In our next installment . . . the defensemen.
First ten games 0-9-9, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, -2
Pothier has been the Caps’ everydefenseman – on the ice at even strength, on for the power play, killing penalties. He plays top minutes. He is consistent. If anything, he’s getting more work – almost 28 minutes a game in the second ten versus a little over 27 in the first ten. He’s sending the puck to the net a bit more – 19 shots versus 14, 14 missed shots versus 11. But he has less to show for it on the offensive ledger – two assists versus nine (no goals scored as yet). All in all, he’s done just about all that could reasonably be been asked of him. He isn’t an especially physical player, and he doesn’t have a booming shot, so to expect much in either of those areas is a stretch. But he’s been effective in his role.
First ten games: 0-0-0, even (did not play)
Second ten games: 0-0-0, -2
First of all, The Peerless likes what Erskine brings. He plays within himself and has more than a menacing personality. But he’s also a victim of low expectations, too. The Peerless will wager that fans fairly expected him to be dragging his knuckles on the ice the first time he took the ice. When he didn’t – when he could skate upright (as opposed to, say, a Garret Stroshein) – he was pleasantly received. Actually, though, given that he’s getting more than 16 minutes a game in the six games he’s played (virtually the same as Jamie Heward), he has been pretty effective. The question, though, is – can he keep it up?
First ten games: 2-2-4, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, +3
Heward is another consistent guy out there. He’ll get time in every situation – even strength, power play, penalty kill – and he’ll provide a reliably decent effort in just about every game with results the club can count on. He might be defined by the term, “journeyman,” but that isn’t an insult to the player. No single number in either ten-game stretch or in total sticks out, and that’s a reflection of the kind of player and performance he’s contributed so far.
First ten games: 0-0-0, +3
Second ten games: 1-4-5, -1
He’s the best defenseman on this club right now. More to the point, he is the one who will be out there to match up against the opposition’s most dangerous scorer. That he’d be a plus player is evidence that he’s developing nicely. He isn’t a finished product by any means, but there isn’t any reason to conclude he won’t continue to improve. If anything, he’s become more assertive in his last ten games at both ends of the ice – 9 total shots on goal in the second ten versus five in the first ten (he’s got more missed shots, too), 15 hits versus nine. But he did record the club’s first fighting major in those first ten games (well, the tenth).
First ten games: 0-2-2, -2
Second ten games: 0-0-0, -3 (moved to forward after game 12)
The Great Experiment . . . well, The Peerless isn’t sure Dr. Frankenstein got it right the first time, either. Clymer had the skating part down – a premium in the way the game is played nowadays – but appeared not to be able to make decisions quickly enough in this role. His -5 as a defenseman remains the worst plus-minus among defensemen on the club (tied with Steve Eminger).
First ten games: 0-1-1, -5
Second ten games: 0-2-2, even
Eminger seems to have inherited the Ivan Majesky Fan Abuse mantle this year. Few have anything good to say about him. OK, so The Peerless will. Eminger appears to have been assigned a somewhat different role on this year’s club – less the “all-around” defenseman and more of a stay-at-home type. Different responsibilities, different decision making. And to start the year, he was slow in catching on. But, having been freed of some of the defensive defenseman rules (or, put another way, paired with Erskine in many situations), his performance has improved. In the first ten games, he had five “minus” games. In the last ten, one (although giving him a seat for the first two in this second stretch seems to have focused his attention, too). His problem might be that he suffers in comparison to Morrisonn, who has played almost the identical number of career games.
First ten games: 0-0-0, +1
Second ten games: 0-1-1, +2
If Eminger has the Majesky Mantle, Muir has the Mathieu Biron Boo Bird banner draped across his jersey. Fans seem to have little use for this guy, too. This is a guy who played (albeit sparingly) for a Stanley Cup winner. He has one “minus” game in the ten he’s played this year. He contributes little offense when he’s out there (he’s only credited with four shots on goal), but he isn’t quite the slug some fans think, either. His mistakes (and this goes for Eminger, too) stand out, because folks are looking for and expecting them. If the Caps were a contender or further along in their rebuild, he’s probably no longer on the roster (this is probably the Jeff Schultz position next year). But The Peerless scrtaches his head at the abuse heaped upon this guy.
First ten games: 2-1-3, +2
Second ten games: 0-2-2, +3
For a guy who just turned 21 this season and came into the season with less than 20 games of NHL experience, he’s had a really nice start. It might be youth more than anything, but at the moment he has the “offensive defenseman” role. He gets almost no penalty killing time (a total of a little less than three minutes so far this season), but gets significant power play time (more than three and a half minutes per game thus far). In that sense, you’d wish his numbers were better, but then it would be forgetting just where this youngster is on the development ladder. He plays beyond his years.
It would be hard to pin any defenseman here with the “short of expectations” label. Even Steve Eminger has brought his game along in the last ten game stretch. As a group – especially the youngsters Morrisonn, Green, and Eminger – they’ve played pretty well. That is not to say there aren’t shortcomings. There is that matter of the shots allowed level. While that might be as much a problem for the forwards, the defensemen (probably as a function of their youth) haven’t displayed much in terms of the little tricks and devices to clear the puck and prevent multiple shots. Also, as a group they sometimes have difficulty getting the puck moving out of the Caps’ zone, which just tilts the ice toward their goal and gives the opposition more opportunities. That’s both a team and individual problem that needs to improve. The overall grade: