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