In Thursday night’s game against the Blackhawks, Michael Latta, Sean Collins, and Nate Schmidt were all scratched after the 5-0 loss to the reborn San Jose Sharks. The Capitals even sent Collins, a 27-year-old NHL veteran down to Hershey. While many are worrying this as a major shake-up in the Capitals lineup, it really is not. Here are a few reasons why:
- This happens every year to many teams.
Let’s get this out of the way first: This was game three of the season, not game 73. Many teams in the NHL want to see how their prospects will handle the spotlight of the NHL. The Capitals are no different. Chandler Stephenson and Stan Galiev are two such prospects and the Capitals wanted to see in action. After looking slow against the Sharks, Caps’ management decided it would be an opportune time to take a look at two players with some speed and skill. The fact they were playing a team who had played the night before made the decision easier. The pair might get one or two more games, but will either be benched or sat down in a few days or weeks. More on this later.
- Dmitry Orlov is noticeably better than Schmidt or Chorney.
While there has been a lot of talk about Orlov’s play in his own end, there are few things that people should take into consideration. Orlov’s injury last year means that he has not had the time to learn how Trotz wants his team to play. It also means that he has rust that can only be shaken off with ice time. Before his injury, Orlov played decently in his own end.
The other factor is that Orlov is a much better player than either Schmidt or Chorney. He is a better skater than both and a much better hitter than most realize. He has the skill to play the right point on the second power play unit and looked pretty good at it against the Devils. Then there is his shooting ability. His slap shot is an accurate Howitzer, and is the only left-handed one on a team filled with snipers. His shot earned a goal against San Jose before the goal was a”Peel”ed.
With Orlov solidly the 5th defenseman, his partner had better be able to compliment him defensively and allow him to play a little more aggressively. Against San Jose, Schmidt played poor defensively, finding himself out of position and chasing the play. Because of this, Chorney received the nod for Thursday’s game. Expect Schmidt and Chorney to rotate as the 6th defenseman depending on play, rest, and other factors. The two are not that far apart in ability.
- Michael Latta is learning to play center.
Don’t look at Trotz’s benching on Latta to mean that he is in the doghouse. He had a bad night as the fourth line center. He lost most of his faceoffs, but facing Jumbo Joe can to that to you. At this point in his career he is more effective as a right-wing as it is easier to play with less responsibilities than the center. Putting him at center on the 4th line is training for him so that one day he can play as a regular 3rd or 4th line center. Brooks Laich is on the 4th line partially as a mentor for the young Latta, and to act as his backup faceoff person. His grit is valuable to the Caps, so he won’t ever sit for too long.
In a few days or weeks, Latta will probably return to right-wing because…
- Guess who is coming Back(strom)!
Much of the reason we have seen players in unusual positions in the lineup is the absence of Nick Backstrom. According to reports, he will be back soon, maybe as soon as Saturday when the bad Carolina Hurricanes come to town.
While Backstrom might start on the 3rd or even 4th line to ease him back into play, he will still probably play as a center, meaning Latta will be moved to the wing. His return also means that Stephenson or Galiev will be sent down, and the other of the two will often be a healthy scratch.
- Barry Trotz is clear about what he wants and isn’t malicious.
Everyone on the team respects and listens to him. The entire team knows that if you are not able to play responsible defensively, you will sit or be demoted a line. Despite this, Trotz never has malice in his demeanor towards his players, nor in his actions against them. Everything is clear to all of his players.
Trotz hasn’t ripped anyone publicly and even had the team leave practice together, as a reminder of team unity. Because of this, Latta will take a step back for a game and watch and learn and clear his head. Schmidt will realize that he has to play better and not run around or Chorney will get more time than he will. Orlov will get better defensively, because he will listen to his Russian teammates, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, who will testify that playing better and more responsibly can move you from 4th line center to 1st line center, or can get you yet another Maurice Richard trophy.
This team is loaded but there will be bumps along the way. Difficulty and bad play happen to every team in the NHL. It is early in the season and mixing it up to find the right chemistry is important to a long playoff run. It is all part of the process, and this team knows to “Stick to the Script.”
By Lincoln Cajulis