Earlier this morning, I put up my game preview as normal. However, I have some additional content to go with that preview. Doug at Russian Machine Never Breaks reached out to me with some questions about me and the New Jersey Devils ahead of tonight's game against the Washington Capitals. In response, Doug said he would take any questions I had about the Capitals. I figure there's no harm in asking an opposing supporter.
However, Doug did not respond. Instead, he deferred to RMNB boss Peter Hassett. Hence, I give you his answers to the questions I had about the Capitals. Consider this a Game Preview Plus. Who knows, maybe there will be more of this in the future.'
Question 1. The claim is that the Russian Machine Never Breaks. What else is there to know - good or bad - about the rest of the proverbial production floor of the Capitals?
Peter Hassett: Washington's top six looks really good right now. With Backstrom and Fehr helping him out, Ovechkin's line is as deadly as it's been in years. Rookie Andre Burakovsky looks surprisingly in control while anchoring the second line. After that, there's a big drop-off. The third line (Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) lack a possession sink, and the fourth line doesn't get enough ice to make a big difference. To win, the Devils are going to have to counter two talented scoring lines, something the team hasn't had since 2011.
Question 2. It's been established that Brooks Orpik isn't good for the Caps' blueline and early returns show that. What about the rest of the defense?
PH: Maybe the best it's ever been-- and at that price tag, it better be. Orpik is getting really tough minutes, so we sort of expect his numbers to be bad. By absorbing the toughest shifts, Orpik (and his poor partner, John Carlson) free up the pairings of Alzner/Niskanen and Green/Nate Schmidt to positively wreck house. Alzner and Niskanen look so reliable I'd totally let them borrow my car, no questions asked. Green looks liable to reclaim his old scoring prowess. And youngling Nate Schmidt is a very pleasant surprise on the blue line.
Question 3. Aside from the established names (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green), is there anyone on the Caps that should worry Devils fans in this coming game?
PH: If Eric Fehr stays on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, it's only a matter of time before he starts scoring. He's got a complete skill set, and I'm a bit surprised he hasn't struck yet. Troy Brouwer and Andre Burakovsky might have a bit of chemistry on the second line as well-- particularly while in transition.
Question 4. What should be expected from a tactical point of view from Barry Trotz? (e.g. dump and chase, building up down low, rotation on D, etc.)
PH: We're still learning exactly what the Trotz system is, but it's clear that dump-and-chase is a part of it-- although paired with an aggressive, two-man forecheck, particularly on the top line. But it looks like Trotz is encouraging creativity. A bunch of Caps goals so far have come on broken plays and long possessions in the offensive zone with some improvised cycling. Speed, it seems, is a big value in the Trotz system. The biggest worry should be the Capitals power play, which is using a formulation similar to the one that was so devastating last season, built around Alex Ovechkin's one-timer from the left faceoff circle.
Question 5. How should we regard Braden Holtby as a goaltender?
PH: Highly. Already a very good goaltender, Holtby has maybe the world's best goalie coach offering tutelage this season, plus the very best D-corps he's ever seen lining up ahead of him. He had a bad start on Tuesday, but this really could be Holtby's Vezina season. If the Devils are gonna crack him, they're gonna need to swat at some rebounds--- or just turn into John Scott.
Question 6. When you think of the New Jersey Devils, what comes to mind?
Suffocating play. Diminishing shot attempts on both teams with conservative tactics. No risks, huge reward. Plus, the Devils totally shoulda made the postseason last year, but nostalgically holding onto Brodeur and his declining numbers burned them. New Jersey is a great team, and they play my least favorite style of hockey. I hate when my guys go against them.
Question 7. Why do you support the Capitals?
Fun. At least before the tumult of the last three years, the Caps played a bracingly fun style of hockey. They've been through the gauntlet since then, but there's a ton of optimism for this version of the team. We've seen glimpses of the "scoar moar goals" philosophy, as well as some new stuff, perhaps indicative of a truly well built team. For the first time in a long time, there's definitely blue skies ahead for the Caps and that's reason enough for me to watch.
Plus, Ovi is nuts.
Thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer my questions. Please visit Russian Machine Never Breaks today to see mine, Doug's preview (should be up around 11 AM), and other Caps-related things. What do you make of Peter's responses? Have they changed your opinion of the Caps or tonight's game? Please leave your answers in the comments.