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Rink Roundtable: At the Halfway Point (Part II)

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The Rink crew checks in with thoughts on where the Caps have been and where they’re going

NHL: Washington Capitals at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Picking up where we left off earlier...

Q3. Give us one player who has exceeded expectations and one who has disappointed.

JP: Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky, respectively. Wilson has looked terrific on the top line (and should return there ASAP), while Burakovsky has, as Rob mentioned, failed to get to that next level in his development. Again. Wilson is looking like the player the Caps thought he could be when they drafted him, while Burakovsky has struggled with injury and confidence and may be (may have been?) passed on the depth chart by Jakub Vrana. Of these two scenarios, Burakovsky’s stalled development is the bigger surprise.

Peerless: Tom Wilson gets the overachiever’s award from me. He’s made progress from being little more than a thumper to being a player that one could see becoming a power forward in the top half of that category in the next few years. Instead of being merely an agitator, he has become a more adept space-creator for linemates. He shows glimpses of being able to get into those nooks and crannies in tight, to be (dare I say it) “Knublesque.”

Burakovsky had been the obvious disappointment, for injuries and a frequent vacant look to his game. He is one of those players whose bottom line is the bottom line – he has to produce points. The rest is noise. And he is not doing it. He is at an age where one should expect of a promising forward that he makes clear and consistent progress, month to month and season to season. He seems to be the type so far to take on step up and one step back, or maybe side-to-side. But I have to put in a word for Madison Bowey. Maybe I was expecting more, and I was expecting more of a rounded defenseman at this stage than Christian Djoos, but he seems be much more of an unfinished quality at the moment. Perhaps injury early in his development has delayed his development, or playing with others who pull his underlying numbers down. It seems he has room for improvement, and perhaps it is in the second half of the season when the light will come on.

Adam: I’m going with Djoos and Burakovsky. We know that Djoos had skill given his strong production in the AHL last year but we didn’t know how he would fare against improved competition. He’s been great, hard to believe he was still a bubble player during camp.

Burakovsky hasn’t been good. He hasn’t been as bad as some would lead you to believe, but his development has certainly stalled. The biggest hindrance to Burakovsky this year has been Andre Burakovsky. If he can’t get his head in the right place he won’t ever meet the expectations that both the Capitals and his supporters have for him. This isn’t a will over skill thing but a confidence issue. Personally I hope Burakovsky takes some more risks in the second half, be the gamebreaker you were drafted to be.

Pepper: Agree with Adam on Djoos and Burakovsky. I certainly expected to see a lot more of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney to this point in the season. Djoos has been an impactful player at both ends and his size hasn’t been the big factor that everyone was worried it could be. Burakovsky has some work to do; hopefully he can turn the corner the way Evgeny Kuznetsov has, who reportedly struggled similarly with confidence issues earlier in his career. Burakovsky needs to embrace his role as a top sniper on this team.

Q4. Grade the team’s first-half performance (A, B, C, etc.)

JP: They’ve survived a trio of big injuries (Niskanen, T.J. Oshie and Burakovsky), outperformed expectations - those set before the season started and those implied by their underlying numbers - and are in first place in the NHL’s toughest division half-way through. That ain’t bad.

But to earn highest marks from me, this team’s process would have to match its results and, frankly, it hasn’t (even their strong December saw them below break-even in shot differential). That bodes ill for the future. We could argue about how much, given their elite goaltending, high-end finishers, and ostensibly strong special teams, but the simple fact is that looking at the Caps prospectively right now doesn’t paint nearly as pretty a picture as looking at them retrospectively over the first three months of the season does. I’ll give them a B.

RP: The way everyone reacted this summer there is nobody that can say with a straight face they had this team leading the Metro at New Year’s. There are a lot of questions about this team, welcome to a salary cap league, but if you were to tell me they’d suffer the non-Cup hangover, lose Schmidt and MoJo (maybe their two fastest skaters last year), lose Burra, Niskanen, and Oshie to injuries early in the season, and be playing Djoos and Bowey almost every night and still would be leading the division I would have said it was a miracle. The team isn’t perfect, but they lead the division and this whole league is graded on a curve, so for me it feels like A-, but their possession numbers are awful and there are too many underlying concerns and grade inflation is garbage so B+.

Peerless: A wobbly “B.” That they are at the top of the Metro and on a pace to finish with more than 100 standings points is a bit of a surprise. Also that at the 41-game mark they are scoring more goals per game this year than last, despite the losses in personnel. However, their defense is an adventure, their possession numbers are not good, their special teams are (to me) underperforming, and the young guys need to take another step forward as the stakes get higher. It could make for a difficult spring looking forward. I see a vacant arena, in the tunnel to the locker room a rack of sticks without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the Caps will miss the playoffs...or at best get knocked out in Round 1 (like that Ghost of Christmas Present reference?).

Adam: I give the Capitals a B. The roster isn’t nearly as good as it was last year but the team is still doing very well in the standings. The underlying numbers aren’t great but hey…just win baby.

Pepper: I guess I’m the outlier here to give ‘em an A. I didn’t expect the team to be at the top of the Metro division at any point in the season, let alone halfway through it. So many players on the team have not only met expectations but have reached beyond their roles. Ten forwards are on pace for double-digit goals on the season. The defense has held up following several departures and enduring a long stretch without Matt Niskanen, and Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer are still one of the best tandems in goal.

Poll

What grade do you give the Caps for the first half of the season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A+
    (1 vote)
  • 12%
    A
    (30 votes)
  • 25%
    A-
    (63 votes)
  • 32%
    B+
    (79 votes)
  • 22%
    B
    (55 votes)
  • 4%
    B-
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    C+
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    C-
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Lower (I’m a troll)
    (2 votes)
245 votes total Vote Now