Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty
With the Washington Capitals having played 21 games during the 2017-2018 season, it is time to do a quarterly assessment of the team. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at the first quarter of the Capitals’ season.
At the moment, the Caps have a 11-9-1 record, are fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, and would be considered the second Wild Card team. Of the Caps’ 11 wins, six games were won in regulation, with two overtime wins that did not go to a shootout and two shootout wins. They have lost only one game in overtime, thus far. To break down totals by month, the Caps were 5-6-1 in October and 6-3-0 during November.
They have scored 59 goals, which is one more than the NHL average of 58 goals, and have given up 66 goals, which is eight goals worse than the league average. They have given up seven more goals than they have scored. Note: the “Goal Differential” shown in the NHL standings is -5 rather than -7. This is because they were credited with an extra goal for each of their two shootout wins. The recent road trip has also skewed their goal differential due to losing two lopsided games.
Team Offensive Leaders
- Alex Ovechkin – 13
- T.J. Oshie – 10
- Evgeny Kuznetsov — 5
- Jakub Vrana — 4
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 18
- John Carlson — 15
- Nicklas Backstrom – 12
- Lars Eller – 8
- Evgeny Kuznetsov – 23 (five goals; 18 assists)
- Alex Ovechkin – 20 (13 goals, seven assists)
- T.J. Oshie – 17 (10 goals, seven assists)
- John Carlson – 17 (two goals; 15 assists)
- Nicklas Backstrom – 15 (three goals, 12 assists)
General Analysis of Offense
So far, the Caps, as a team, have scored 59 goals, which, as mentioned above, is one more than the league average of 58. The offense could be described as top-heavy given that two players, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, have scored a disproportionate share of the team’s goals. Ovechkin has scored 13 goals and Oshe has scored 10 goals, but nobody else on the team has scored more than five. Combined, Ovechkin and Oshie have scored 39.0% of the team’s goals. Ovechkin has cooled down after a hot start and has only scored two goals in the last 12 games, while Oshie has added four goals over the last 12 games.
Nicklas Backstrom, in the throes of a slump, has only added three more points, all on assists, to his overall point total. He has not scored a goal since October 14, a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. He missed one game due to illness. Since then, he has only had the aforementioned three assists. One could wonder if that illness could have accounted for his decreased productivity, given that he is usually first or second on the team in overall points.
The Caps have scored an average of 2.81 goals per game, which ranks 22nd in the league. They have given up an average of 3.14 goals per game, which is 11th-worst. In other words, they are giving up more goals than they are scoring, which is in line with their goal differential being negative. The team is currently ranks 28th in the NHL in shots taken per game, at 29.3. They have given up an average of 32.5 shots, which ranks as 12th-worst in the league. They have won 51.3% of their faceoffs, which ranks twelfth in the league.
The Capitals’ stsrting goaltender, Braden Holtby, played in fourteen games and had 432 saves on 469 shots for a save percentage of .921 in the first quarter, which is slightly lower than his career save percentage of .922. He has an 11-4-0 record for the year. Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer has played in eight games, starting six and has lost all of them, losing five in regulation and one in overtime. He currently has a save percentage of .876, which is well below his career norm and will likely get better. He has played on the second half of four sets of back-to-back games, with the defense and/or penalty killing hanging him out to dry.
For the season so far, the Capitals have scored 15 power play goals on 72 power play opportunities, for a conversion percentage of 20.8% It currently ranks twelfth in the league, which is slightly above average. The Caps’ Penalty Kill percentage is .776, as they killed 66 penalties in 82 opportunities, which ranks 25th in penalty killing out of 31 teams, which is below average. They give the other team an average of four power plays a game and give up an average of one goal. The Caps have given up four shorthanded goals this year.
- Alex Ovechkin scored his 20th career game-winning overtime goal on October 20 against the Detroit Red Wings. This puts him first on the All-Time list, breaking a tie with Jaromir Jagr
- Jay Beagle played in his 400th NHL Game on October 20 against the Detroit Red Wings
- T.J. Oshie played in his 600th NHL Game on October 21 against the Florida Panthers
- John Carlson passed Sylvain Cote on the Caps’ All-Time points list for defensemen by recording an assist against the Vancouver Canucks on October 27.
- Alex Ovechkin scored his 216th power play goal on November 6 against the Arizona Coyotes, passing Joe Nieuwendyk for 12th place on the All-Time List.
- Ovechkin recorded eight shots on goal on November 14 against the Nashville Predators, passing Joe Sakic on the All-Time List in Shots on Goal
- Braden Holtby earned his 200th win on November 11 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is the second-fastest goaltender to reach 200 wins, behind only Ken Dryden
- Dmitry Orlov played in his 300th NHL game on November 11 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- Ovechkin played in his 941st NHL Game on November 16 against the Colorado Avalanche, passing Kelly Miller for third for Games Played with the Caps.
Injuries and Illness
- Matt Niskanen – Injured (broken thumb) October 13 against the New Jersey Devils and returned on November 14 against the Nashville Predators
- Tyler Graovac – Injured October 17 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and was sent to the Hershey Bears for a conditioning stint on November 14
- Andre Burakovsky – Injured (broken thumb) October 21 against the Florida Panthers and is currently on injured reserve. Expected to be out a total of 4-6 weeks
- Brett Connolly – injured (concussion) against the Vancouver Canucks on October 26 and returned to lineup November 11 against the Edmonton Oilers
- Nicklas Backstrom – missed game (illness) against the Vancouver Canucks on October 26
- Madison Bowey – missed game (lower body injury) against the Buffalo Sabres on November 1
- Christian Djoos – has been out since November 16 game against the Colorado Avalanche
The Road Ahead
For the remainder of November, they have five games left to play, four at home. In December, they play 14 games, with eight at home, including six games at home from December 1-16. The phrase to describe the upcoming games could be “make hay while the sun shines”. In other words, win as games as possible in front of a friendlier crowd at home.
Due to losing players such as Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Nate Schmidt, and Karl Alzner, to either free agency, the expansion draft, or trades, the team was not expected to be as strong as either of their President’s Trophy-winning teams of 2015-2016 or 2016-2017. That assessment has so far proven correct. The team struggled more when Matt Niskanen, arguably, the team’s top defenseman, missed a month due to broken thumb. The Caps were relatively fortunate during the 2015-2016 season, with regards to injuries.
With all the departures from the team, there was room for rookies to make the team. On defense, because Schmidt and Alzner both left the team, there were vacancies, with Christian Djoos filling one of them. He has shown offensive ability and has scored two goals this season. After Niskanen was injured, Madison Bowey was called up from Hershey and has become a regular in the lineup.
On offense, since Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson departed, rookie Jakub Vrana ended up in the lineup. He started off well, but recent struggles prompted Coach Barry Trotz to scratch him for a recent game, but he is now back in the lineup. Vrana has scored four goals and has three assists on the season, thus far. Admittedly, he has been shuffled around the lineup, due to injuries and other factors, but his best productivity came when he was the right winger on a line with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as opposed to being the left winger on the Backstrom/Oshie line or on the Lars Eller/Tom Wilson line. Another rookie, Chandler Stephenson, was waived at the beginning of the season and sent to Hershey but, due to having a hot start to the season in Hershey, was recalled after Andre Burakovsky’s injury. He has earned his way to the top-line, with Backstrom and Oshie and has two goals and four assists. Still another rookie, Nathan Walker, made the team but has not found a regular role in the lineup and has not been in the lineup on a regular basis.
The team is barely in the playoff picture at the moment and only slightly above .500. The overall quarterly grade for the team would be C. The offense, as a whole, would get a C. The power play would get a C+. The penalty killing would get a D. The only category where the Caps would get a good ranking is for the primary goaltending due to Braden Holtby.
By Diane Doyle