As the Caps hit the road and make their way out west, we look at Braden Holtby's return to form, the shooting gallery that is a Caps game, Mike Green's... something and more - debate, discuss, enjoy!
- Whether you rely on your eyes or the numbers (or a combination of both), Mike Green had what was easily his worst game of the season last night - and probably one of his worst in recent memory. From the flubbed clearing attempt that not only failed to clear the zone but also ended up on a Winnipeg player's stick (and eventually in the net), to the fact that even Dustin "Speed Demon" Byfuglien was able to shake him, to the lazy neutral zone play that led to the shorthanded goal, to the minus-two rating and the poor SF%... it was all bad. And it led to the most telling stat of all: 0, as in minutes played after the 10:35 mark of the third. His coach called it "a hiccup" after the game; here's hoping he rebounds from it as well as the last guy who had a case of the hiccups.
- A few weeks ago I extolled the virtues of Mikhail Grabovski after he kicked off the season with a bang; of course since then it's been sort of downhill for the center, who may have set the bar just a tad high with that season-opening hat trick. Funny thing is that after all of the offseason/preseason chatter about how the Caps’ power play would surely regress once Grabovski stepped in for Mike Ribeiro, and the talk about his even-strength prowess, the opposite has been true – in fact, his goal last night was just his second even-strength point since joining the team (although that's not a strictly Grabovski-centric problem, to be sure).
- We noted Martin Erat's three-assist/zero-shot effort the other night, but did you know that since Marcus Johansson entered the League, he's tied for fifth in the League in games with at least one assist and no shots on goal with 20? Teammates Nicklas Backstrom, Alzner and Erat aren't far behind on the list, which is led by... Mike Ribeiro.
Braden Holtby has faced down 187 shots in his last five starts, dating back to the first game of the homestand against Carolina - that's an average of about 37 shots-against per game. It's slightly inflated by last night's 47 shots-against (a career-high for Holtby)... but not that much. That he's only given up 12 goals in those five starts is nothing short of impressive, giving him a pretty healthy save percentage over that stretch of .936. Of course, that all of that has only boosted his overall save percentage to .913 just goes to show how truly bad he was early on, but at least the numbers are going in the right direction.
- But back to those shots-against for a minute. The Caps have allowed at least 30 shots on goal in all but two of their games so far (and often well above 30, even without last night's 47-shot debacle in the mix), bringing their shots-against per game up to 34.3 - the 5th-highest in the NHL. And it's not just on the power play or at even strength; they're also leading the League in shots-against (per 60 minutes and total) while on the power play. As we noted last night, the Caps generated eight shots and a goal in 7:40 of power play time, but gave up seven shots and a goal to the Jets... in that same power play time. That's just not good enough, even if the power play continues to be as dominant as it has.
- Thankfully the Caps do occasionally get some shots on the opponent's net, as well - and if your eyes tell you that Karl Alzner has been shooting more so far this year, they're not lying. His individual Corsi rate (i.e. his combined number of shots on net and shots that either missed or were blocked) is well above his career high right now, as are his shots-per-game (which is actually more than the past two seasons combined). At this rate, don't be surprised if he shatters his single-season high in goals... which is two. Set your sights high, Karl!
- The Caps have scored at least one power-play goal in six of their first nine games... and yet have only faced two teams whose penalty-killing unit is in the League's top 15 (Colorado, first overall, and Winnipeg, 15th). Whether the low-ranked penalty killing abilities of those teams is partly thanks to the Caps' dominant power play against them, of course, is up for debate. On the flip side, the Caps have surprisingly moved into 4th overall on the PK, giving up power play goals in just four of the nine games (three of which were scored by teams ranked in the League's top 15) for a special teams' index (power play plus penalty kill) of 118.5%. And yes, small sample sizes are the best.
- What a difference a year makes. A season ago, John Erskine had the fifth-highest five-on-five PDO in the League among blueliners (minimum 450 minutes), which powered him to a plus-10 rating. This year, he's 190th overall (out of 194) in that metric and thus sports an ugly minus-four rating in just five games. The funny thing is, his possession numbers are much better so far this year (albeit in a tiny sample). Wonder how a start like this last year might have impacted his contract situation..
- Unfortunately a year doesn't make enough of a difference in other areas, as the Caps have once again started off the season with more of a whimper than a bang... although it is slightly better than their start last year, so there's that. Thing is, one of the major problems last season was the lackluster play of the team's top players, most notably their top line - and while it certainly wasn't the only reason for the team's turnaround, it also wasn't a coincidence that the team heated up when those three did. This year, the top trio of Johansson, Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin has been anything but lackluster, combining for 31 points through the first nine games. The team's even-strength play can improve and so can the secondary scoring, and the defense is... also there. But (barring some sort of personnel move) is there enough that can be turned around to boost this team into the playoffs yet again?
- "Overheard" on Twitter: Steve Oleksy knows the importance of looking your best at all times...
Thanks @MayHockeyCSN after I was caught picking my nose, I realized you never know who is watching!!— Steven Oleksy (@StevenOleksy) October 20, 2013