Monday, January 05, 2009

Whose problems would you rather have?

"I don't think the chemistry's been there the past 20 games. I think that has to do with a lot of guys out of the lineup [due to injury] and guys up from Wilkes-Barre [of the American Hockey League]."

So said Ray Shero, general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, from Ottawa yesterday, where he was at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

A lot of guys out of the lineup due to injury... guys up from Wilkes-Barre... sound familiar?

The Caps have dressed 11 defensemen this year, five of whom started the year in Hershey (Karl Alzner, Sami Lepisto, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, and Bryan Helmer). Brian Pothier hasn't dressed this year and might not take the ice at all this season.

The Caps have missed the contributions of Alexander Semin (18 games), Sergei Fedorov (25 games and counting), and Chris Clark (15 games) for long stretches. You can even throw Tomas Flesichmann into that mix, seeing as how he's the third leading goal scorer on this team and has missed eight games (and counting). They dressed Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, Oskar Osala, Andrew Gordon, and Graham Mink -- all from Hershey -- and didn't miss a beat (although yes, it would be a different matter to go a long stretch such an inexperienced group).

The Caps lost both goaltenders as some point to hip problems, forcing the team to turn to a prospect -- from Hershey. All he did was win both starts and stop 61 of 64 shots.

And yet, with a lot of guys out of the lineup [due to injury] and guys up from Hershey, the Caps have managed to run out to a 26-11-3 record, 13 points ahead of the similarly depleted Penguins.

A lot ink has been and is devoted to all that high-end talent Pittsburgh has -- and it is talent, to be sure. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney (just returning from a lengthy absence due to injury), and Jordan Staal. You could do a lot worse than that as the core of your team.

But here in Washington, which has its own "Young Guns" of talent -- Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green -- there is a yet fertile farm in Hershey. If this season is revealing any differences between these two formidable teams, it is that Pittsburgh might (and the operative word there is "might") have more high-end talent, but the Caps are deeper, with even more talent moving through the system.

Here is a way to look at it. The Caps have dressed 11 skaters that have played at least ten games in Hershey this year:

Alexandre Giroux
Keith Aucoin
Chris Bourque
Graham Mink
Oskar Osala
Andrew Gordon
Sami Lepisto
Bryan Helmer
Karl Alzner
Tyler Sloan
Sean Collins

Meanwhile, the Penguins have dressed nine players who have played at least 10 games at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton:

Chris Minard
Jeff Taffe
Janne Pesonen
Ryan Stone
Ben Lovejoy
Connor James
Dustin Jeffrey
Tim Wallace
Paul Bisonnette

The Capital contingent of skaters has played a total of 93 games. As a group, they are 5-15-20, +15. The Penguin posse has played a total of 52 games. That group is 1-5-6, -10. Keep in mind, too, that in that Capital contingent there are five defensemen, from whom one might not expect a lot of scoring. There is but one defenseman in that Penguin group.

Two teams have been beset by injuries. Which team has had the depth to weather that storm, at least so far? Which team has still more players waiting their first chance to skate with the big club, from whom substantial contributions are expected?

Whose problems would you rather have?


Hooks Orpik said...

The Caps deserve credit for the parallels between their NHL and AHL team, but I think the stage of their development is the reason why.

The Caps NHL/AHL are more fimiliar with each other at this point...Take Bourque and Mink who played with most of the core of the Caps team in the 2006 Calder run.

The Penguins used to have a similiar kind of continuity, especially when they tapped their AHL coach to lead the NHL team and have a lot of his players grow into NHL'ers (sound fimiliar?)

Also the roles players were asked to play were different. Keith Aucoin was a 2nd line center, Giroux got some good icetime and guys like Alzner, Sloan, Collins get a lot of PP time. For the Penguins callups, other than Jeff Taffe getting some mop up PP time, they get about 7-8 minutes a night.

Also the Penguins had that little matter of a franchise goalie being out for over a month.

Like I said, give the Caps credit for plugging pieces in seamlessly, but all things considered I'd rather not have either team's problems with injuries.

GlvSv37 said...

Way to dig through the numbers, Peerless. Makes me glad to be a Caps fan all these years. Hopefully we can start paying the Pens back for all that playoff frustration soon.

Hooks Orpik said...

Also peerless: 3 straight posts including Sidney Crosby...I think I can tell what your New Years' Resolution is, huh? :)

The Peerless said...

I had three straight with Alexander Semin, too...they're a set.

this space for rent said...

I have to admit that I'm looking forward to seeing the Penguins again this year, if only to see what happens when Semin and Crosby face each other on the ice. No love lost, that's for sure.

Hooks Orpik: Agreed - Boudreau put a lot of faith in his AHL'ers. I wonder if maybe Thierren should have done the same.

I sympathize with the goalie thing, except that one goalie was having issues and the other was playing hurt, plus we had a callup and a web producer. :) Our goaltending's been something of an adventure too.

toymechanic said...

Can most of Pittsburgh's problems be traced to the Hossa deal?

That was alot future talent given up for, as it turned out, a rental player. And of course a cup run.

exwhaler said...

I think a lot of Pittsburgh's problems can be traced to the amount of role players they lost in the off-season and the lesser talent they brought in to replace them. The Pens did a great job in locking up their young core, but they need to find better guys to put around them.

And I think that's what the Capitals are doing with their system...when veterans like Poti, Kozlov, Theodore, and Nylander/Fedorov are gone, they'll be easily replaced--from within.

Anonymous said...

i also think a lot could stem from what Shero said. The baby pens are coming into a volatile locker room and probably dont feel that comfortable. the Pens players have so many of their own problems that they are probably not too concerned with helping out the AHL callups.

On the other hand, all the bears players come in to the caps locker room and talk about how much the Caps players make them feel comfortable and fit in. i think the caps players have helped their callups more (which makes them play better), which just goes to the character of those guys

Anonymous said...

You forgot about Caps young Russian Goalie of the future Simeon Varlimov (spelling?) who also started for the Caps this year after being called up from Hershey.

The Peerless said...


We mentioned Varlamov's record without noting his name. Our oversight.

Michael Eason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Eason said...

Any analysis that reflects poorly on the Pens and positively on the Caps is must-reading for me.

Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

There is a subtle difference between the Caps and Pens that lots of people are missing out on. The Pens hate their coach and are actively trying to get him fired. The Caps seem to enjoy their coach and want to play for him.

Anonymous said...

I think you can look at the Coaches...and the team leaders.

Bruce is doing a better job, and Ovie is setting a better example of passion and hard work.

Crosby is a great player, but he doesnt lite the fire like Ovie does.

Dougeb said...

This is a nicely written piece and contains some thoughtful comments as well. Two things strike me:
(1) The Pens lost a lot of talent with the combo of the Hossa rental and free agency.
(2) The Caps players, apparently, embrace their AHL brethren more openly than the Pens.

Hooks Orpik said...

Dougb-- The only thing the Pens lost (for the time being) is Colby Armstrong. Erik Christensen was a marginal player and Angelo Esposito and the draft pick wouldn't be in the AHL system yet.

Also this list only counts players who've played in the AHL this season, so it omits Alex Goligoski (6 goal, 13 assists) who surely would have started the year on the farm were it not for injuries to Gonchar and Whitney. The Penguins have had several great transitions from AHL to NHL.

But I think the overall tone of the piece is fair, the Caps have plugged players in more seamlessly. The results right now obviously speak for themselves.