If the NHL season resumes, the Washington Capitals will come back anxious to prove themselves after posting a 19-16-3 in their final 38 games before the pause, including a poor 6-8-3 run since February 1. Only the Detroit Red Wings (5-13-1) were worse during that time. With the Capitals getting some time to rest and focus, NoVa Caps takes a look at the top Capitals’ players to watch when action resumes.
Will the Great Eight ever age? Since January 13, the 34-year-old forward has 22 goals in 22 games, trailing only New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (24) for the league lead in goals during that time, and entered the pause tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league-lead with 48. In addition, he posted eight goals and 10 points in his final 10 games before the pause, which followed a five-game goal drought. If the season resumes with even a brief run of regular-season games, Ovechkin would have a shot at matching the NHL record for most 50-goal season (nine). Ovechkin would also have a chance to add to his career-goals tally. His 706 career goals trail Mike Gartner by two for seventh on the NHL’s all-time list and he has given himself a chance to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record 894 career goals.
After the 27-year-old posted 67 goals and 198 points over 194 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games combined from December 7, 2016, to December 2, 2018 (an average of 1.02 points-per-game), he has only 34 goals and 106 points in 126 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games since (0.84 points-per-game). In addition, he did not score a goal in the final 11 games before the pause and recorded only six assists in that time. Though, he did miss three games earlier this season due to a lower-body injury. Kuznetsov has shown that he can be one of the best players on the planet, but he has not been the same since getting concussed in November 2018. If he is motivated and can get going, the Capitals will be a tough team to beat. If not, it’s going to be harder for the team to make much noise come Stanley Cup Playoff time. It’s up to him.
The 30-year-old defenseman was the clear favorite for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best blueliner for the first two months of the season but has dipped since with only four goals, 32 points, and a -8 rating in 38 games since December 9, opening the door for competition to push him for the Norris Trophy. Carlson tallied 11 goals, 43 points, and a +20 rating in his first 31 games of the season. He was tied with Pastrnak for fifth in the league in points and led the NHL in plus-minus at that point. With some time to tweak a few things, Carlson should be a force to reckon with when action returns.
The 24-year-old already set career-highs in goals (25), assists (27), and points (52) in only 69 games before the pause and was well on track to hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his NHL career. But he only tallied one assist and a -2 rating in his final six games before the pause. With the Czech superstar never satisfied with his game, Vrana should come out full of fire when he gets back. He could also be put back on the top power-play unit with the Capitals wanting the spread out talent among their two units, so he could see a boost in his offensive production if that remains the case.
The 30-year-old reclaimed his status as the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie after the All-Star break as he went 7-5-2 with an .898 save percentage and a 3.15 goals-against average. While those are not sparkling numbers, he had plenty of solid starts during that time and it’s hard to fault him when his team is the third-worst in goals-against (an average of 3.44 per game) since December 23. With Holtby looking to push for a big payday as he can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, the Capitals could see an even better performance out of him with increased focus and motivation. Holtby struggled out of the gate in years past as he was 1-1-2 with an .846 save percentage and a 4.27 goals-against average in his first five starts this season. He is known as a slow starter as he also started the 2018-19 season with a 5-5-2 record, .900 save percentage, and a 3.24 goals-against average in 2018-19. The Capitals will need him to get up to speed sooner rather than later when the season resumes and perhaps the motivation of being in a contract year will help.
After a 15-2-1 start to his NHL career where he posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average, the 22-year-old is 1-4-1 with an .873 save percentage and a 4.11 goals-against average since the All-Star break. He started only three of the Capitals’ final 13 games before the pause after getting pulled for the first time in his career in the team’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders on February 11 when he allowed five goals on 20 shots. Even though the Capitals have made it clear that Holtby’s their guy in net right now, the past Stanley Cup Champions have had two goalies rolling so it is critical that Samsonov returns to top form. He may even get thrown in the deep end a few times before the Capitals make a final decision with Holtby. With time to make adjustments and Samsonov still developing, there should be no reason why he can’t return to where he was the first half of the season.
The 29-year-old finally seemed to find his footing with the Capitals after being scratched for the first time since getting acquired on February 8. In 14 games since then, he has four assists and a +8 rating, which was tied with forward Richard Panik for the team-lead. In 54 games prior to that, Jensen recorded only four assists and a -7 rating, which was only better than Ovechkin (-8), in that time. There was talk about him getting moved prior to the NHL trade deadline but the Capitals did not pull the trigger on a trade and Jensen has rewarded them, solidifying his spot on the second pair with Dmitry Orlov.
After missing seven months due to a hamstring injury that required surgery, Kempny recorded two goals, five points, and a +4 rating in his first five games of the season. After that hot start, however, the 29-year-old’s play has dropped off. While he has 13 assists and a +15 rating (the second-best on the Capitals, Panik: +17) during that time, Kempny has struggled. The Capitals also acquired Brendan Dillon from the San Jose Sharks on February 18 to take his spot and Kempny moved down to the third-pairing. He was a healthy scratch for the first time since joining the Capitals on March 4. After recovering from surgery all summer, Kempny will have this time to fix a few aspects of his game which would be huge for the Capitals.
By Harrison Brown