When the season started one of the main concerns for the Washington Capitals was goal scoring. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Matt Niskanen, one may wonder how one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL offensively could be worrying about the lack of goals.
Throw in the additional loss of fourth-liner Daniel Winnik, and the team lost 60 goals from the forward group; combined with the defensemen the Capitals lost over the summer, and the Capitals lost 68 goals total.
Ovechkin also is coming off one of his worst seasons in terms of goals, potting only 33 last season. And while he may be one of the team’s most-gifted offensive players, it may be a stretch to expect Oshie to score 33 goals or record a 23.0 shooting percentage again. Goal-scoring might not have ever been an issue, but it was a concern. Many people, from the coaching staff to fans, are relying on Ovechkin to pick up his production, and at the very least, needs to score 40-plus goals again.
And through just three game of the 2017-18 season, Ovechkin is sitting pretty with seven goals. Eventually, however, he will need some help. Three games into the season, the Capitals have scored 13 goals and as mentioned above, Ovechkin has seven of them. It’s unlikely that by the season’s end. Ovechkin will have scored 50% of the Capitals’ goals. So who needs to step up?
Going into the season it seemed everyone was talking about rookie Jakub Vrana. One can certainly hope a young player will come in and fill the void, but Vrana is just that, hope. He hasn’t played in the NHL long enough to show what kind of player he can be at this level. Another member of the Caps has proven himself: forward Andre Burakovsky. While still young at just 22-years old, Burakovsky has played nearly 200 career NHL games. He HAS shown fans and coaches alike that he can score goals. In his rookie season in 2014-15, he scored nine goals in 53 games played and followed that up by scoring 17 goals in his sophomore season.
Last season he took a step back, scoring just 12 goals in 64 games played. To add to his troubles, he failed to score a goal in 26 straight games. Burakovsky scored two goals in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins, then did not score again until December 21. He was also a healthy scratch for a couple of games in that span and was injured on February 9. That can’t happen this season. The Capitals need goals from Burakovsky, because they are not going to come from as many other players, such as centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as they have the last two seasons.
Backstrom scored 23 goals last season and only once in his 10-year career, has the nearly 30-year old Backstrom scored more than 25 goals (33 in 2009-10). If one take out his career-high season, last season was a career-high for the underrated playmaker. Kuznetsov is similar in that he is a player who will provide plenty of assists and score at least 20 goals a year. In his three full NHL seasons, Kuznetsov has scored 11 goals, 20 goals, and 19 goals, and over the past two seasons, he has recorded 57 assists and 40 assists. In some fans’ eyes, this is what he is, a playmaker who can give score around 20 goals.
If they are unable to continue scoring 20 goals, who does the pressure go to? Should the pressure go to a 21-year old Vrana, who had played only 21 career NHL games before this season started? Should it go to right wing Tom Wilson, who has scored just 21 career goals in over 300 games played in his career? Center Lars Eller, who in his seven years in the NHL has a career-high of just 16 goals? He scored 12 goals last season, and given his responsibilities defensively, cannot be expected to score more at this point in time. What about Brett Connolly, who has 43 career goals in over 270 career games played? He scored a career-high 15 goals last season, although his previous career-high was 12 in 50 games played in 2014-15.
When a team loses 60 goals from departing forwards, they’re going to need everyone to chip in. But to some, Burakovsky should be expected to produce much more than Connolly, Eller and Wilson, who are not top-six forwards like himself. He’s expected to get a lot of minutes with one of the best passers in the game in Backstrom, which should help him tremendously this season. Burakovsky has to score 20 or more goals in order for the Caps to be able to come close to or actually replacing the goals lost this summer. if he is able to do that, and other players score consistently, there’s no reason to think that won’t happen.
Ovechkin isn’t going to score seven goals out of every 13 the team gets. Who do you think needs to step up?
By CJ Witt