I feel like I should also catch up, at least a little bit, with the Caps. Other than the second and third periods of last night's game which, as I mentioned, I haven't seen, I've watched all the games since my last post about them.
And it's hard to argue that they haven't been doing well. A game off, here and there (and hopefully last night was no worse than that), but mostly very solid. It's impossible to be anything but thrilled with the West Coast swing. It took some lucky bounces (especially against San Jose), but three wins and one loss is better than we had any right to expect.
And then there was that Winnipeg game. I was sorry to hear that Matty P was injured, so we couldn't see him, but was otherwise thrilled with the game. Five to one, with the one goal against deflecting off of Alzner's stick when he went down to block the shot, then deflecting off his skate boot, then up and over Holtby. And how can you not love 6:15 of continuous power play time in the second period (and none of those were iffy penalties, either.
Admittedly, Winnipeg looked pretty bad (their organization wasn't), but it was cool to see the Caps completely dominate.
It wasn't nearly as smooth, but the Caps handled themselves well against the Conference-leading (man, it seems strange to say that) Islanders. The last-minute goal forcing overtime was a bit of a blow to the Caps' chances of catching the Islanders, but at least they won in the shoot-out.
Generally speaking, I've been happy with what the Caps have been doing. OV has just been killing it; he's looked more dangerous than he had in quite a while. He's been back-checking, which is a welcome change. He's also been blocking the occasional shot, but despite that leading to the occasional rush the other way, I think I'd prefer he didn't (the team would be too badly hurt if he got injured).
Saint Nick has also been killing it. Not only has he kept setting up OV at a torrid rate, but he's scored quite a few of his own to take the league lead in points. Awesome. And he and OV are both rapidly approaching Pivonka for the team lead in career assists.
One of my two big bones of contention with team management, though, has to do with the third spot on that line. I'm not a big fan of switching out Bura and Wilson on that spot, although I don't think that's a terrible way to operate (well, as long as Bura stays in the line-up when he isn't on the top line). But putting Beagle there is just awful; really, I understand what he brings to the table (back-up face-offs, battling on the boards, a little forechecking), and he isn't a terrible player, but the only situation justifying him being on the top line is a whole rash of injuries. Seriously, any of MarJo, Fehr, Brouwer, Ward, or the two above would be a better choice. I certainly understand why Fehr and Ward don't get consideration there, but Brouwer and Wilson are both unconditionally better than Beagle in the strategic situation where you might think of putting Beagle there.
I was quite fine with seeing MarJo up on the top line, and I think there's plenty of reason to think that's basically optimal (considering that line only). But Bura needs to be in the line-up.
We haven't reached a situation where Trotz' mismanagement of Bura approaches what Oates did with Erat, but it's heading in that direction. And Bura's very young; some recent quotes by him lead me to believe that he's having confidence issues that entirely stem from Trotz yanking him around. I think Trotz' perspective is he doesn't want any fancy play from Bura in the defensive zone, but he's got to realize that the rare problem is more than offset by the excellent results most of the time. Creative players need to be allowed to be creative.
It's the same philosophy that makes it so (relatively) easy for teams to come back in the waning minutes of a game. Not productive.
Anyway, my other major bone of contention has to do with Holtby. I have mostly been ok with his handling, but I was very disturbed when he was allowed to play against the Flyers, the other day, in the second half of a back-to-back. Yes, I know there were a couple days off afterwards, but the kid shouldn't be playing 70 games. Yes, he's looked good (actually, he's looked fantastic), but I want him to continue to look good for years to come, not just this season. Perhaps even more importantly, I don't want him to be mentally fatigued when the play-offs arrive. Give the kid some rest.
I'm glad he didn't play both halves of the prior two back-to-backs, at least.
On the back end, things have been pretty darned good. Carlson and Green have both cleared thirty assists, which is very cool. Hillen's played more than I would prefer, although I guess with both Orlov and Schmidt unavailable, that's not terrible. Schilling looked fine when he played, the other day.
The one other thing I've been thinking about lately also gets back to Beagle. He's been getting quite a bit of attention from the announcers, especially on NBC. It makes me wonder if there's a perception that Beagle, thanks to his uncharacteristically high shooting percentage, is worth a significant amount in trade. I hope McLellan is exploring that possibility, because trading high would be fantastic, especially if it would help land someone like, say, Weircoch.
Update: I just checked the numbers on Schilling and Oleksy (who played a game or two in there). Both were more sheltered (and Hillen) positionally, but less so, competition-wise, and both did much better. In small samples, of course. I'd probably play Schilling over the other two, at this point, until Orlov or Schmidt becomes available. And I'd definitely play either of them over Hillen, once they're options.