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Capital Letters: Goalies, Martin Erat & Line Combinations

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Welcome back to "Capital Letters," a horribly-titled mailbag where I answer any and all questions relating to the local professional hockey club.

    It has been four long days since the Capitals last played, which has left plenty of time for several questions to be raised about the team through three games, not to mention mass hysteria. This is my valiant attempt to provide wisdom.

    Solely based on statistics, Braden Holtby's start to the season (0-2-0, 4.48 GAA, .848 SV%) doesn't necessarily inspire a ton of confidence. Then you remember that some numbers are big and hard to understand and realize that for the most part, Holtby has been solid overall.

    Sure, there are some goals that he would like to have back -- the game-winner in Chicago or the first against the Flames, for example -- but so does every goalie. Right, Jonathan Quick? I don't think he heard me with his Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup plugging his ears.

    Seriously though, Holtby is a notoriously slow starter. Just look at last season, when he allowed 10 goals on his first 73 shots -- eight on 45 this season -- but rebounded to finish with a respectable 2.58 GAA and .920 SV%. 

    Harken back to those numbers that are big and hard to understand for a moment and look at just how strong Holtby is after those initial shaky starts, courtesy of my friends at Japers' Rink: excluding his first four starts of each season (where he has earned a cumulative .875 SV%), Holtby has a .935 SV% to go along with a 30-9-2 record and 2.05 GAA.

    If you ask me, which you obviously did because I'm answering a question about Holtby, that's pretty damn good.

    As for whether ot not Holtby is "entrenched" as the No. 1 goaltender, I think it's safe to say that he is. Last season, he was the first Capitals goaltender to make at least 75 percent of the team's starts since Olie Kolzig in 2003-2004. If you need any more proof, look no further than the fact that Adam Oates told Holtby before he left Verizon Center after allowing three goals on 11 shots last Thursday that he would srart against the Stars. That is confidence.

    With all due respect to Michal Neuvirth, a capable goaltender that has also proven that he can start in the NHL, the Capitals' crease is Holtby's world and he's just living in it. 

    To answer this question, I'll share my line configurations from "NHL 14":

    (By the way, my PSN ID is "Shkahkahkah." Please don't ask.)

    Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

    Martin Erat - Mikhail Grabovski - Troy Brouwer

    Eric Fehr - Brooks Laich - Tom Wilson

    Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward

    As previously and routinely evidenced, I'm no numbers whiz, but it's simply a gut feeling. Erat is a better playmaker than Laich and would give the second line more of an offensive threat, while Laich's north-south game is more suited for a shutdown role on a third line that could boast some scoring punch (and real punches that hurt) with Fehr and Wilson flanking him. Again, a gut feeling, but what do I know? I'm only 11-3-1 with that lineup in the virtual world. [Reevaluates sad existence] 

    Erat's deployment on the fourth line has certainly caught some attention, especially considering that his 6:30 of ice time against Calgary was the fourth-lowest of his career in a game that he didn't leave injured (he has played 735 career games). How you view that placement depends on if you're a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

    If you're an optimist, you see Erat on the fourth line as a testament to the depth that the Capitals have at forward. If you're a pessimist, then you look at Filip Forsberg scoring his first goal for Nashville and break something valuable in a fit of frustration. Judging by the reactions I've seen on Twitter, most of you are very destructive.

    My explanation -- one that Oates recently alluded to -- is that Erat's acquisiton was a move made to mitigate the loss of Laich, who spent pretty much the entire season sidelined by groin troubles. Now that Laich is healthy, Oates is still attempting to figure out where exactly Erat fits into the "puzzle" he seems to refer to so much. Could it be at center, where Erat spent some time during the preseason? Or is it at left wing, where he's currently languishing on the fourth line?

    From what I've gleaned, Erat is frustrated with his diminished role, and rightfully so, but Oates is incredibly patient when it comes to shuffling the proverbial deck and/or allowing lines to develop chemistry

    Then again, it has only been three games, so don't be too Erat-ional.

    If you're still here after that terrible joke, I plan on addressing the Wilson/Connor Carrick question in a post for NHL.com Thursday.*

    *Subject to change.  

    I received several questions regarding the defense, so I will probably end up answering them all despite only embedding one of them. I am all about conserving space.

    Anyway, Alex Urbom, claimed off waivers from the Devils last Thursday, will make his Capitals debut this Thursday against the Hurricanes. Oates is familiar with the 6'4", 215-pound Swede from their time in New Jersey, and "raw" is a word that Oates has thrown around a lot to describe the 22-year-old.

    Urbom has some decent wheels -- at least, according to scouting reports, because I have only seen him practice -- and is about the same size as Wilson, so he is a rather large man. As for whether or not he is a long-term addition, that remains to be seen. With Jack Hillen out for at least four months with a fractured tibial plateau, there is an opening on the left side of Washington's defensive depth chart. If Urbom does not pan out, players like Dmitry Orlov, Cameron Schilling and Nate Schmidt are available in Hershey.

    Yet at that point, you may simply be choosing the lesser of three evils. It seems that most of you are flabbergasted that a blue-chipper like Orlov is not getting an opportunity, especially considering that he has proven himself capable of a regular NHL role. Orlov's injury-plagued 2012-13 season, however, never afforded Oates and his staff an opportunity to truly evaluate him.  

    The Capitals want to see Orlov develop into a more well-rounded defenseman that takes care of his own end first. If he can do that with the Bears, then perhaps a call-up is in his future.

    (Side note: You may have seen on Twitter Wednesday morning that CSKA acquired Orlov's KHL rights. All that means is that if Orlov decides to leave North America and return to the KHL, he must join them. You all can relax...until May, when he potentially leaves for Russia and you bemoan his loss. Then you can go nuts for all I care.)


    Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.