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Capitals Ups and Downs: Week 1

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The latest edition of our weekly look at individual Washington Capitals ups and downs.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

Your weekly look at individual Washington Capitals' ups and downs:

Goalies Trend Notes
Braden Holtby Holtby hasn't had the strongest of starts to the season, particularly in the first two games, where he gave up a combined eight goals on 45 shots - all told, that brings his numbers to a sparkling 4.48 GAA and a save percentage of .848. And while it's easy (and perfectly reasonable) to be a bit concerned, it's important to note that Holtby has proven to be a slow starter in his limited NHL experience; last season he gave up 12 goals on 104 shots in his first three games, and nine goals on 96 shots the season before that. He's been working with Olie Kolzig on some adjustments and has his coach's trust, both of which may have contributed to a much better outing Thursday night against Dallas... so perhaps those first two games were just an anomaly.
Michal Neuvirth While Holtby works out the kinks in his game, Neuvirth has been getting his work in during practice and serving as designated door-opener on the bench. He did put in a pretty decent showing in relief of Holtby against Calgary (atrocious puck-handling miscue aside), but unless Holtby goes on an extended stretch of rough showings it appears that Oates has chosen his number one guy. For now.
Karl Alzner Last season Alzner went 13 games before he recorded his first point; this year he got that monkey off his back two games in, with an assist on Connor Carrick's first career goal Thursday night. Offensive dominance aside, of course, Alzner has been quietly solid to start the season and it's hard to pin any of the three goals for which he's been on the ice on him, which is always a... plus. (Get it?)
John Carlson Oddly enough, while Alzner has chipped in offensively, one of the blueliners usually relied on to do just that has been kept quiet so far. Considering that the team as a whole has struggled a bit offensively (particularly at even strength), that's not necessarily a cause for concern just yet - and as long as he's doing what he should at the other end of the ice, which he is, it's absolutely not. The fact that he's been on the ice with John Erskine for the bulk of his ice time and yet has only been dinged for three goals-against, two of which were on opponents' power play, it's been a pretty decent start for Carlson.
Connor Carrick Hard not to think that every game Carrick plays in to start the season is merely bringing him one game closer to being sent down, be it to the AHL or the OHL. He has shown improvement each game, particularly from the very rough introduction to the NHL in Chicago, but at just 19 he's looking less like an NHLer and more like... well, a 19-year-old, which is just fine. It's been a whirlwind few weeks for the teenager, from his strong training camp to his contract to his first NHL game and then his first NHL goal, but the ride probably needs to come to an end soon - because he doesn't seem quite ready to be the Caps' answer on the blueline.
John Erskine Speaking of which... last year Erskine put in a surprisingly good performance in the regular season, which was great and all, but somehow that has turned into an unlimited leash and a seemingly permanent spot on the second defensive pair. He's been on for more goals-against than any other defenseman, a number that's likely higher if Carlson isn't there to help out. Toughness is a good quality to have and perhaps the Caps have lacked in that area in the past, but it's hard to justify giving Erskine big minutes when that "toughness" translates to bad penalties and ill-timed hits that take him out of position. On a third pair, that's probably not a big deal; getting 20 minutes a night? Not so much.
Mike Green

Green came into camp with a full summer of offseason training for the first time in a long time, setting expectations high for a breakout season. Offensively so far, that's been the case, as his four points tie him with Backstrom and Johansson for third-most on the team (and puts him into a tie for the lead among all NHL defensemen in that category). But all four points have come on the power play (a trend which continues for both the team and the individual) and at the other end of the ice he's struggled at times. An up-and-down start, for sure.

Jack Hillen Poor Hillen. Poor, unlucky Hillen. After absorbing a Lance Bouma hit Thursday night, the veteran defenseman is out for the next 4-6 months recovering from surgery to repair a broken tibial plateau. He wasn't great in the 19:20 he skated before getting injured... but at least he made it to the second game of the season this time, so there's that.
Steve Oleksy Hillen's injury opened the door for Oleksy to make his season debut Saturday night in Dallas after sitting out the first two in the press box. The Stars game wasn't that bad defensively overall for the team, but could have gone better for Oleksy, who was on for the eventual game-winner. Safe to say that expectations are a bit higher for Oleksy than they were before his season debut last year, but he has earned the benefit of the doubt and, barring any moves to upgrade the blueline any time soon, will get plenty of chances to shake off that one goal.
Nicklas Backstrom The season hasn't started out quite the way we'd want it to, but one bright spot so far has been the performance of the top line, including Backstrom, who has shown none of the sluggishness he was exhibiting to start last season. He already has five points, including a very important goal Thursday night to tie the score late in the third, and has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season... last regular season, at least. And maybe no more crosschecking goalies in the head, okay, Nick? Thanks.
Jay Beagle Like Oleksy, Beagle started the season in the press box thanks to an upstart rookie taking over his role - unlike Oleksy, he only had to sit out one game before Latta's return to Hershey opened up a spot in the lineup. Limited minutes have resulted in typically quiet work for Beagle so far, and it's fairly obvious that just as he wasn't really a match for Ovechkin last year he's probably not an ideal linemate for someone like Martin Erat, either. Also, a primarily defensive forward should probably not be on for the eventual game-winner in a close road game...
Troy Brouwer Coming into camp this year, Oates said that Brouwer would be relied upon to score lots of goals this year... which might explain why the team hasn't been scoring so much. One of six (!) forwards who has yet to register a point, Brouwer has at best been invisible for long stretches. He doesn't seem to be clicking with Mikhail Grabovski, and being on the same line with Brooks Laich, a player with a very similar style to Brouwer, seems to be rendering them both ineffective. It's early yet and chemistry can take time, but this chemistry experiment is starting to look like a failure.
Jason Chimera Three games in, it's probably not unusual for Chimera to be without a point - but if you're not helping offensively you'd darn well better be doing so defensively, and that hasn't been the case, either. In fact, only two players have been on the ice for more goals-against the Chimera - and both of them play on his line. Given what we've seen out of him and the rest of the team, is there anything to suggest at this point that he is more worthy of third-line minutes than, say, Erat?
Martin Erat Speak of the devil... Erat has also been held off of the scoresheet so far this season, but it's hard to pin that all on him, as he's been given minimal minutes and linemates who aren't going to light up opposing goalies on a regular basis. There's not enough evidence from Erat's time in DC to prove that he necessarily deserves bigger minutes and better linemates, but the fact is he hasn't really been given a chance to show that he doesn't, either. Have to think that if the team continues to struggle at evens, Erat gets a promotion - but Oates doesn't seem too enamored with him so it's hard to know for sure.
Eric Fehr Fehr has fallen way off of the spectacular preseason performance he put together - in fact, he's been on for seven goals-against so far while being on for a grand total of zero goals-for, and has more penalties (one) than points. Is he being dragged down by teammates? Struggling with his new role at center? Or simply not playing all that well? The truth probably lies in a blend of all three, really, and there hasn't been much there that's positive to balance any of it out.
Mikhail Grabovski If you're going to make a splash in your debut with your new team, getting a hat trick against the defending Cup champs is a pretty good way to do it (although it was an anticlimactic one, since it was credited long after the goals were scored). An assist in that same game, as well as the next, brings his season total up to five points in three games - which trails only Ovechkin for both the team- and League-lead in scoring. The offense has fallen off a bit, meaning he went one entire game without a point, and we'd maybe like to see him with some different linemates... but all in all, a pretty decent start for Grabovski.
Marcus Johansson Johansson continues to hold his own alongside superstars Ovechkin and Backstrom with four points already, including a beauty of a pass to spring Carrick Thursday night, and on a team that has struggled to score at even strength he actually has two whole points at evens, which leads the Caps. Which is sad but not really his fault. He definitely needs to shoot more, and isn't going to get that first goal of the season anytime soon if he continues to average just one shot through three games... but frankly if I'm on a line with Ovechkin, I'm probably passing the puck to him, too.
Brooks Laich The Caps got used to playing without Laich most of last season... but it would be nice if they didn't have to continue to do so while he's actually in the lineup. Like Brouwer, he's struggled to find his place on the team's second line and hasn't been able to cash in on a spot next to a dynamic player like Grabovski. The defensive side of his game is suffering, and a few shorthanded breaks that went awry aside, he hasn't been doing much offensively, either. He looks rusty, which is understandable given how much time he's missed - but if that's the case, he needs to be on a line that's not expected to do as much while he gets his feet under him again.
Michael Latta Of the three rookies who emerged from camp with a roster spot, Latta flew under the radar the most, covered by the highly-hyped Wilson and the surprising Carrick. He actually had a decent (albeit brief) start with the team, though - which basically meant he didn't make any major mistakes in his six or so minutes of ice time, and that's really all we ask at that point. His waiver-exempt status unfortunately resulted in that being all he got, though, as the recent acquisition of defenseman Alexander Urbom sent Latta packing to Hershey. He'll be back, though.
Alex Ovechkin Oh captain, our captain. So far he's got six points in three games, and four goals (including one of the team's three even-strength goals) over that span... both of which already have him atop the League leaderboard. There's no question that Ovechkin has started the season where last year's left off, as he's not only scoring a lot but also looking great in the process. He's also added a new dimension to his game where he's driving the net more and causing chaos in the crease, hunting down rebounds. Imagine being a goalie and having that monster barreling toward you... love it.
Aaron Volpatti So... are the nachos in the press box as good this year as they were last year?
Joel Ward The fact that the most noteworthy part of Ward's season so far has been his battle with a cranky bathroom stall should tell you all you need to know (although really, that story would overshadow almost any player's on-ice performance). Another player who has come off of a strong preseason only to falter through the first three games, Ward shares the dubious distinction with Fehr of being on for a team-high seven goals-against... but hey, he does have an assist on one of the team's rare even strength goals, so that's something.
Tom Wilson After a preseason of hemming and hawing over whether to send Wilson back to the OHL or keep him up with the Caps, the team seems to have made up its mind - for now. He's getting limited ice time on the fourth line, so the offense hasn't kicked in quite yet, but he does have three shots on goal (more than five other Caps' forwards) and a pretty beastly fight in defense of a fallen teammate on his resume so far, and that's not nothing.

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