Two Habs Showdowns to reveal Caps ability, for better or worse
The Washington Capitals will play the Montreal Canadiens twice in the span of 11 days in April. Both of the games are in Montreal.
This is the kind of thing that happens when your season schedule gets thrown together. Like they'd say in Montreal, c'est la vie.
But, if anything, the games should be a good measure of how far the Caps have come this season.
Any time the team goes 8-1-1 is good, but check those last 10 games out. There aren't many playoff teams in that stretch.
That begs the question--how good are these Caps, really?
It's fair to say they're neither the team that started 2-8-1, nor are they a team that could maintain an 8-1-1 pace.
Being somewhere in the middle leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Are they nearer the lower end of the spectrum or upper?
Were the Caps a team who had a new coach in Adam Oates with barely any time to adjust to his system and it's finally clicking, or do they play up or down to the level of skill on the team they're playing against.
That's why these two Montreal are really important as to figuring out what the Caps are. The Habs are a top team in the Eastern Conference and any road to the Stanley Cup Finals likely runs through either Montreal or Pittsburgh.
Getting points in Montreal will require more of the best from Alexander Ovechkin.
Regardless of how the Caps' season ends, this season will be a success if Ovechkin plays the way he has this season over the next few years. He has a system that, unlike that of Dale Hunter, he can thrive in. And his move to the right wing has stopped him from making that same old one-on-one move from the left.
You know, the old 'cross the blue line on the outside of the defender then dip in and shoot' number that you could see coming from the parking lot. It doesn't happen anymore.
The Caps will also need Mike Green to continue to do some Mike Green stuff but not all Mike Green stuff.
The Green stuff that the Caps need is his offensive production. He nearly leads the NHL in goals from defensemen, which is absurd given the amount of games he missed this season. He steps up into an attack like nobody else.
The Green stuff that the Caps don't need are those little lapses. All defenders have them every now and then but for some reason, it always seems worse for Green. I don't know if it's him not seeing things, like a defender close enough to pick of a clearing pass, or seeing things and thinking he can do them anyway.
At any rate, the highs and lows for Green swing wildly. They're tolerable when he's healthy.
The Caps will also need Martin Erat.
For one, the Caps need their lefties back in the top six. Both Erat and Brooks Laich are hurt and if you know anything about the Oates system, it's that he likes right-handed guys on the right and left-handed guys on the left for 5-on-5 hockey.
Erat gives great speed and posession, which are both certainly desireable, but he just needs to be on the ice with these guys. He has to learn the Oates system quickly if he is to be any difference this season.
Whether or not Erat makes a difference this season will be the first stone cast for or against General Manager George McPhee's decision to trade highly rated prospect Filip Forsberg for Erat and prospect Michael Latta.
Be reasonable. In most trades, both sides lose something of value. There is risk involved.
The Predators know what they traded away in Martin Erat and the Capitals don't know what they traded away in Filip Forsberg. There lies the risk of this trade for both teams.
Hopefully Erat will be the guy who can move the Caps forward. If he plays well in these three games, along with Ovechkin and Green, who knows.
Two points total from these two Montreal games will be a success. That should keep the Caps in the catbird seat in the Southeast Division.
More importantly, watch how they play. If it's close, this Caps team could really be onto something.