Washington Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette made his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan, Monday morning prior to Capitals practice in Pittsburgh. He was asked about newcomer Zdeno Chara and his impact on the Capitals blueline, Vitek Vanecek’s NHL debut on Friday night, and the things the team still needs to work on.
Laviolette made it clear that he is very happy with the team’s defensive depth, noting he had several NHL-caliber players sitting out each game. He also believes Zdeno Chara has been a big part of the blueliners improvement to date.
“On defense, I really like the way we’re built. We have a few NHL defensemen sitting out. You know that’s hard on them, because they’re both good players and they could be playing possibly on a lot of teams. The depth that we have, I think is really good on the back end, I just think the amount of games we have to play in a short period time, to have the depth and to be built like that on defense. You never know how valuable your defenseman are until you take one or two of them out of the lineup, and you’re like, “ok, now we really gotta match lines, we gotta watch zone starts, and all of that”, so to have the six, the eight that we do, and the six that have played in the lineup so far have been excellent, I think that Chara is really working hard to understand the system, I think he’s played it really well, I think he and Jensen have done a terrific job. You think about the penalty kills, we’ve taken too many penalties, right now, so you think about the penalty kills, that have had to be really effective. I think Scott Arniel has done a great job with that, but Chara has been a big influence back there with just his size and his reach and his ability to block shots. You saw him block a couple of big shots yesterday, and so I think he and Jensen have really been one of our most reliable pairs back there. I think they’ve done an excellent job, defensively, and they are looking to work through things offensively as we try to find our footing, I was really happy with them. Zdeno is in unbelievable shape, is an unbelievably conditioned athlete, he’s very disciplined about his life, and what he eats, and what he does to prepare himself to play, he’s such a great example for the team.”
But there is always need for improvement, and Chara is working hard to improve and understand the new system.
”Defensively, we’re working through some things, but you know, it’s been ok. Pittsburgh, we were exposed just a little bit, we gotta get better in some areas, but like I said, when I watch the system, as we’re working though it, and there’s a lot of video that we are showing right now, just to try and get guys into the right areas. He (Chara) really has an understanding, he asks a lot of questions, he’ll say can I sit and watch this with Kevin McCarthy. He’s working to understand his game.”
Laviolette was also asked about the play of rookie Vitek Vanecek and his NHL debut on Friday night.
“In the first two periods, in that second Buffalo game, Buffalo came out, it’s the start of the year, and so no team, it’s kinda like playing Pittsburgh last night, you know you’re gonna get a pretty good game from them, because there 0-2. So Buffalo was 0-1, they’re in their (home) opener, they didn’t make the playoffs last year, you knew exactly what you were going to get, and I don’t think we handled that really well. The third period, I really liked. We gave up the goal early in the third. That was the only even-strength scoring chance that we gave up the entire period. And then we started to push a little bit more offensively and finally found our legs in the third and got going and got a win. Vitek, what you need from any goaltender, really, is when your team is off the mark a little bit, is you need some big saves and you need a chance to win a hockey game, and I thought that he did that. He was really crisp with his game, he saw the game well, he moved, he read the plays, because there were some saves that he made, seam-play saves, that went through the slot line, and kinda back door plays, that he came across with some big saves. He made all the ones he was supposed to, and then a couple that you were like, that was pretty good save. He was very good.”
Laviottle also noted the things the team will work on during their off-day, today.
“There are a lot of things that we need to talk about and work on. Today for instance, we have an off day, and discipline is one of them. So whatever the game presents to us, we gotta make sure we are doing a better job with our discipline. So there’s a lot of things on the docket today that we got to talk about. Offensively, I don’t think we are on track yet, we’re not where we wanna be, or where we wanna get to. I think it’s positive that we’ve taken the points, 5 out of 6, but if I’m being realistic about it, there’s a lot of things that need to be better. It’s a really short training camp, with a new guy in place and a new system, and not much time to put things on the table. And so now that things are on the table, we have to get better at what’s on the table, and so we’ll just continue to work at it until we find a little more rhythm in the game”
Laviolette would not commit to a starting goaltender for Tuesday night. He said today’s practice would be video and meetings, that would include an optional skate.
The Capitals wrap up their two-game set Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, puck drop is set for 7:07 PM.
By Jon Sorensen