Theme: “All lovely things will have an ending, All lovely things will fade and die; And youth, that's now so bravely spending, Will beg a penny by and by.”
-- Conrad Aiken
Three… eight… six… two… three…one… forty seven.
In nine seasons before joining the Washington Capitals in 2007, defenseman Tom Poti missed more than ten games in a season twice. With the 2010-2011 season now behind us, Poti has missed more than ten games twice in four seasons with the Caps. This past season, Poti missed 61 regular season and nine post-season games in the chunks described in that set of numbers above, the last 47 of which (38 regular season, nine post season) closed the 2010-2011 campaign. It is hard for any player to build any personal momentum when you have only one streak of consecutive games played longer than four contests in what amounts to half a season’s worth of play.
Poti has now missed 114 games over four seasons as a Cap. Compare that to having missed a total of 144 games in nine seasons before arriving in D.C. And the injury sheet is long (courtesy of tsn.ca; 2010-2011 season in bold):
November 2007: 6 games (groin)
January 2008: 3 games (upper body)
February 2008: 2 games (lower body)
November 2008: 5 games (groin)
December 2008: six games (groin)
January 2009 (15 games (groin)
March 2009: 2 games (groin)
April 2009: 4 games (groin; to end of regular season)
December 2009: 6 games (upper body)
December 2009: 2 games (undisclosed)
March 2010: 2 games (groin)
April 2010: 1 game (playoffs; orbital bone fracture)
October 2010: 3 game (lower body injury)
November 2010: 8 games (lower body injury)
November 2010: 6 games (groin)
December 2010: 2 games (groin)
January 2011: 3 games (head injury)
May 2011: 38 games/regular season, 9 games/playoffs (lower body)
What Caps fans didn’t get to see was whether Poti – who suffered a ghastly eye injury in Game 6 of the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series – could make an inspired comeback. As it turned out, in only two of his eight ten-game splits did he manage to dress for more than five games (six in his third ten-gamer, seven in his fourth ten-gamer). The two splits were more or less a microcosm of his up and down (in and out?) season. In the Games 21-30 split Poti was 1-4-5, plus-3, in six games. In the Games 31-40 split he was 0-1-1, minus-4, the last of which was a 3:34 ice time effort against the Penguins two days before Christmas. Happy Holidays. The whole picture by the tens looked like this...
One of the more unfortunate outcomes of the season for Poti was that there were tantalizing indications he could have been a significant contributor to the blue line. Among Caps defensemen playing in at least 20 games (Poti played in 21), he led the defensemen in goals and points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. OK, so we’re dealing with a player who had all of two goals and seven points. We get it, but it’s what we have, and who knows? That’s what makes it “tantalizing.” On the other hand, though, he was on the ice for more than a goal per game per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 more than both Karl Alzner and John Carlson (3.05 versus 1.90 and 1.93, respectively; numbers from behindthenet.ca). Again, few data points, but who knows? What it meant was a dreadful year compared to last...
Odd Poti Fact… Or perhaps, “Depressing Poti Fact.” In his first three seasons with the Caps, Poti did not average less than 21 minutes a night of ice time. Not only did that number dip to 18:21 in 2010-2011 in the 21 games he did play, but in two of the last four games he dressed for he did not make it to ten minutes of ice time.
Game to Remember… December 6, 2010. When the Toronto Maple Leafs visited Verizon Center in early December, the Caps treated their guests rudely, jumping out to a 4-1 lead with the game barely past the half-way point. Tom Poti assisted on three of the goals in what would be his first three-point game in the regular season as a Cap. He added a team-high three blocked shots for good measure. Of course, this being a “Tom Poti” game to remember, and knowing the kind of season he had, the Caps gagged on the three-goal lead, allowing three scores in the third period before losing the game in a Gimmick, 5-4.
Game to Forget… every one of them after he started against Tampa Bay on January 12th and lasted only ten shifts, one in the second period, as the Caps lost 3-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He did not take the ice again in the 2010-2011 season.
Post Season… Wasn’t one to write about.
In the end, that 47-game void that makes up the end of Poti’s season means that there just is not a lot to grab onto when looking back at his season. Couple that with Mike Green’s absence for all but one of the last 26 games of the regular season, and one might wonder how the Caps ended up on top of the Eastern Conference standings. If Green has question marks about his durability as a result of his absences, for Poti the questions are about his ability to come back at all.
The recurring groin injuries have no doubt taken a considerable toll on him, and as a result even George McPhee suggested that his career now hangs in the balance. It is vaguely reminiscent of the recurring problems Brian Sutherby had some years ago for the Caps, and the solution seems as elusive. The difference here being that Sutherby was a comparative youngster who had not yet suffered much of the wear and tear the NHL can put on a player, while Poti now has more than 850 games of NHL experience (regular season and playoffs) and will 34 years old this coming season. Still, 34 is too soon for a player to have to consider that the end is looming. But the four years he has spent in Washington have not been kind to Poti as far as his durability is concerned. What that means is that one of the lingering questions over the summer will be whether the one shift he skated in the second period of a game in January will be the last one Tom Poti skates in the NHL. Having a career merely “fade away” is something no one – player or fan – wants to see unfold.