The Capitals, except for an incident of “Ovisleeping,” have started the season playing well. It is more than just a hot streak, it has become evident that a number of young Capitals have elevated their game and as the result the team has been rising. Here is a look at how each has raised their game.
I started to write this article before Kuznetsov had his three goal, two assist game against the Oilers. While his coming out party was a screaming notification of his arrival, his play all season has been stellar. Certainly it helps to be on the first line with the best goal scorer of this generation, but long time Kuzya fans will tell you his game has improved regardless of playing on the first line.
Kuznetsov has a firm understanding of what Coach Trotz expects from his center in all three zones. Last season he started on the fourth line, but played his way to the second line as he learned. This year, with this firm grasp of his coach’s concepts, Kuzya is playing with confidence and without over-thinking about how to play. The result is Kuznetsov skates freely, plays creatively, and controls play by handling the puck. Not only is he great on the puck, he has become better at pressuring defenders and forcing turnovers which lead to goals, he seems to relish it.
Right now, there is no doubt that he has become the second center the Caps have needed to go deep into the playoffs. There are some conjecturing that he is becoming one of the best in the league.
Marcus Johansson – Power Forward
That’s correct, power forward. Many of the fans who would like to see MoJo gone, have pointed to the perceived lack of toughness in his game. This season, Marcus has added a bit of grit to his game. He appears to be checking harder and more importantly, he is going into that high traffic area around the net, and as a result he scored two goals in close. While he might not be a true power forward, this added part of his game should help him score more goals. His passing has been excellent, especially on the Power Play. He has been playing so well that when Backstrom came back from injury, Coach Trotz rewarded him by keeping him on the second line as a left-wing.
Not physical enough? Ask Connor McDavid. Johansson’s goal against the Oilers was a result of him getting physical with McDavid.
If he is able to continue playing physical on the power play, the Caps Power Play could switch sides on the fly, with Ovi playmaking and Mojo playing the slot.
While he hasn’t had the point production of others, Tom Wilson has improved his play since moving up to the checking line from the fourth line. He is turning into an agitator and an intimidator as his ice time has increased. His check on Jonathan Toews earlier this season is the biggest hit I have seen on Toews. His huge hit on Visnosky in the playoffs last year put him on the radar of many teams, and he is using it as a springboard for his new role as an intimidator.
He is only 20 years old and in his second season, but Burakovsky is growing as a player. Although management demoted him to the fourth line, they have made it clear that Bura will see time on the other lines as well. He sees time with the other lines, especially during line changes and scored a goal against the Flames on a sneaky pass from Kuzya.
Bura is also using his 6’3” frame more, by getting into the high scoring area at the goal mouth. He scored against Edmonton in this way, on a great pass from Kuznetsov.
Hopefully, he can learn from veteran linemate Brooks Laich to round out his game.
At 24, and after a year off to injury, Orlov is learning how to play defense the way Barry Trotz demands. While his defense isn’t stellar quite yet, his dynamic skating, shooting and passing have him pretty well cemented as the 5th defenseman. His breakout pass on Ovi’s game winner in Vancouver was highlight worthy and top class. He is also on the second power play defensive pairing where he uses his skating to set up passes and to set up his hard shot. Unless he regresses defensively, he should continue to increase his playing time.
His potential factored into letting Mike Green go. Green was not going to crack the top four in Washington, and $5 million is too much to pay someone playing as the 5th defenseman. While his defense has been compared to Green’s, Orlov as the 5th defenseman, comes at a much cheaper price.
By Lincoln Cajulis