Photo: NBC Sports Washington
While captain Alex Ovechkin, forward Jakub Vrana, and defenseman John Carlson have stepped up for the Washington Capitals in a big way this season, other key contributors from the Stanley Cup run last year have slipped and need to step up their game as the team heads into the final 32 games of the regular season. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at the three biggest names that the team needs to be better down the stretch run.
Kuznetsov has heated up as of late but before posting two goals and five points in his last seven outings, the 26-year old center tallied only five assists in his previous 11 games and had only one even-strength goal in his first 37 games. While 32 assists and 41 points in 44 games isn’t bad, Kuznetsov showed that he is capable of a lot more than that last season. He missed six games with a concussion in November and has not been the same since he had an eight-game point streak, where he tallied one goal and 10 points, immediately after returning to the lineup. In a recent stretch of three games, Kuznetsov was held scoreless and had a miserable -6 rating. However, he will come back from the Capitals’ bye-week with some confidence after posting a goal (his second at 5-on-5 of the season) and three points the final two games before the All-Star Break, which is promising. His 38 penalty minutes are fourth on the Capitals.
After posting seven goals (three in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Smith-Pelly has just four goals, eight points, and a -4 rating in 46 games this season, including just two assists in his last 25 games. Just prior to his scoring drought, the 26-year old recorded two goals in his previous three outings. Only forward Dmitrij Jaskin (seven) has fewer points than Smith-Pelly among the forward group and Smith-Pelly has played 16 more games than Jaskin has. His seven goals in the postseason last year were tied for fourth on the team. Smith-Pelly will have to step up his game as the Capitals currently have 13 everyday NHL forwards and could be pushed out of the lineup if he doesn’t start producing with center Nic Dowd playing really well when in the lineup this season and forward Andre Burakovsky starting to heat up.
After scoring seven goals (some huge ones too) and 18 points in 24 playoff games last Spring, the 29-year old has just six goals, 21 points, and a career-low -14 rating this season and is coming off of a performance where he had a -4 rating in the Capitals’ 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last game. In his past three appearances, the native of Rodovere, Denmark has a -6 rating. Eller has not scored a goal in his past 10 games and just has three assists in that span. He also has 31 penalty minutes, the fifth-most on the Capitals this year. His 6% shooting percentage is last among forwards who have played in at least 35 games this season. The past three Stanley Cup winners have shown that teams need three scoring centers to win a championship and Eller needs to get back to the way he played last season to put the Capitals in that position again.
By Harrison Brown