Handicapping the Opening Night Lineup

Although it appears that the Caps’ season will not start on time because of a work stoppage, it’s getting near that time where we look forward to the new season and what it could bring.  As such, I’ve put together a projection of how Washington’s opening night roster and lineup will be.

1st Line: Ovechkin-Ribeiro-Johansson – I outline this completely here, but in my opinion the newly acquired Mike Ribeiro is the obvious choice to center captain Alex Ovechkin.  Ribeiro has had success in the past with wingers who take a lot of shots, like Ovechkin, and is an elite passer who could be able to reignite Ovechkin’s flame while playing alongside weaker minutes.  I like Johansson to fill the second winger spot simply because I hope he can continue to develop into the top six forward he could become.

2nd Line: Wolski-Backstrom-Brouwer – As the best player on the Capitals and their best center, more than ever will be needed from Backstrom to help drive play with those around him.  That starts with Wolski, the Caps’ offseason free agent signing that could help replace Alexander Semin (more on that here).  Wolski is a fine player in his own right, but playing with a playmaker of Backstrom’s caliber will surely help him along the way to unlocking his full potential once again.  I like the physical play and net presence of Troy Brouwer on this line to help clear some room for his playmaking linemates.

3rd Line: Ward-Laich-Chimera – These three were an excellent shutdown last year before lineup injuries and some bad decisions separated them.  Chimera will almost certainly not score 20 goals again, but is physical and fast which leads to the good forechecking needed from a third line.  Laich is a good third line center and by far the best suited for this role; Perreault and Johansson are not physical or defensively sound enough.  And Ward, contrary to popular opinion, does not suck.  He went a stretch of 10 games last year without being on the ice for any type of goal against.  He’s a good defensive player despite the fact that he is grossly overpaid, and deserves to play.

Read more here on potential lines and pairings.

4th Line: Crabb-Beagle-Hendricks – Crabb, a free agent signing, scored 11 goals and 26 points last season but likely will not repeat those numbers because of an above average PDO and his age (29).  He’s a gritty guy who profiles as a lower line guy, so that’s where I think he should play.  Jay Beagle, who has developed some great faceoff skills, seems the obvious choice as fourth line center following his excellent end to last season.  Matt Hendricks, who has made a name for himself in that fourth line role over the last two seasons in Washington, should remain in his heart and soul role.

1st Defense: Carlson-Alzner – This is pretty academic.  Carlson and Alzner compliment each other well, they cover the ice well, and their skill sets make the other one more valuable.  Their separation last year caused some problems for Carlson in particular, and hopefully he will be able to develop more into the stud he is projected to be in a familiar situation alongside Alzner.

2nd Defense: Green-Hamrlik – Another pairing that worked well together last year, the stay at home defensive style of Hamrlik allows Green to rush the puck with more abandon than he would if he were paired with, say, Dmitry Orlov.  This was visible in the later stages of last season, too.  Hopefully a healthy Green and the defensive security of Hamrlik will help the former get back to his old point producing ways.

3rd Defense: Schultz-Orlov – Schultz was bad last season down the stretch, but is not “terrible” or “soft” or any of the other crazy adjectives that Caps fans think that he is.  He is a complementary defenseman, and will be allowed to fill that role with the offensive prowess of Orlov.  In addition, playing this low will enable Orlov to continue to develop without having to see huge minutes at even strength.

Healthy scratches: Mathieu Perreault, Mattias Sjogren/Stan Galiev, John Erskine – Perreault, who impressed last season in a limited role, doesn’t crack my top 12 simply because there is no room for him in the top 6 and he is not physical or big enough to play significant minutes well in the bottom six.  However, he is a first alternate and will be needed when injuries strike.  He is without doubt a valuable player to have.  Sjogren, who bailed on the Hershey Bears last season midway because he was unhappy with playing time, was recalled in the playoffs to be a black ace but seems unlikely to earn a top-12 role after a bad showing both in the AHL and in the Elitserien.  Expect he and Galiev, who will be playing in his first professional season but impressed in Junior again this year, to battle it out for the 14th forward spot.  Erskine, in the final year of his contract, should continue to be the 7th defenseman who only plays against super physical teams.

Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR.  Follow him on Twitter here.