It's early. Real early. Like, "hit snooze on the alarm clock another three times" early. And while you wouldn't suspect it from a quick glance at the final scores through two games, there's a sense that the Washington Capitals may, for the first time under Bruce Boudreau, have a quintet of players who are legitimately capable of shutting down opponents' top lines at even strength.
The "meat and potatoes" line of Brooks Laich between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, coupled with last season's top defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, has sparkled at even strength through two games, essentially shutting down the top trios of both Carolina (Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu) and Tampa (Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie). A quick rundown of some of the numbers:
- No Caps skaters faced Carolina's top unit more at even strength than the five Caps listed above, and those three 'Canes combined for two assists (which came with their goalie pulled) and just four shots on goal (again, at even strength). At the same time, the Caps quintet countered with a goal and three assists at five-aside.
- No Caps skaters faced Tampa's top unit more at even strength than the five Caps listed above, and those three Bolts combined for one Downie helper and just one shot on goal. At the same time, the Caps got two goals and three assists at fives (sometimes the best offense is offense).
- Laich has won 16 of 27 draws at even strength, and his linemates have won all five of the faceoffs they've been forced to take, meaning the line has won 66% of its faceoffs (71% overall in the defensive zone).
- Alzner has the team's best Corsi through two games (+25), followed by Carlson, Ward and Chimera (all at +23).
The Caps have dominated their opponents at even strength so far (even if the scoreboard hasn't necessarily reflected it thanks to a few soft and/or fluky goals), outshooting them 62-39. It'd be overly optimistic to think that the third line will continue to produce at this rate offensively, but if they can continue to do the job they've been doing defensively and the Alzner-Carlson duo continues to play like they did last season, the Caps should be one of the League's best teams at five-aside. Now about those special teams...