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A Stagnant Offense

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"[T]hree goals is a massive output for this team in the last 10 games." – Bruce Boudreau, 12/19/10

That the quote above, coming right after the Capitals’ triumphant come-from-behind win, is true is somewhat surreal. After all, we’re talking about a team that for a long time now has been known as an offensive dynamo, a team who (at least to the outside world) would rather win games 6-5 than 1-0. A team that features such elite offensive talents as Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Alexander Semin and John Erskine.

...okay, maybe not so much Erskine.

Through thirty-five games this year, the Caps have scored a grand total of 102 goals; that still works out to a fairly respectable 2.91 goals per game, 11th best in the League, but it’s a number that is buoyed by a much stronger start (59 goals in the first 17 games, 43 in the last 18). And it’s a far cry from the juggernaut we’re accustomed to. Consider that over the same span last year the Caps had 123 goals that were much more evenly spread out and went on to finish the season with an amazing 3.82 goals per game overall.

After only being shut out once in 2009-10, it's happened four times this year. And during that eight-game losing streak (remember that?) the Caps scored just 11 goals. It was the fifth time this season that they've had fewer than 20 goals over an 8-game period...something that didn't happen a single time last year.

Of course, whatever happens at the team level is likely happening at the individual level, and there's a "chicken or the egg" factor here that's hard to pin down. Is the team's scoring down overall because certain individuals aren't stepping up or is the goal-scoring by certain individuals down because of the team's overall performance? Whatever the case, it's having a dramatic impact on numbers that were once much more impressive.

For example, consider that only seven players on the roster last year and this year have seen an increase in goals per game - Erskine, Tom Poti, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, David Steckel, Semin and Tyler Sloan are in that group, and many of them are one save away from that number being even or going down. Of all of those seven, only Semin has more than four goals on the year (and his increase has been from .55 to .56...hold the confetti). On the flip side, twelve players have had their goals per game drop; six of them (Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Mike Knuble and Alex Ovechkin) have at least five goals. In other words, the guys who are supposed to be scoring...aren't.

There are some big names on that second list, for sure, but none bigger than the man who wears the 'C'. It's no secret that Ovechkin has had his own goal-scoring struggles this year - just 12 goals in 35 games puts him on pace for just 28 goals, a far cry from the 50+ we're used to seeing and nowhere near what he's capable of. To break it down further, if he was scoring at last year's per game pace he'd have 12 more goals right now (i.e. twice as many). If he was scoring at last year's shooting percentage (based on his current SOG total), he'd have 9 more. Whether he's injured or simply not motivated or experiencing an increasingly long run of bad luck or simply struggling from all 29 teams figuring out how to shut him down at the same time, he has yet to be the dominant offensive talent we're used to.

A myriad of factors could be at play for the team as a whole, as well, and the trouble is that none of them seem to be mutually exclusive. For example, Bruce Boudreau has said that he is trying to shape the team into a more balanced one - focusing more on defense, not getting into back-and-forth shootout contests, etc. He's mentioned that he doesn't want to sacrifice offense for defense, but that option may not be available. Beyond that, the losing streak with the aforementioned 11 goals in 8 games certainly didn't help, and there were a ton of posts and bounces that just went the wrong way during that stretch. Injuries (confirmed or unknown) could be a factor, particularly when talking about someone like Mike Green.

Despite all that, with all the talent, the up-tempo system in place and the greatest player in the NHL on their roster, there's no reason why the offense should be struggling. That it has been is both troubling and yet somehow reassuring - because you have to think that, at some point, this team gets it together and starts scoring in buckets. They're just too talented not to.