Friday, February 02, 2007

The New Kid in Town

photo: Getty Images

There’s a new kid in town, and his name is Milan Jurcina.

Yesterday, the Caps acquired young (23 years old) Mr. Jurcina to join a nucleus of defensemen of that age or younger who are with, or who are otherwise playing substantial minutes with the Caps this year:

Steve Eminger
Shaone Morrisonn (ok, he just turned 24 in December)
Mike Green
Jeff Schultz

And that does not include other first round blueliners Joe Finley and Sasha Pokulok. Nor does it include the Caps’ last blue line signing, Brian Pothier (although The Peerless certainly agrees with JP over at Japers’ Rink that this deal signals what is likely to be a lengthy absence for Pothier).

This deal has no downside that The Peerless can divine:

1) The Caps gave up a fourth rounder. Well, gee . . . let’s look at the sort the Caps have picked in that round in recent years . . . Ryan Van Buskirk (2000), Jeff Lucky (2001), Jevon Desautels (2002), Petr Dvorak (2002), Andreas Valdix (2003), Andrew Thomas (2005), Patrick McNeill (2005), Oskar Osala (2006), Luke Lynes (2006). The Peerless will concede that the jury is out on the 2005 and 2006 picks, but are any Caps fans waiting in eager anticipation for the Capitals’ debut of anyone else on that list? If so, you’ll be disappointed. Getting Jurcina for a fourth is a “happy birthday to me” moment.

2) One can never have too many defensemen. The Caps lost Bryan Muir and John Erskine, then Brian Pothier, and their season went into the toilet faster than last night’s chili. This is not a “this year” move, but it could set up some spirited competition on the blue line next fall.

3) OK, so Jurcina fell out of favor in Boston. He was identified here as having 3-4 potential not so long ago. Sometimes, a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered to jump start a youngster’s career.

4) He’s certainly cap-friendly. $500K this year, and he’s a restricted free agent after this year. Based on his performance to date, we suspect he’ll remain and continue to be cap-friendly in his next deal.

5) History. He skated alongside Shaone Morrisonn once upon a time (in Providence). Perhaps that can have a beneficial effect on both players (well, then again, maybe they couldn’t stand each other up there…you never know about such things).

6) Jerseys. The Peerless is of a mind that there are a lot of ‘68’ jerseys around. It was Jurcina’s number in Boston. The Caps can save on uniforms.

The (yeesh) Morning After -- Caps vs. Panthers

You know what? . . . So what?

Alex Ovechkin is perfect for 2007. 13 games, points scored in every one. 8-12-20 over that time.

And the Caps are 5-8-0.

So . . . so what? The object of the exercise is not a Ross Trophy, it’s the playoffs and a Stanley Cup. Any further thoughts of either should be put in a box and placed in the closet for the remainder of the season. Players can’t think that way – that’s the nature of competition. But for fans? Let’s shed the cold light of truth on what’s happening. The Caps have lost 14 of their last 20 games, including three to the Florida Panthers by a combined score of 17-7. Last night’s indignity just served to slam the point home with a pile driver.

It was like watching a movie replayed over and over once more. The Peerless feels like this guy . . .

Once more, the Caps got out of the box poorly, giving up a goal 77 seconds into the game. They trailed at the intermission (2-1). They played an awful second period (outscored 3-0). They were outhit (29-22). They couldn’t kill penalties (3-for-6 on the penalty kill). They've made Josef Stumpel seem like the second coming of Phil Esposito (4-3-7 in five games against Washington; 11-23-34 in 47 games against the rest of the league) and Martin Gelinas the next Mike Bossy (four goals in five games against the Caps, four goals in 48 games against everyone else). They’ve permitted the Panthers to score at a 4.00 goals per game clip in five games this year – Florida is averaging 2.77 goals per game against everyone else. And now, the Caps find themselves at the bottom of the Southeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference, 24th in the league.

And here is an inconvenient truth . . . Since the Caps defeated Philadelphia on December 16, they are 6-14-0. In that time, the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Dainius Zubrus, and Chris Clark is a combined 26-33-59. Doesn’t sound half bad; they’re averaging more than a goal a game out of that line. But they are also a combined -25. What they’re scoring, they’re playing a part in giving back and then some.

That the Caps have 49 points in 52 games is not surprising. Even the manner of how they got here isn’t surprising; we felt the club would show the glimmer of a contender early before succumbing to the grind of the season that would expose their lack of depth and experience. But the stark and utter collapse of the last 20 games, including lopsided losses to clubs the Caps should be leaving it their rear-view mirror, has been disheartening to fans, certainly. Giving up 78 goals in 20 games (3.90) has been the problem that screams off the page. That, and getting no points in games against Florida and Phoenix – eight points left on the table that if earned would have the Caps a point behind Carolina for eighth place with two games in hand – have washed away what good feelings surrounded the club in mid-December.

This is a reality check. The Caps are not a good team. They are a young team, a green team, a team with potential but one with a lot of holes, especially on defense. Time and experience will help solve these problems, and the Caps now have much of the former to obtain a lot of the latter. That’s what they’re playing for now.