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Capitals Power Rankings Roundup: Week 4

Our weekly temperature-taking of the mainstream media's opinions on the Washington Capitals.

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Outlet This Week Last Week What They're Saying
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2 12 Big picture

Our panel was pessimistic about Washington last week, but an impressive 3-0-0 romp through Western Canada in which the Caps outscored their opposition by a combined 16-8 margin has our experts feeling much, much warmer this week.

Washington has the best even-strength shot metrics in the Eastern Conference. It has a captain in Alex Ovechkin who has points in every game and three multipoint games yet somehow sits only third in team scoring. It's a team that has so far managed to outscore any of its problems; in its six wins, the Capitals offence has been held to three goals once and scored four or more on five occasions.

By the numbers

Washington's scoring leader right now is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who put up a ridiculous nine points and 12 shots in three games last week. Kuznetsov's emergence has allowed the Capitals to split Ovechkin from regular centre Nicklas Backstrom. It's worked wonderfully, as Backstrom has four goals and seven points in four games centering the team's second line.  (October 26)
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2 3 Just as everyone expected, the Capitals are scoring a whole bunch. Evgeny Kuzntesov looks like he'll be a breakout star this season with 11 points, but don't sleep on defenseman John Carlson. He has 10 points this season. (October 27)
2 7 Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have always been great together, but Ovechkin with Evgeny Kuznetsov may be just as good which is a scary thought. (October 26)
2 12 The Caps are cooking with a 6-1 start and are currently riding a five-game win streak with a nice plus-11 goal differential, which is second in the league. Evgeny Kuznetsov picking up where he left off in the playoffs -- can you say magician? (October 26)
2 6 The Capitals powered through their early-season Canada road trip, earning three wins and outscoring their opponents 16-8. The team’s leading scorer? Not Alex Ovechkin or Nick Backstrom. It’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a hat trick last Friday against the Edmonton Oilers. (October 26)
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2 5 The Capitals have scored at least five goals in four games this season, including seven in their win over Edmonton Friday night in which Evgeny Kusnetsov had three goals and five points. (October 26)
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2 2 The Capitals have the third-best goal differential and former first-round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov is on his way to stardom with 11 points in seven games.(October 28)
2 2 What's good: They might have two No. 1 centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov [click through for more on the Caps' top line].

What's not so good: It's nitpicking, but they have bent a bit, such as giving up the fourth goal to the Edmonton Oilers when they were up 6-3 in the second period, and a goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins 24 seconds after taking the lead in a 3-1 loss Wednesday. (October 30)
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- 6 Not this week, apparently...
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3 6 A sweep of their Western Canada swing ran Washington’s winning streak to five games during which they’ve outscored their opposition 24-10. Evgeni Kuznetsov staged his coming out party on the trip, tallying nine points including a career-high five in a 7–4 win over the Oilers on Friday. Meanwhile, Nicklas Backstrom has posted multiple points in three of four games since returning from hip surgery. Been a long time since the Caps had a 1-2 punch at center like this. Last week: 3-0-0 (October 27)
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2 - No one player or one move or one goal can ever truly define a season or an era for a franchise, but there aren’t many more fascinating players to monitor this season than Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Once considered maybe the best player in the world in his age group, Kuznetsov might be the key to a long playoff run for Alex Ovechkin and friends. Kuznetsov’s first full NHL season was solid, with dashes of spectacular (11 goals, 37 points in 80 games). That continued in the postseason, where he had a few fantastic performances on the big stage.

Kuznetsov lit up the Oilers on Friday for five points, and he’s got 11 in the past five games. Even with Nicklas Backstrom back from offseason hip surgery, Kuznetsov has continued to skate with Ovechkin on the top line. He has an incredible amount of talent, and his transition to North American hockey has gone well enough that envisioning him as the next great Russian star in the NHL is not far fetched. This was always possible with Kuznetsov, but 25 players were drafted before him in 2010. Teams were scared off by concerns about his commitment to playing in the NHL. The Capitals, with Ovechkin as lead recruiter, were confident he’d play two more seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League and then come to Washington.

Kuznetsov did not join the club after two years. He didn’t come over after three years. The Capitals were concerned the extended time in the KHL would stunt his development. The delay had a huge effect on the franchise. If Kuznetsov had been on the roster, would former general manager George McPhee have desperately parted with prospect Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat? How scary would the Capitals be over the next five years with Forsberg, Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky growing into star roles together?

Capitals fans have heard enough about Forsberg, and Kuznetsov’s arrival may prove to be better late than never. That guy who destroyed Canada in the world junior championships as a teenager is growing into an impact NHL player.

The Caps haven’t had a legitimate No. 2 center since Sergei Fedorov was in town for the 2008 and 2009 playoffs. Kuznetsov can be that guy, and adding Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie in the offseason has given the Capitals their deepest collection of forwards since they won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10.

McPhee gambled on Kuznetsov on draft day, and in the end, it didn’t work out for him. It might still work out for the Capitals though, in a big, big way. (October 26)
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7 4 First Star of the Week Evgeny Kuznetsov is leading Washingotn in scoring and proving that Alex Ovechkin doesn't need to be centred by Nicklas Backstrom for the Caps to succeed. Treat: Starburst (October 30)
2 12 . With Evgeny Kuznetsov busting out, the Capitals offence is going to be tough to keep under wraps, and having two high-end centres gives Washington options when they want to move Alex Ovechkin around the lineup.

Key Injuries: None.(October 27)
5 9 The Washington Capitals are playing exactly how they should be, as they’ve played weak teams across the league to start the season, and have won all of them. The team’s only loss comes against the San Jose Sharks, and even then, Alexander Ovechkin missed that matchup.

The Caps look like one of the best teams in the league right now when it comes to the possession metrics, but that’s partly due to the terrible teams they’ve played. We’ll get a good measure of where they stand in the league once they start to play tough teams. (October 24)
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2 5 Evgeny Kuznetsov has quieted doubters of the Capitals' center depth with 11 points in seven games. (October 26)

Click on logos for links to full power rankings.