who sits when dennis wideman returns?

(photo by Mitchell Layton)

Another day, another series goes seven games.

Admit it; it’s a good time to be a fan of the Washington Capitals.

While teams like Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Buffalo give everything they’ve got in hopes of living to see another day, the Caps are enjoying an NHL rarity – a bye week.

All of the bumps and bruises accumulated during the first-round series against the New York Rangers have extra time to heal, coaches get additional time to break down film of what’s working and what needs more attention and everyone involved gets to recharge their battery, so to speak.

Best of all, a player like defenseman Dennis Wideman, who suffered a leg hematoma and compartment syndrome March 29, gets a few extra days to try and work his way back into the lineup.

Wideman, an offensive-minded defenseman who excels on the powerplay, was acquired by general manager George McPhee at the trade deadline specifically to bolster Washington’s depth at the blue line.

But that plan was put into jeopardy when Wideman suffered a knee-to-thigh hit from Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu and suddenly no one was sure just how long the 28-year-old was going to be sidelined.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Wideman was able to practice in full pads Monday for the first time since the injury. There’s still no timetable for his return, although Wideman is confident he’ll play again this postseason.

When Wideman is ready to return though, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is going to be faced with one of those “good problems to have.”

With seven healthy defenseman and only six slots in the lineup, Boudreau will be faced with a tough decision – especially after his Capitals allowed just eight goals in five games against the Rangers.

As I noted yesterday, rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth deserves a ton of credit for the Caps stellar play in the defensive zone, but he’s not the only reason Washington was able to dispatch a team in five games for the first time in 13 years.

Through the weekend, the Capitals led the league in blocked shots with 104 as defensemen have sacrificed their body for the good of the team.

What once sounded like lip service as folks struggled to explain a sudden lack of scoring now looks like sound strategy as the Capitals are finally playing the same punishing brand of playoff hockey critics have lamented over since Boudreau’s arrival.

The defensive rotation is playing so well these days that Boudreau all but admitted there’s little chance of veteran blue liner Tom Poti returning to action this season. But Wideman is a different story.

McPhee and company didn’t give away a prospect and a third-round pick so the guy could wear a suit and sit next to D.J. King and the other “healthy scratches” on game day. Wideman has one year left on his current deal at $3.9 million, and you can bet he’ll be back on the ice as soon as he’s medically cleared.

So the question becomes: which defenseman will be forced out of the lineup when Wideman returns?

It’s not going to be Mike Green, who is a lock for the lineup as long as he stops blocking shots with his head.

It’s also safe to assume that both John Carlson and Karl Alzner will remain in the lineup, since they routinely face off against the opposing team’s top line.

Which leaves three names for debate – Scott Hannan, Jeff Schultz and John Erskine. All three defensive-minded defensemen have played well thus far, but one of them will likely be bumped once Wideman is back.

I have a hard time believing Hannan won’t remain in the lineup, especially since he led all Washington defensemen in ice time during the first round. You don’t average more than 25 minutes of playing time a night unless the coaches feel confident in your abilities.

Sure, he’s not going to give you anything in terms of offense (Hannan took just two shots in five games against New York), but he makes up for it with his physical style of play and sound positioning in his own end.

The case to keep Schultz in the lineup goes like this – he led all Washington defenders with a plus five rating and tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 15.

A vocal minority continues to harp on Schultz because they see his big 6-foot-6 frame and dream of him morphing into the second coming of a one-man wrecking crew like Hall of Famer Scott Stevens. That’s just not who Schultz is though.

In fact, if you’re one of the people still turning blue in the face every time you see Schultz pass up a chance to lay out the opposition with a devastating check, then do us all a favor and stop reading this site. It’s not for you. Go color or watch Vin Diesel movies.

Schultz has been in Washington for more than five years now, so if you call yourself a Caps fan, then you should probably know what skill set he possesses by now.

Asking Schultz to become LaRon Landry on skates is like asking Antwaan Randle El to not signal for a fair catch every time he fields a punt or asking Stephen Strasburg to not throw so hard. It’s not gonna happen. Get over it and find something else to bitch about.

Which leaves us with Erskine.

Before the playoffs began, it was a no-brainer to assume that Erskine would be the odd-man out in this scenario.

But the 30-year-old has elevated his play pretty much across the board against New York – to the point that I actually found myself wanting him to shoot more when the opportunity presented itself.

Erskine is the one guy in the mix who is more than willing to drop the gloves in defense of a teammate. He’s happy to embrace the physical side of things and he’s no longer someone who gets lumped with Tyler Sloan when people are talking about liabilities in the lineup.

Sure, in all likelihood it’ll be Erskine who draws the short straw. But the fact that he’s played well enough to even make this a topic for debate says a lot about him.

So now, I turn to you. Who should sit and why?

[Update: My pals at Japers’ Rink have apparently had enough of the drive-by Schultz bashing. This fantastic nugget should finally put to rest the nonsense directed at Double Nickel.]


  1. ExKiwi Krol
    April 26, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Logic says it will be Erskine, but I likey the Erskine and no want to see him go.

    Either way I think we can feel confident in who is the line-up. Maybe they can do a rotation of some form to keep the players fresh. Although I am not sure you do that in the playoffs, since you must win each game and you want your bestest players out there.

    Basset Hound.

  2. Milhouse44
    April 26, 2011 at 7:44 am

    I would have to say Erskine as well. Neither Shultz or Erskine have been bombarding the net with shots and as much as I love to see Erskine’s Jack-o-Lantern smile in the face of the opponents forwards after the whistle with Shultz getting more time (5-9 mins more than Erskine per game), his +5 and blocked shots I think that keeps him in the line up.

    Can we just sit one of the guys on the 4th line (Boyd Gordon I’m looking at you) and move Wideman or Green forward Rec League Style?

  3. Brad in Arlington
    April 26, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Sorry guys, I say Sarge has to sit. Not bringing a physical presence is a down side for his skill level. Hannan doesn’t need to, but Sarge? And, this season, if you’re looking for a D screw up leading to an odd man rush, chances are that 55 is the guilty one. Keep Erskine’s tenacity (and pretty much quality play to boot).

  4. me
    April 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

    i deserve a bi-line for suggesting this article! bastard!

    but i will also get the credit for having the inevitable right answer

    the healthy scratch will be…. eric fehr (and marco sturm or matt bradley if knuble is healthy)

    thats right, 7 defenseman, 11 forwards

    green is going to absolutely POUNDED every game we play, so let him only play the power-play, or perhaps as fatigue demands, an occasion shift on the wing.

    besides the way our season is going, we won’t have seven healthy defensemen for long.

  5. breaklance
    April 26, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Completely depends on the next opponent we face, imo. TBL and MTL are pretty fast teams and both Shultz and Erksine are very slow. But I don’t feel like Erksine’s physical presence(his ability to fight) would be as needed. If we drew Buff or Pitt those teams have lost a lot of star power but are making it through on grit alone and you need physicality to get to them.

  6. me
    April 26, 2011 at 10:01 am

    i take it back..

    henricks gets the bench, he didnt have a great series…

    plus i misspelled henricks <- see there i did it again.

  7. Jack
    April 26, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Sit Gordon? He is maybe our best PK man, and leads all centers in the playoffs in FO%, taking the bulk of the defensive zone draws. Gordo has been Steckel+ since Stecks was traded. No, he won’t score (unless his Dad is there). But he is probably the Caps most solid defensive forward, most solid faceoff guy, and key to the PK. Rather sit Schultz or Erskine.

  8. me
    April 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Pittsburgh has NEVER won a game 7 at home when they lost game 6 on the road.

    …which is exactly the type of stat my late father would look at and laugh “That just means they’re due.”

  9. me
    April 26, 2011 at 10:20 am

    yeah i agree with jack, gordon is doing what gordon has to do for us to win

    Matt Bradley 5 games 0 points -2
    Eric Fehr 2 games 0 points +3
    Rick Henmatts 5 games 0 points -2 <-dammit i did it again
    Big Boy Gordon 5 games 0 points -1

    if its one of those four, bradley had at least one soul-crushing hit i can remember off the top of my head, eric fehr has himself, and big boyd had a 69.1 faceoff.

    gotta be that one dude i said before

  10. Ralph
    April 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Maybe it’s relevant that at 5-on-5, the TOI numbers read (rounding) Alzner 80, Carlson 80, Green 85, Schultz 90, Hannan 80, Erskine 65. Against Gaborik, it was Alzner 50, Carlson 45, Green 20, Schultz 25, Hannan 20, Erskine 10. Erskine, good as he has been, was only trusted against the Boyle-Prust-Avery line and the Rangers’ fourth line.

    I think it’s a no brainer Erskine sits. We can debate who has played better in their role, but Erskine plays against worse players.

  11. Brad in Arlington
    April 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

    i totally agree that Green has a big target on him. That totally sucks, but it’s true. How long do you think the league would let people get away with putting a target on Sidney Crosby? Exactly. But a Caps player? No problem.

    That’s why Erskine is needed – no so much for fighting (which is a totally bad idea in playoffs) but he is someone who will actually finish a check. (unlike some overly tall double nickels) And anyone who thinks Green will play wing on line 4 should be following the NBA playoffs.

    Sit Gordon? He’s been a total superstar in his role as a defense oriented forward. 69% defense zone face offs against Rangers, forchristssake. Pay attention, people.

  12. Milhouse44
    April 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    @Brad are you are picking and choosing when stats count? You sit Shultz but he has better series stats then Erskine and it’s everyone else who is not paying attention? Gordon is king for a couple of draws in the defensive zone? A blind squirrl can pull 50%…for forchristssake, take a joke!

  13. me
    April 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    in my defense i only said green could pull from winger duty as fatigue warranted…

    my the argument shouldnt be who’s the least useful defenseman, but who is the least useful SKATER

    and even if use erskine sparingly he’s more useful than hyendricks <- DAMMIT!

  14. b murf
    April 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    In defense of Milhouse44, he’s a goalie, so he has no clue what it takes to win a face-off. During defensive-zone face-offs, his job is to avoid giving up softies … and he’s not very good at it.

    Plus, it’s hard to judge a player like Boyd Gordon when you’re on your back making snow angels.

  15. me
    April 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    is there sunburn on the back of his neck from the light going on? cause Luongo says some aloe vera will clear that right up

  16. Milhouse44
    April 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    True! I do not know about what it takes to win a Faceoff but it can’t be that hard…ExKiwi wins a couple a season.

  17. Scott
    April 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    “Late Father” WTF in the words of Step Brothers ” I’m still alive”

  18. ExKiwi Krol
    April 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I win face offs when the ref throws it off my skate.

    I do not condone a 7 defensemened line up though.

  19. me
    April 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    maybe we should get it over with an bench backstrom… im not saying he’s Disney-soft, but im pretty sure birds and squirrels help him dress for each game.

  20. twizard1
    April 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Erskine was great against the Rangers. I’d like the team to give him a sweater, but I don’t think you can take the chance and mess with Green and Sarge’s chemistry if you slotted him there. Plus, with Wideman coming in, that would change two defensive pairings and that is significant to a team playing well already in the defensive end.

    Maybe the team should be looking at strategic rest rotation for their entire defense on a an as needed or opponent basis? Take advantage of all our talent by rotating them to keep everyone fresh. It could be a masterful stroke.

  21. Joe
    April 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    There is no wrong choice here really, it is more a matter of who your opponent is and what they like to do. Wideman is more than capable of making the stretch pass against the aggressive fore-checks of a team like Pittsburgh, and is good at ripping off deeking forwards making ill advised fineness moves to the net a la Tampa. Schultz’s stay at home style and long reach lends it self to shutting down a speedy quick breaking team like MTL. Erskine on the other hand brings something completely different to the table. His timely hits and policing around the posts keep chippy teams like Boston and Philly in particular at bay. Especially with a young net minder, keeping the snow showers and post whistle extra curriculars out of your goalies face are essential to their success no matter who you are facing.

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