We come to our last of five questions to address as the season gets underway for the Washington Capitals, and for that we turn to the scientific disciplines.
With us to help get a handle on this last question is an old friend of ours, Dr. Vynot Schootdepuck, Director of Advanced Applications at the Bettman Institute of Technology and Competitive Hockey (BITCH). It’s been a long time, old friend…
Peerless: That’s what we wanted to ask you about, Dr. V. There have been a lot of changes this summer. Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, and Eric Fehr are gone. T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams arrived this past summer. The Caps’ third defensive pair from their last game – Mike Green and Tim Gleason – is gone, while Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov fill in. Can the Capitals find the right chemistry with so much change?
Dr. V.: Let’s review zum basic chemistry, okay? In ze first class, you learn zat “acid plus base yields salt und water.” In hockey, you can zay “forwards plus defensemen yield spice on ice.” AH-hahahaha… zat one alvays cracks zem up at ze Institute.
Peerless: Good one…but, in terms of chemistry, are there too many new elements to make a stable compound?
Dr. V.: I think zat ze forwards are likely to be more stable sooner und over a longer period zen ze defensemen. You have two new forwards – Oshie and Williams – one in his early prime years, ze other in his late prime, if you will. Sort of like izotopes mit stable half-lives. You know what you have, and you can expect to get it on a game-to-game basis.
Peerless: But what of their chemical reaction, if you will, with four high-end skill players – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line, perhaps Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky on the second line?
Dr. V.: Two potentially different kinds of results. I know zat today people look at ze fancystats and talk about ze Corsi and ze Fenwick, but let’s put ze slide rule down for a moment, ja? I vatched Oshie and Williams in ze preseason games, and you could zee where zey really could play two different roles on ze two lines. Oshie is a pretty creative player. He seems to be able to find ways out of danger in the way he moves mit ze puck or moves ze puck along. Zat could complement Alex Ovechkin’s energy and Nicklas Backstrom’s steadiness. He provides a little different look. On ze other hand, Williams has to be ze steady guy mit two young guys. His game might be all about timing – when to get involved in a play and when to let ze kiddies do what they do.
Peerless: So, each of the top two lines presents a different look, even with “the script” that the Caps are “sticking to” this season?
Dr. V.: Abzolutely! Zink of it as a different kind of reaction…in chemistry ve call zem “precipitate reactions.” Zat is when you combine one substance mit another, und zen you get an inzoluble precipitate. In ziss instance, you have one player plus another player combining to get a result from a third player…Backstrom and Oshie mit assists for an inzane goal by Ovechkin from ze wing. Or, you have Williams und Burakovsky creating space zo Kuznetsov can do zat dipzy-doo stuff he does mit de puck.
Peerless: But not all reactions are so tidy and neat, are they?
Dr. V.: Of course not. You haff any gummy bears?
Peerless: Gummy bears?
Dr. V.: Ja…gummy bears.
Peerless: I just happen to have an unfinished bag of them.
Dr. V.: Now…don’t do ziss at home, kids. But if you put a gummy bear in a solution of potassium chlorate, you get a great big BOOM! And you don’t want a great big BOOM!
Peerless: Just like you don’t want to see the Caps’ season go BOOM! because the chemistry is wrong.
Dr. V.: Eggggg-zactly.
Peerless: Now, about the defense. You’ve got a couple of guys there who are really still very young. Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov have a combined 187 games of NHL experience, and it will have been almost 18 months to the day since Orlov last dressed for an NHL game when he takes the ice on Opening Night. What sort of chemistry can we expect from two guys with so little experience and who have played in the same game together only four times (all in Hershey)?
Dr. V.: Zum reactions are fast, others are zlow. Ziss one might be one of ze zlow kinds, not much to zee early, but wonderful stuff later on.
Peerless: An example of which might be…
Dr. V.: You know what “photosynthesis” is?
Peerless: Sure…that’s how plants get energy.
Dr. V.: Ja… green plants take ze CO2 out of ze air, it combines mit water in ze presence of light, and you get oxygen und sugar, which de plants use for energy. It is very slow, though, mit a bunch of steps in ze middle. No big BOOM! at ze end.
Peerless: So, you’re saying that Schmidt and Orlov might take a while and a lot of steps to mesh as a pair?
Dr. V.: Ve heff a zaying in chemistry…”you can’t rush ze Calvin cycle.”
Peerless: So let’s get to the bottom line here, Dr. V. The Caps have made big changes on their two top lines, have a new third defensive pair. Then there are the little changes that might not be so little, like giving Tom Wilson a bigger role to play. Is that going to be too much for the Caps to manage and still contend for a Stanley Cup.
Dr. V.: Ah! Zat is a gut question, and I need to introduce ze idea of a “catalyst.” You know what zat is, right?
Peerless: A substance that changes the rate of a reaction without undergoing any permanent changes of its own.
Dr. V.: Eggggzellent!! You should come to ze Institute!
Peerless: Thanks, Doc, but I haven’t taken a chemistry class in a long time. Now, about the catalyst?
Dr. V.: Look it is ziss vay. Ziss ist ze first time zince 2011 zat ze Kepitals have had ze same head coach in a normal training camp two years in a row.
Peerless: Bruce Boudreau
Dr. V.: Correct. Now, mit one year of Barry Trotz and how he wants to coach a team, mit all the strategies and ze drills and ze philosophy under ze players’ belts, you would think things would go more smoothly and more quickly ze second time around, ja? And ze players, you would think they would be more comfortable mit ze stability of having a coach and ze zystems in place two full years in a row, no? And, the Kepitals made ze player changes in ze summer, when zey heff ze time to work zem into ze schemes in ze lab….uh, training camp. Not on ze fly during ze season at trading deadline. Zat hasn’t gone zo good for ze Caps lately, has it?
Peerless: I think I see your point. I guess what I am hearing is that you think the Capitals have taken their actions this summer in such a way as to improve the chemistry, or at least give it an opportunity to complete all the necessary reactions.
Dr. V.: Zat ist correct. It ist like working through an experiment. You can’t skip ze steps or rush zem. You heff to haff a plan and be careful and rigorous in eggsecuting it. Ze Kepitals haff done zat very well…so far.
Peerless: So far?
Dr. V.: Ja…you don’t play these games in ze lab. You play zem on ze ice, and who knows for sure vut vill happen out there. But I vill say, ze 2015-2016 team looks like ze club’s best chance ever to finally win a Stanley Cup.
Dr. V.: Hey, vood I lie to you? I’m a zcientist!