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Capital Ups and Downs, Week 1 & 2: Let’s Get it Started

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

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Forward Line Trend Notes
T.J. Oshie
After something of a slow start to the season (aka two games), the top line rebounded big time with six of the team's next nine goals, including three of the four goals scored in their "breakout" game against the Avs and tallies in three straight for Ovechkin. They've done well possession-wise to start the season, as well, each of them maintaining an even-strength CF% of at least 52% and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov leading the team in iCorsi/60. There's still some bugs to work out, and their tendency to try for the fancy play has cost them at times... but they're pretty fun to watch, nonetheless.
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Alex Ovechkin
Marcus Johansson
It's no exaggeration that the Caps "second" line, aka the Tre Kronor line, has been the best one for the team so far. Like the top trio, they've combined for nine points, but have been much more dominant when it comes to puck possession - in fact, all three crack the top 15 forwards in the NHL (minimum 50 minutes of ice time), and only Backstrom is below 60% in ES CF% at "just" 59.3. They've even combined for 32 shots, which is not nothing for a group that has at times struggled to actually put the puck on net.
Nicklas Backstrom
Andre Burakovsky
Zach Sanford /
Brett Connolly
The third line still seems to be finding their legs, but there have been flashes - and more consistently so as the season has gone on - of things really coming together for them, regardless of who is riding the left wing. Over the last two to three games those flashes have resulted in offense, with both Williams and Eller picking up some gritty go-to-the-net goals. It'll be interesting to see whether Barry Trotz decides to keep rotating Connolly and Sanford in to that left-wing slot; both continue to look for their first point of the season, but it's not for lack of effort, and there have been some close calls.
Lars Eller
Justin Williams
Daniel Winnik
Aside from a one-game outburst, there hasn't been a lot to speak off offensively from the fourth line - but let's be honest, there probably aren't a lot of expectations for this group to produce offense on a regular basis. More importantly, they're doing a pretty good job at keeping the other team off the scoresheet while still getting some chances of their own. They have yet to be on the ice for a goal-against at even strength, and all three are on the right side of 50% ES CF despite getting the tough assignments from night to night. All in all? A fine start for the fourth line.
Jay Beagle
Tom Wilson
Defensive Pair Trend Notes
Matt Niskanen
The team's "top" blueline pair has picked up where they left off last year, effectively shutting down the other team's offense (especially at even strength) while even chipping in with some points of their own. The duo has combined for five points so far, almost half of the entire output by the Caps' defense - although the whole group has been chipping in, with 11 points total. That hasn't detracted from their work at the other end of the ice, though; when on the ice together, Niskanen and Alzner have a CF% at even strength of just over 55% so far.
Karl Alzner
John Carlson
The new-look pairing of Carlson and Orlov has been something of an adventure to start the year. The two are blessed with offensive instincts and pretty decent speed, but are prone to the highly noticeable mistakes from time to time. So far it hasn't burned them too much; each has only been on the ice for two even-strength goals against (although they do hold the top two spots on the team in GA60 at five on five), and they're still getting more shots on net than they're allowing. So... work in progress?
Dmitry Orlov
Brooks Orpik
Perhaps one of the more pleasant surprises is how well this pair has seemed to fit since the start of the season. Orpik, the quintessential stay-at-home defenseman, has done a decent job of letting Schmidt do his thing offensively - which has been more of a focus for #88, as he can be seen jumping into the rush on a fairly regular basis. The result? Orpik has yet to be on the ice for an even-strength goal-against, and Schmidt has been dinged for just one, and both have chipped in offensively, combining for three points so far. They're not asked to take on the toughest assignments or the most ice time, nor should they be - they're doing exactly what they need to do in their current role, and generally doing it well.
Nate Schmidt
Goalie Trend Notes
Braden Holtby EVEN The reigning Vezina winner's overall numbers look good to start the season, with a save percentage of .924 (and much more impressive .955 at even strength) and a miniscule goals-against average of 1.98. He hasn't been perfect, and gave up a pretty soft goal in Florida, but he doesn't seem to be showing signs of rust after sitting out the World Cup. In short, he is what we thought he would be.
Philipp Grubauer UP His lone appearance of the season was someething of a rocking-chair game, as Grubauer faced just 18 shots against the Avalanche, but the results were pretty great - his first game of the year going in the books as a win and his first career shutout. Not a bad way to gain some confidence in a season where the team is hoping he can shoulder more of the goaltending load.
Situational Trend Notes
Even Strength UP In years' past, the Caps have excelled based on their special teams and gotten by with middling success at even strength. This year, at least to start, the script has been flipped, and they've been impressive when skating five on five. The Caps have given up just four goals at even strength, fewest in the League, and have just two players - Eller (49.1%) and Sanford (49.2%) - with an even-strength CF below 50%. That'll do.
Power Play DOWN After being quieted for the first two games of the season, the Caps' power play broke out with two goals against the Avs, and it seemed that all was well again. Well... maybe not so much, as those remain the team's only power-play goals to date. That the Caps have only drawn 16 penalties thus far, near the bottom of the League, is probably part of it. The rest? Likely just rust. With only five games under their belt, and a ton of talent on both power-play units, it's far too early to panic.
Penalty Kill DOWN Ditto for the penalty kill, which was one of the team's strengths last season and yet has been downright awful to start 2016-17. So far they've given up a goal in four of the first five games - not ideal, but hardly out of the ordinary, even as recently as the second half of last year. Troubling, but fixable.