Our weekly look at individual Washington Capitals' ups and downs:
Like much of the team, Nicklas Backstrom’s red-hot scoring touch cooled significantly this week, and the once-leading scorer of the NHL put up just one point - an assist - in the last three games. Granted, it was a pretty big assist as it helped set up Ovechkin’s game-winning tally in Detroit, but still. Add in his two minor penalties in another penalty-filled game against the Panthers and it wasn’t his best week.
Jay Beagle continues to dominate in the faceoff dot, winning just under 70% of his draws on the week overall (and about 63% at even strength). Better than that, though, was his first goal of the year, a shorthanded tally against the Red Wings that helped (somewhat) erase the memory of the team giving up a shorthanded goal earlier in the game.
His two-point performance against Detroit seemed like it might be a sign he was starting to come around - but Andre Burakovsky will have to wait to show us whether or not that was the case, as he suffered an apparent hand injury at the end of the Florida game and per his coach, “might miss some time”. Awesome.
Alex Chiasson has been a fairly quiet addition to the Caps’ new-look roster so far, settling in on the third line in a largely defensive role with healthy doses of penalty-killing time. And while the penalty killers as a whole haven’t been all that great of late, he did pick up his first point as a Cap this week with a diving pass to spring Beagle for his shorthanded goal.
The season started with a bang for Brett Connolly, as he scored the first goal of the year for the Caps - but it’s petered out a bit, with just a single assist since (and nothing on the scoresheet this week).
After missing the first game of the week with an illness, Eller returned for the back-to-back set over the weekend. His game against the Red Wings was a relatively quiet one; his performance against the Panthers, a little less so, in both a good and bad way, as he picked up an assist but also added to his penalty total with not one but two minors on the night.
Tyler Graovac played just over three minutes against the Maple Leafs before getting injured on a series of hits by Matt Martin. Doesn’t sound like he’ll be joining the team out west, but hopefully he’ll be healthy again in time for the Caps’ return home in a few weeks.
Just... shoot the puck, Kuznetsov. Every now and then, please just shoot the puck. For funsies?
His late game-tying goal in Detroit helped salvage what could have been a completely lost week for the Capitals, but otherwise there wasn’t a whole lot to report this week for T.J. Oshie. At least... not a whole lot to report that was good. Somewhat troubling that he was on the ice for four of the nine goals scored on the Caps in the three games (although two of them were empty netters).
No one expected Alex Ovechkin to maintain the torrid scoring pace he started the season with - a hat trick a night is an insane standard to live up to, even for one of the greatest goal-scorers of all time. That said, just the one goal for Ovechkin this week, and that one goal capped off an otherwise rough night for himself - although he did make history (again), and that’s pretty darn cool.
Added another assist to his resume, and while Devante Smith-Pelly continues to look for his first goal as a Washington Capital, he’s done a nice job of setting up some of the other youngsters for goals.
After starting the campaign with five points in his first six games, he put up a big goose egg in the next three. It doesn’t seem to be for lack of trying, however, as he leads the team in five-on-five shots/60 and scoring chances per 60. If he keeps that up, the puck will start going in eventually - and it’s tough to put the entire burden to score on him when everyone to a man seems to be having trouble finding the back of the net.
A standout during the preseason, Nathan Walker doesn’t seem to quite have the trust of Barry Trotz to hold down a regular roster spot just yet and appeared in just his third game of the season against Detroit. As the Caps continue to see the lineup chiseled away with injuries, however, he might be able to take the opportunity for a bit more ice time down the road. They could certainly use his tenacity right now, that’s for sure.
He drew two penalties on the week (tied with Oshie for the team lead) without taking one of his own... which, let’s be honest, is quite a feat on both an individual and a team level these days. He also picked up first point of the year with an assist on Burakovsky’s goal in Detroit, and got some time up in the top six alongside Backstrom and Oshie
Rookie mistakes are to be expected, and the fact that Madison Bowey is just four games into his NHL career makes them even more likely. Still, this is a small-sample judgment and unfortunately Bowey struggled in his own end on a few occasions that cost the Caps - and took a few minor penalties to boot, signs that he’s getting beat more than he should be. The good news is that he’s looked more comfortable with pretty much every game and is starting to generate some chances at a fairly good rate.
With Matt Niskanen out indefinitely, John Carlson has been tasked with shouldering a hefty workload on a very young, inexperienced blueline - to the tune of close to 27 minutes of ice time a night. And as so often seems to be the case with Carlson, those minutes are packed with both good and bad events. He’s helping to generate offensive chances, and led all defensemen in shots/60 at five a side (and all Caps in iCF at even strength with 20 shot attempts over the three games)... but he also was on for all four of Florida’s goals Saturday night, and took a delay-of-game penalty in Detroit that led to a late Red Wings lead.
The main reason for Carlson’s inflated ice time is the fact that Trotz has cut way back on his third pair’s minutes - Taylor Chorney was back in the lineup again, but skated an average of just under 12 minutes a night in his three games of action. Sheltered minutes aside, though, Chorney did okay with what he was given as he picked up his first point of the season (an assist on the shorthanded goal vs. Detroit) and finished with a positive CF% at even strength for the week.
His second goal of the season - and his career - was a beautiful display of the lateral movement and skill that Christian Djoos has to offer, and it’s been pretty enjoyable to watch him start to take those chances in the offensive zone. At the other end of the ice, of course... there’s still work to be done, as evidenced by the blatant turnover behind the net that led to Florida’s first goal Saturday night. That’s an oopsie.
It seems a little strange that Dmitry Orlov would be one of the last Caps’ blueliners still without a point heading into this week. Thankfully he remedied that (and just narrowly beat out Chorney for the last of the group) with an assist on Burakovsky’s goal in Detroit. He also had a decent week for himself managing the puck at five on five... but he has a great shot and just isn’t using it (or at least isn’t hitting the net with it) right now.
This was a week of people taking two minor penalties in a game when one was bad enough, and Orpik was not immune to that disease. Aside from his two trips to the sin bin in Detroit, however, it was a relatively quiet week for Orpik - no points, no insanely flagrant miscues in front of the net, and minimal high-danger chances given up.
Braden Holtby probably deserved better than the loss he picked up against the Maple Leafs last week, as he held down the fort for a little over two periods - including a furious flurry of activity in the game’s opening minutes - before finally ceding the eventual game-winning goal early in the third.
Once again, Grubauer found himself in net for a lackluster performance by the team as a whole, and the Caps’ penchant for taking penalties sure isn’t helping him out much... but he needs to be, and is capable of being, better than the .889 save percentage he posted at even strength Saturday night.
The Caps definitely struggled to score goals at even strength this week, with just two in the three games - but they at least started to generate more chances and put the puck on, or at least towards, the net on a more regular basis. In fact, they finished with the fourth-best CF% on the week with a healthy 56.3%... now if only some of those shots would get behind the goalies.
Two goals on 12 opportunities is not great, particularly when the team can’t seem to buy an even-strength goal; also not great is the fact that both of the goals were in the same game and neither was a “normal” five-on-four strike. Add in the fact that the same game featured the third shorthanded goal they’ve given up this year - tying the total from all of last season - and the picture’s pretty grim.
Taking too many penalties and then being unable to kill them off is just a bad, bad combination, and that’s where the Caps are at right now. It’s not that they take far more penalties than other teams, of course; they were floating right around the median this week. It’s that they take them at bad times, or all in a row, and then can’t get any momentum going. With another three goals given up this week, the team has now fallen to 23rd in the League on the PK.