Mar. 9, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) sits on the boards against the New York Islanders during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals Still A Mystery At Season's Halfway Point

With 24 games left, the Washington Capitals’  2013 season is halfway over. Usually we’d feel pretty confident knowing something about what to expect the rest of the way, whether the team was a contender, a squad that would be fighting for one of the last playoff spots, or a group that was destined for a high draft pick.

Not so in this particular shortened campaign. The Caps remain one of the most maddeningly hard to read teams in the league. Are the “true” Capitals the sadsack bunch that played so poorly to start the season, one racked with discipline problems and poor execution? Or are they the players who came back from three goals down to beat the Boston Bruins and beat their last three divisional opponents by a combined score of 13-1?

We may have our suspicions, but we still don’t know for sure. So while we look ahead to a second half that at the very least won’t be boring, let’s break down each area of the team and see what we know and what questions have yet to be answered:

OFFENSE

What we’ve learned:

  • Mike Ribeiro was a good pickup, and possibly one of the most underrated players in the NHL.
  • Playing Alex Ovechkin on a line with two grinders isn’t really the best way to get his production going.
  • However, Ovi can play right wing, and he’s still an important cog on one of the league’s most potent power plays.
  • Nicklas Backstrom is having one of the quietest good scoring seasons in recent memory.
  • Jason Chimera is trying hard but not getting any breaks.
  • Troy Brouwer can be a top-six forward, even if it’s by necessity as much as design.
  • Oh, and the Caps really miss Brooks Laich.

What we still don’t know:

  • Is it a problem with focus, motivation, or something else that is making the Great 8 so up and down from game to game?
  • Did Ovi do something unspeakably evil to Mike Milbury that we don’t know about?
  • Is Marcus Johansson going to figure it out in time to help out this year?
  • What makes Joel Ward so streaky?
  • Will Adam Oates ever figure out if Matt Hendricks belongs on the top line, the fourth line, or somewhere in-between?

DEFENSE

What we’ve learned:

  • There is life on the blue line without Mike Green.
  • But somewhat surprisingly, less so without John Erskine.
  • The youth of the defense corps manifests itself at times in the form of cringe-worthy defensive breakdowns.
  • That said, it was still worth giving a shot to an untested rookie over playing Roman Hamrlik.
  • Depth really isn’t depth if the only way some guys are going to play is when multiple other guys are hurt.

What we still don’t know:

  • Will the rest of the blueliners step up and keep people honest when Erskine isn’t healthy?
  • Is it against team rules to clear screeners on opposing power plays out from in front of the Washington crease?
  • Is “The Steven Oleksy Story” going to be made into a motion picture?
  • Does John Carlson have some more bank shot magic in his stick?
  • Dare we dream of seeing Dmitry Orlov playing in Verizon Center this year?

GOALTENDING

What we’ve learned:

  • The goalie of the present and near future is already on the team.
  • It’s not Michael Neuvirth.
  • Even so, Braden Holtby is going to have some bumps in the road.
  • Sometimes he creates them for himself.
  • The Caps didn’t need to trade for Roberto Luongo or anyone else.

What we still don’t know:

  • Is Neuvirth destined to end up elsewhere, either at the trade deadline or this summer?
  • Will Philipp Grubauer make any more appearances in a Capitals jersey this season?
  • Can Holtby turn his aggression into a blessing more often and a curse less of the time?
  • Are there any coaches in the NHL with a faster hook than Oates?
  • How many Gatorade jugs and other inanimate objects will feel the wrath of Holtby’s stick the next few times he gets pulled?

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Tags: Alex Ovechkin Braden Holtby John Erskine Mike Ribeiro

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