Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Questions for Russian Machine Never Breaks

The guys over at Russian Machine Never Breaks (RNMB) approached us about swapping a Q and A session.  Unfortunately, life (i.e. work) got in the way, but I had already launched my questions.  Doug was kind enough to respond to my questions, even though he was unable to launch his own.  So we owe them one, and will reciprocate later in the season, when hopefully we have something to talk about other than injuries.

So here were my questions for RNMB:

1. We here in Blue Jackets land have been playing against Barry Trotz coached teams for our entire existence.  Those Nashville teams typically featured good goal tending and solid defense, as that's how the teams were constructed.  What has been Trotz' approach to a much different personnel set in the Capitals so far this year?

RNMB:  You put your finger on exactly why Trotz was brought on, and why so many people here are hoping against hope that we can turn this squad around this season. The Ovechkin-era Caps were from the start a reflection of Ovi and his play: explosive offense, wildly unpredictable, a bit shaky on defense. Those 2008-2009 Capitals? I've never seen such maddeningly exciting play.

But that's clearly not been enough. When Boudreau was jettisoned, the squad veered into "Hunter Hockey" - where they tried to reign in this team's natural scoring skill and turn it into something it just isn't. Hunter and Oates always felt like trying to squeeze the square peg into the round hole. So far, however, it seems Trotz has started to find the right balance between respecting what the core of the squad is and adding D to it, rather than shaving away the O.

2.  How do you see the relationship of Trotz and Ovechkin?  I think it's fair to say that Trotz never had a player like that in Nashville, so it must be a novel experience for him.

RNMB: I think it's fair to say there haven't been many players like Ovi anywhere, so any coach coming in was going to have that. Ovi is the tent-pole in this circus; everything else frankly hangs off that; including, it seems, the coaches. When each of our last three coaches left, there was all sorts of murmuring about whether Ovi had anything to do with it, or if he simply quit on his coach. I'm really not convinced about any of that, especially anything malicious, but Ovi is a force unto himself, and converting him into something else may just be a fool's errand.

Right from the get-go, Trotz has both worked to build good communication with Ovi, and the rest of the team, but not at the expense of making clear who's in charge. I think it's very possible one or two of our recent coaches were more focused on the latter than the former. One thing that is notably different so far, however, is how assertive a coach Trotz is during the games. He clearly sees his job as coaching every minute of play, and does not shy away from doing his job from the bench. Most important, I think, is that the entire team, Ovechkin and every one else, is ready to listen and follow Trotz, and he's highly respected by the entire organization.

3. Jason Chimera was a much loved player here in Columbus, and a lot of us were unhappy to see him go in the trade for Chris Clark.  How is he doing?  Does he meet fan expectations?

Jason Chimera. Chim-dog. Ice Cheetah. Oh how we love our balding Chimmers. Apart from being lethal, almost literally, in the shoot-out, he was one pillar of one of the best and most productive lines we've recently seen. Paired last season with Joel Ward and Eric Fehr, their third line was the team workhorse: often not pretty, but damn damn good and finding the twine. His pairing with Ward, particularly, has obvious chemistry on and off the ice. They balance each other's strengths and weaknesses, and that's even before the epic off-ice bromance.

He's become a fan favorite because of all that...and also because he's just a good guy. He clearly likes to clown it up with the rest of the team and he's Johnny-on-the-spot to help out with all the good works the organization does. I think generally hockey players are basically good people, and nowhere is that as clear as with Chimera.

4.  Puck Daddy ran an article about Mitch Korn, the new Caps goal tending coach the other day.  What are your thoughts about Holtby and the goal tending situation for the Caps?

RNMB:  Peter Hassett, RMNB's resident fancy-stats guy, would no doubt have a much more scientific, data-driven answer to this, but I'm not Peter. I'm basically the in-house jester and trouble-maker...but that doesn't mean I don't have strong thoughts on this.

Last year, there was far too much three-goalie drama, and it didn't help anyone, Michal Neuvirth especially. I always thought Neuvy could grow into an elite net-minder, and still do,, but he needs a little room and a good opportunity to do so - hopefully he'll find exactly that in Buffalo.

When Holby is on, he's just a fearsome presence in the net. But when things come apart, they tend to do so on a grand scale. The hit on him down here is that he's a bit of a head-case, but show me a goalie for whom that's not true. Beside, the crowd here loves him...almost as much as they still love Olie Kolzig, who is still the Caps best goalie in franchise history. When he was named coach, it was like welcoming a conquering hero...but I'm not sure he and Holtby ever gelled. To be fair, a lot of Holtby's, and by extension Kolzig's problems came from an oft-collapsing Caps defensive play. It's still too early to say anything quantitative about Holtby this season, but I can say qualitatively things seem to be working.

5.  There was a lot of talk around the blogosphere about the new defensemen acquired through free agency by the Caps.  Could you speak to their effectiveness so far, and how the fans see the move?

RNMB:  I'd much rather talk about some of our new forwards like Burakovsky or Kuztensov, or even O'Brien! Heck, I could even talk about what should have been another one of our star forwards, Filip Forsberg, before some dolt traded him off to Nashville.

John Carlson continues to earn his pay, and increasingly it looks like Mike Green is back to the land of the living. Niskanen is working out while Nate Schmidt is still a work in progress, and we have hope about Hillen.

Which brings us to Brooks Orpik. I think a lot of fans are still questioning his five-year, $27-million dollar deal, especially for a player who has under-performed for some time. Sure, he was part of the Pens defense-machine in its glory days, but look what happened there. There's some talk that Orpik is just a bit too slow on the ice, forcing Carlson to overskate and leading to some disappointing play from both of them. Let's just say I think we need better play now and into the future for that deal to ever make any sense.

6. Finally, how do you see the Caps doing this year?  Since we had planned on beating you, no matter what you say, let us know why you're right and we're wrong. 

RNMB:  What does the eight ball say, "signs point to yes"? At the head end of this still-young season, all signs were pointing to a Capitals team that embraced its core identity but had also addressed some long-standing deficiencies. I still feel that way, but our last outing - against the Hurricanes - again raised concerns about the Caps of old.

We dominated that first period against the Canes, even into the middle of the second. That was our game to win...but we did what we've done too often in the past. We took our foot off the gas and started to coast, and the obvious happened. That game should not have needed to come down to the last :14 in OT. "Cardiac Caps" is the old phrase for a squad that digs deep at the very last. Once we stop needing to dig that deep at the last second, I'll be able to answer "yes definitely".

I can't believe he went eight-ball there.  It looks like a DKM podcast is in their future.  Thanks so much to Doug of RNMB for being gracious enough to answer our questions in spite of his work demands.  We owe you one, big dog, and we look forward to talking before the next Jackets-Caps matchup!


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