Although the Capitals season is only five games old, there are a few interesting takeaways that bear watching as the season progresses.
1. Nate Schmidt‘s level of play is on the rise – Nate Schmidt arrived at training camp in September, in great shape and ready to go. He once again won the endurance test, skating the best time of all players entering camp. In addition, “Schmidty” has been on the attack in the first five games, playing below the goal on a regular basis. He’s also led rushes that have led to numerous scoring chances, while continuing to play a strong defense.
2. The Tre Kroner line is here to stay. Although the concept of the “Tre Kroner Line” is not a new one, it looks like the Capitals are currently configured to see the line stay together for a while. And why not, The Tre Kroner Line (Johansson, Backstrom and Burakovsky) has tallied three goals and six assists thru the first five games of the season. In comparison, the first line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie has tallied six goals and three assists.
3. Specials Teams are still on Summer Vacation – The Capitals are ranked 21st in the power play and 26th in the penalty kill through the first five games of the season. There seemed to be signs of a revival in the Florida game, only to revert back to their same disjointed, non-cohesive ways in their last game against the Rangers on Saturday night. During a four-minute man advantage, the Capitals power play units were unable to muster any kind of consistent attack at all. The second power play unit has shown some signs of life, and been a little more consistent, but still a ways off from hitting their stride. Regardless, it’s likely just a matter of time before both power play units return to last season’s dominance.
4. Evgeny Kuznetsov has not found his stride (yet). Kuzy has tallied just a single goal (a 16 goal pace for the season) and only tallied two assists. His faceoff winning percentage is also down 10 whole points. However, like the special team sputtering, this will likely change as the season progresses.
5. Shots Fired – The Capitals are shooting the puck more, and are currently fourth in the league in shot attempts per game at a 33.2 average.
6. Stingy Defense – The Capitals have given up just nine goals in the first five games, and are currently tied for second overall in the league. Montreal leads the league with eight goals allowed. Overall the defense has looked like an improved unit, from top to bottom. Dmitry Orlov has done rather well in his new role on the second line/pair, and, as mentioned earlier, Nate Schmidt may be playing the best all around defense of all defensemen during the first five games.
7. Speed Kills – On occasion, the Capitals have shown a vulnerability to an opponents speed game. This was apparent in the opener against the Crosby’less Penguins and in the fifth game of the season against the Rangers, who shed aged slugs for speedy youngsters during the offseason.
With only five games in the books (6 percent of the season), it’s too early to say if any of these trends will continue for the entire season. These seven takeaways only represent action in the first five games, and should only be looked at as so.
By Jon Sorensen