* Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: How will the Capitals protect their net-front?
Andrew: The Capitals sure lost some beef on their blue line with the departures of Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara, but I think they’ll be fine in terms of protecting their net.
Martin Fehervary (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) will take one of those spots, and while he might not bring the physicality that those two veterans brought, he’s not small by any means. Plus, with Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Garnet Hathaway and Anthony Mantha in the lineup, opponents know there will be a price to pay for crashing the Capitals’ net.
So even without Dillon and Chara, muscle is not necessarily a prerequisite for protecting the net. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, the only true “physical” defenseman on the roster was Brooks Orpik.
I just don’t think this will be much of an issue for the Capitals, especially if they can keep goaltenders Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek from taking on too many shots this season. If that’s the case, then Capitals fans should have zero worry about this.
JJ: For a team that likes to play a big, physical style of game, they sure lost a lot of muscle on the blue line. At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, Martin Fehervary could potentially add some size. In the few games he played with Washington, one thing I noticed was that he frequently planted himself in front of the net so that should be an asset.
Andrew makes a good point that the only physical defenseman on the championship squad was Brooks Orpik and, given how Peter Laviolette's system focuses a lot on shot suppression, maybe this will not be an issue.
Here's what gives me pause. In the 2020 postseason, the Caps were absolutely dominated by the New York Islanders in front of the net. The Islanders planted bodies in front of Braden Holtby and there was just nothing Washington could do about it. They had zero control of their net-front and it was a major factor in the series. If you don't have the size to clear out the bodies in front of your netminders, you better be good at suppressing shots and maintaining possession of the puck. The Caps were pretty inconsistent with that last year.
If Washington is a heavy puck-possession team this season, no worries. But if the Caps give up a lot of sustained offensive pressure, I think the net-front could become a big issue very quickly.