While some may point out that the Washington Capitals have had the weakest schedule, they are in first place in the division. But honestly, that shouldn’t matter. What matters is that they are taking care of bad teams the way any contender should. While the Caps might not win the division, they are a solid team that should easily make the playoffs. Here is a quick look at the team:
Alex Ovechkin has more rounded game. The Swedes started the season playing tougher, but have come back to more expected play. The additions of Williams and Oshie have greatly improved skill at the expense of some size and Brower’s faceoff skills. The bottom 6 have some good checking players, but could use one more person to step up the scoring or hitting a little. (Hey, when did Chimera decide that he could do more than skate and run into people?) Wilson is scaring people, and Jay Beagle can shutdown a lot of people. It’s a good balanced set, but only because the Caps finally have their second top 6 center, the vastly improved, and suddenly talk of the NHL, Evgeny Kuznetsov.
They are one of the top sets of forwards in the NHL, if not the best. As noted before, they could use one more player to step up in the bottom six.
The Caps have a solid set of defensemen. With Orpik out, the Caps do lack a true shutdown defenseman. Surprisingly, Nate Schmidt has replaced him on the top pairing with Carlson, and has done an amazing job. Schmidt’s skating and positioning have allowed Carlson to play confidently and possibly reach elite status. Alzner and Niskanen are solid, positional defenders. Orlov has been better than most expected. While he needs to improve his defensive zone positioning, his big hits, his skating, and his howitzer shot have made losing Mike Green as a number five defenseman very palatable.
They are a good set, definitely top ten in the league, maybe top 5. They could use one more stopper on defense, and they have to watch turnovers in their own zone and on breakout passes.
Holtby is one of the best in the NHL. While he may have a hiccup here and there, he has become very consistent, and is a workhorse. Grubauer is an upgrade over Peters as Holtby’s relief.
It’s over twenty percent, even with the slump. They do miss Brouwer in the faceoff circle and Green’s pinpoint setup passes for the Ovi-Timer from the Ovi-Spot. Carlson’s passing doesn’t compare. Conversely, the play of Kuznetsov and Chimera(?!) on the second unit have made the powerplay difficult to defend. While they have had issues with entering the zone, coaching and practice have mitigated that issue. They should end up over twenty percent at the end of the season, which is plenty good enough for the regular season, even if they do not finish in first. The Powerplay’s significance is greatly reduced in the playoffs, because of the nature of referees during the playoffs.
Penalty Kill: (B)
It is hard to tell if this unit has improved. Their numbers have improved this year, but against a weak schedule. Still, right now this is a top 10 unit in the NHL. Beagle is great on faceoffs, but again they do miss Brouwer’s faceoff skills here.
Trotz is everything that the last few coaches the Caps were not. He is consistent, clear, and doesn’t meddle with the players. He demands responsibility for actions, and all the players love it. When the team gets down, he brings them back up, and never lets them get too emotional. He even made Milbury all but admit that Ovechkin’s problem has been improper coaching.
Right now, this team looks like a contender. They should easily make the playoffs. Once there, none of the teams look like an overpowering matchup. In the playoffs, the game is different, and any initial advantages disappear in a seven-game series. This team can beat anyone, but so can a lot of other teams. We will see in the spring.
By Lincoln Cajulis