Photo: NHL/Getty Images
The 2017-18 regular season has been moving right along into the new year. NHL clubs are approaching the halfway point in their respective seasons. In Washington, the Capitals have had a few bumps along the way in their schedule, but the club is still clinging to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
While the Capitals hold on to the top spot, they are in a close battle with New Jersey, Columbus, and New York (Rangers). The Metropolitan Division is having another strong year, and the Capitals will need to keep their foot on the gas the rest of the way.
Through 41 games, the Capitals have shown some strengths and weaknesses. With that in mind, let’s break down the Capitals in all phases. What are the strengths of the Capitals? What are the weaknesses with the Capitals?
The Capitals forwards have seen good and bad things through the midway point in the regular season. First, Alex Ovechkin is currently having a rebound season, as he already has 26 goals in 41 games. Ovechkin’s consistent goal scoring is a major key to the Capitals success.
While T.J. Oshie has missed some time this year, the Capitals have seen the emergence of Tom Wilson. Wilson is starting to open his offensive game a little bit. He has 6 goals and 18 points, and is just 1 point away from tying his points total from last season. Wilson is putting together a nice season, and displayed good chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Newcomers Devante Smith-Pelly and Alex Chiasson have given the Capitals additional support from the bottom-six group. They both have scored 6 and 7 goals, respectively.
The biggest concern for the Capitals forwards moving ahead deals with Andre Burakovsky. He is currently in and out of the Capitals lineup, and has become a recent healthy scratch. The Capitals had optimistic hopes for him during the offseason, as he was awarded a 2-year contract extension. Burakovsky has shown flashes of excellent scoring ability, but the compete level needs to be there for him on a nightly basis. The Capitals coaching staff needs to get Burakovsky going in the right direction, as he brings added scoring punch to the depth forward lines.
The Capitals defensive group has shown more promise this year, despite some offseason turnover. Even with Matt Niskanen banged up a little this season, the Capitals have seen the emergence of young blueliners Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Djoos has wowed Capitals fans with his smooth skating and playmaking ability from the blueline.
John Carlson is making a strong case for himself in a contract year. Carlson has recorded 4 goals and 31 points in 41 games. He is just 6 points shy from matching his point total from last year.
The biggest concern for the Capitals defensive core moving forward is consistent offensive production from the blueline. The Capitals have just 16 goals from defensemen through 41 games. The blueline must find ways to generate more goals. If the Capitals can get more punch from their blueline, that will give them a more balanced attack. The deepest teams that make the playoffs get lots of offensive production from the blueline.
Braden Holtby is having another outstanding season for the Capitals. While his goals against average and save percentage have dipped a little bit this year, it is not because of his effort. In 31 starts, Holtby has 23 wins. Unfortunately for Holtby, the Capitals cannot seem to buy him a shutout.
Philipp Grubauer’s goals against average and save percentage numbers are like Holtby’s, but Gruabuer has bit the bug on any offensive goal support from his teammates this year. There have been several games that Grubauer has played in and he has not been given much goal support to work with. Grubauer has been up to the challenge in his 10 starts this year, and is proving that he is a valuable backup goaltender.
Barry Trotz has helped the Capitals squeak out wins this season, despite not having Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, and T.J. Oshie for periods of time. He has worked with the Capitals young players like Jakub Vrana, Madison Bowey, and Christian Djoos. Trotz has managed his young players’ icetime, and he has not given any of them more than they can handle.
The Capitals still need some improvement in their overall team game. The powerplay has plummeted in recent weeks, as it is down to 19.2% efficiency, and 14th best in the NHL.
The Capitals are the worst team in the NHL at shots forced per game. They average just 28.8 shots per game. To put things into more perspective, Chicago leads the league in shots forced per game. They average 34.7 shots per game.
The Capitals tend to pass up on a lot of shots during games, and this is something that needs to be addressed by the coaching staff. A shot on goal is never a bad thing under any circumstance.
By: George Foussekis