson-Brouwer, Chimera-Ward. Andre Burakovsky seems to have secured second-line center position for now, which leaves two main vacancies in top nine: top-line right wing and third-line center.

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I’m not going to dedicate this week’s Awesome Index to Jay “top-line” Beagle, though his pass to set up Alex Ovechkin’s goal during Tuesday’s game against the Blooj was irrefutably awesome.

But a successful Capitals season depends on Alex Ovechkin spending almost 60 percent of his time on attack. Last night he spent just 30 percent of his time on attack. Top-line Beagle isn’t awesome in the long term, which is one of the principal lessons we should have learned from the last guy to stand behind the Caps bench, whose name I don’t want to mention in the Awesome Index, lest it be sullied.

But there’s plenty of other awesome stuff. The Caps have won three in a row, which is absolutely awesome. And while the ways in which they’ve won those games haven’t been particularly awesome, what with the noted lack of SCOAR MOAR GOALS once they get a lead, maybe I’m just thinking about it wrong.

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Eric Fehr Just Wants to Find a Good Home

EricFehr

Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott

Last year, Eric Fehr bounced around the lineup as Adam Oates struggled to find a spot for him. Some nights, Fehr would play center, not his natural position, on the third line. Other nights he would find himself in the press box, despite being one of the team’s top possession players. What he never got a chance to do was be a scoring-line winger, which the Capitals drafted him to be and a spot in which he’s shown promise in the past. Under Bruce Boudreau, Fehr also struggled to fit in, eventually forcing the Caps to ship him to Winnipeg for a fourth rounder and an irrelevant minor leaguer. With Barry Trotz, it looked like things might change, with Fehr starting the season on the top line.

“I just want to have a spot and consistently play, just not be moving around every night,” Fehr said in September.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

During Thursday morning’s practice, Barry Trotz debuted new lines (again). According to The Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, these are the new combos.

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson
Johansson – Burakovsky – Brouwer
Chimera – Laich – Ward
O’Brien – Latta – Beagle

And the extra forwards:

Kuznetsov – Fehr – Volpatti (IR)

With Brooks Laich’s shoulder finally healed, the lines had to be juggled. It appears Caps rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov will be scratched for the first time in his career against Chicago on Friday. Eric Fehr will join him in the press box, scratched for the second straight game.

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Rob Carr

I love the dude in the back here. (Photo: Rob Carr)

You’re like, “No way. No way Peter can find awesome things right now. The Caps have lost like seventy games straight. Except for stupid fancystats, he can’t name anything awesome about this team at all.”

Challenge accepted, holmes. The Capitals are awesome. I think I’ve found one spot where they can increase awesomeness in particular. Plus: did you even see the top line last night? They were awesome!

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liam-mchugh

In case you missed NBCSN’s pregame coverage of the Caps game, NBCSN anchor Liam McHugh used plus-minus as a way to discredit Alex Ovechkin‘s 51 goals last year. Clearly Mr. McHugh can’t be bothered with knowing that plus-minus is a silly way to measure a player’s effectiveness. He’s probably also a really big Jeff Schultz fan.

Mr. McHugh’s use of plus-minus didn’t go unnoticed by Caps fans on Twitter.

But know this, Mr. McHugh sees you Caps fans. He sees you and he’s bringing the sass.

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Broken up.

“But, Peter,” you might say, “what could be awesome about the Caps losing two out of three games on that road trip?”

A good question, hypothetical reader into whose mouth I have put words. While the Caps played awesome in western Canada, the results were not uniformly awesome. We’re gonna have to dig deep this week to find the coolest stuff in the Caps’ world.

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