Once we get past the Alex Ovechkins of the world, we’re left with another tier of Ice Bucket Challenges acceptance videos, where B-list athletes we’re not nearly as excited about post vertically oriented videos. But that’s okay because in this third round of Ice Bucket Challenges (see Post 1 and Post 2 here), we’ve got toilet water, a four-minute short-film, and Nate Schmidt shirtless.
The goofy-grinned, soon-to-be 23-year-old was probably best among all the fresh faces on the blue line. Spending nearly half of his time with Mike Green, Schmidt put up a positive possession score of 50.6%, a rarity amongst Caps defenseman last season. He has a big shot, a good first pass, and a great attitude.
With the signings of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, Schmidt will likely be relegated to Hershey– barring injury or something unexpected during training camp. Schmidt is a key part of the Caps’ blue-line depth and should receive the big minutes in Hershey that he needs– including on the power play and penalty kill– to continue his development.
Nate Schmidt came out of nowhere to inject some dynamism– and a whole bunch of smiles– into a dreary D-corps. And then, like that, he was gone. Was Schmidt in Washington like bringing a bologna sandwich to a banquet? Let’s discuss.
We’ve assumed for so long that the problem with the Caps is lack of defensive depth. I’d wager 90% of everything written about the Caps and Wednesday’s trade deadline states that the team lacks a solid, number-four, right-shooting defenseman. It’s been pretty obvious that filling that one spot would help fill the ranks of Washington’s defense.
That makes a lot of sense. Since October, the Caps defense had essentially been Mike Green, Karl Alzner,John Carlson, and any other three guys.
But I’m not so sure anymore. Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if the Caps wouldn’t be able to succeed merely by upgrading their bottom pairing– namely John Erskine and Connor Carrick.
Chandler Stephenson has been one of the most impressive Caps prospects this season (Photo: Derek Leung/Getty Images)
The first half of the 2013-14 season has been mostly positive for Washington Capitals prospects. Unknowns like Andre Burakovsky and Chandler Stephenson have shown real NHL potential, while the elder statesmen of the pool like Nate Schmidt and Patrick Wey, both coming off tremendous college careers, have made steps up the Caps’ depth chart.
However, top two Caps prospects will wish their first half was better: Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injuries have limited his action and Tom Wilson has had a hard time gaining a meaningful role with the big club.
The feel-good story of the season so far has been Stephenson, who had been bugged by injuries in the past, but is now thriving in a veteran role as an offensive go-to guy for his team. I’ve got more on these stories and our full top-20 ranking below. Continue Reading
On Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals welcomed back Nate Schmidt to NHL service for the first time since December 13th. For the last six weeks we’ve been missing Schmidt’s mile-wide smile and capable defensive play. We’ve certainly seen Schmidty defense in this Senators game, but the grin has been missing– even once his intermission interview with CSN’s Al Koken began.
Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)
The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.
Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.
As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.
On December 6, 2008, Karl Alzner, a 20-year-old old defenseman one year removed from the WHL, scored his first NHL goal in a game in Toronto. Alzner had been picked fifth overall a year earlier by the Washington Capitals, ahead of current offensive stars like Logan Couture and PK Subban. Goals, though, have never been part of Alzner’s game. He is a pure shutdown defenseman. If Alzner hits the back of the net, it’s usually an accident. In the five years and one day since that goal, Alzner has added just four more tallies to his stat sheet.
On Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, Alzner scored his sixth career goal, a booming slap shot from the point that got through traffic and past goalie Marek Mazanec. It was his first goal ever at Verizon Center too, after six years and 148 games.
With under two minutes to go in the third period, the New York Islanders appeared to steal the game late from the Washington Capitals. As Thomas Vanek put a shot on Braden Holtby from the far corner, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares hacked at his gloved hand. Unfortunately for Holtby, Nate Schmidt jostled the puck loose from the Caps goaltender. Eventually, Vanek deposited the loose puck into the net.