Our biweekly look at individual Caps’ ups and downs:
Picked up seven points over the last two weeks, including the overtime game-winner against the Blues. That was part of a two-point effort for Backstrom, the 206th of his career - fifth-most among all players since entering the League in 2007-08 (and just one shy of fourth on that distinguished list).
Beagle had just the one assist, but for him it’s never really about the amount of offense he does - or doesn’t - produce. So let’s look at the other stuff: 36.4% CF at even-strength, dead-last on the Caps over the last five games; 22 scoring chances by opponents while on the ice compared to 14 for his team (also at even strength); and while he was dominant in faceoffs yet again overall, he lost 12 of the 19 he took on the penalty kill. Beagle’s role, and his success or failure in it, is tough to define and quantify, but right now it feels like we’re not getting quite enough out of #83.
The team definitely needs more out of Burakovsky than what he’s been giving since returning from injury, although intelligent minds can disagree about the best way to get him to give that. Right now, the coaching staff hasn’t found it yet.
Nothing too spectacular from Chiasson over the last two weeks; he scored a goal in the win over the ‘Canes (good) and finished just slightly ahead of Beagle in terms of on-ice Corsi (bad) - but the fact that he’s already at seven goals for the season is probably well ahead of what any of us expected from him thus far, so here’s hoping it continues during the second half.
Continues to score goals at a red-hot clip, picking up two in his last five games including the first goal in last night’s win - his first power-play goal in about a month. Along with Lars Eller, Connolly has been dominant in the offensive zone and has provided a good dose of secondary scoring for a team that’s badly in need of some, on pace to top his career-high goal total from last season. Sure, that shooting percentage of 25% is perhaps a wee bit unsustainable, but hey... ride the wave, kids.
Throw in another trio of points for Eller over the last five games (two goals and an assist), who seems to have regained his scoring touch after a lengthy drought that stretched into December. Add in some stellar penalty-killing work and it was a good stretch of games for Eller.
Might be one of the only times this season that Kuznetsov hasn’t been at the top, or near the top, of the team’s scoring over a week or two. In fact, he wasn’t just not the team’s scoring leader this time around - he was near the bottom, with merely a single assist to his name over the last five games. Along with the second line as a group, Kuznetsov has been struggling to keep and control the puck in the offensive zone, and has been taking far too many penalties lately. All fixable, all likely temporary... but still troubling nonetheless.
We’d like earlier-in-the-season, pre-injury Oshie back now, please. Anytime.
Four goals, four assists for an eight-point run in his last five games, including the 22nd overtime goal of his career (the latest part of his continued abuse of the Hurricanes and other former Southeast rivals in general). The type of season he’s putting together right now at supposedly over-the-hill age of 32 is just... hard to put into words week after week. And yet it doesn’t get less cool to watch.
Not too bad of a week for DSP, with a goal, an assist, 14 shots on goal (tied for second behind only Ovechkin’s 18) and just about even in shot attempts at even strength. Hard to say that he still “belongs” on the top line if there is such a thing, but at least he’s making some contributions during his time there.
His assist on Chiasson’s goal in Raleigh the other night was a beautifully timed pass, but plays like that just haven’t been on display often enough to expect it consistently - especially since he’s now been relegated to partial healthy-scratch duty with the lineup intact. Would it be worth exploring a refresher in Hershey to jumpstart his offense, or is what we see from Stephenson pretty much what we’re going to get?
Just like his linemates, Vrana struggled to get much of anything going over the last two weeks and had no points over that span - one of just two players to go pointless (the other being Burakovsky, who played two fewer games). He’s still shooting the puck, when he has it, but he and Oshie and Kuznetsov have been trying to make the fancy play and the pretty pass far too often and the sad fact is they’re just not putting the puck on net nearly enough. Time to simplify, lads.
Another goal and assist this week has Wilson sitting just one goal and five points shy of his career-best totals in each department, with half the season remaining. Better news? He’s not fighting nearly as much and took just one minor this week. The best? Has anyone noticed that while he’s still a physical presence, Wilson’s not going out of his way to throw those big borderline hits that got him in hot water earlier this season? It’s almost as if some players actually learn from a little discipline - and you can tell that he wants to be on the ice with his teammates contributing now, not in the penalty box (or worse, off the ice with a suspension). That’s huge, because he’s proven himself capable of contributing.
He may never score a goal of his own, but he continues to pick up assists and getting better in his own end. This was a good stretch of games for Bowey, who has struggled at times this season but ended up with two assists in the last four games and posted the best even-strength CF% among the team’s defensemen over that span.
Only Dallas’s John Klingberg and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson had more points than Carlson’s six over the last two weeks among blueliners (both of them appearing in one more game over that span), and only Backstrom and Ovechkin had more points than Carlson among the Caps. At this point, Carlson is contributing to the offense so much that it’s hard to nitpick the little miscues he occasionally has in his own end (*cough*turnovers against the ‘Canes*cough*); he’s now moved into second in scoring by a defenseman with 33 points on the season.
Appeared in just two games, picked up an assist in those two games, and the Caps earned a win in both. We’ll take it.
Djoos scored a goal and added an assist against the Devils on 12/30, marking his first multi-point game since... well, since his first multi-point game. But again, we’re not looking for multi-point offensive outbursts from someone like Djoos, and what he is doing is playing his position with a poise that belies his rookie status. Is he perfect? Of course not. But there’s something about his game that’s soothing and impressive to watch, and he’s likely only going to get better.
Thanks to the
stupid ridiculous ingenious NHL scheduling, Niskanen’s pre-New Year injury only cost him one game (and the team won it, which is good because they’re usually just not as good without him) - and his first game back against the Blues was a very solid performance with a few moments of brilliance, showing no wear from whatever had kept him out. That aside, he added a goal of the “everyone forgot about Niskanen and he’s now got an empty net to shoot at” variety - personal favorite - but otherwise was quietly steady and just...Niskanen-esque.
Just the one goal for Orlov over the last five games, but it was another one of those beauties - this time an end-to-end rush that resulted in him picking up his own rebound - that makes you just wish he would uncork those offensive skills on a more frequent basis. He’s picking his spots and doing his job on the defensive side, though, so perhaps there’s no need to quibble.
The good: was one of two Caps’ defensemen to see more shot attempts go towards the opponent’s net than his own at even strength, with a CF% of 51.5 over the last five games. The bad: the team was outscored 5-1 over that span when he was on the ice. Considering the Caps only gave up 10 goals at even strength total... that’s probably not ideal.
Four wins in four games is good, but he gave up twelve goals - ten at even strength - over that span, and his overall save percentage of .910 (and his less-than-stellar .902 at even strength) are not numbers we’re used to seeing from him. Granted, the blame for that doesn’t lie entirely on him, as he was the victim of some scrambly... well, let’s call it “defense” just to save time.
Earned the dubious distinction of picking up the team’s first shutout of the season (!) while also getting tabbed with the loss, as his only action was a 37-for-37 master class in goaltending against the Rangers before ultimately falling in the shootout. He deserved so much better than that result, but at the end of the day he was likely the only reason the team even got to the shootout in that one, as well. So... thanks, Grubi.
Another week in which the Caps outscored opponents at evens, 12-10, while also being outshot/out-attempted. Do that a couple of times in a row and people will start to suggest that it’s not sustainable and you’re playing with fire... but the Caps have elite goaltending and elite top-six forwards capable of a) holding off opponents and b) outscoring them. So do we know for sure that these numbers spell doom for the Caps down the line? Of course not, just like we don’t know for sure that they’ll be sustainable. But the way the past few seasons have gone, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that playing like this will ultimately lead to success.
The Caps’ power play has had enough ups and downs so far this year to have you reaching for the Dramamine, but this was an up stretch for sure, as they cashed in on four of their 14 power-play opportunities for a fifth-best effectiveness rate of 28.6% over the last two weeks. Sunday’s win over St. Louis was their first game with more than one power-play goal since Dec. 4 vs. San Jose, and just their sixth multi-PPG game of the year.
Until Victor Rask dented the twine with the extra man in the second period of Thursday’s win in Raleigh, the Caps had killed off 13 consecutive penalties (a refreshing improvement after having ceded five goals on their previous twelve times shorthanded). Two more kills against the ‘Canes and going one-for-two against St. Louis over the weekend had the team clicking at a respectable 87.5% over their last five.
Stats via Corsica, Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz and NHL.com