It seems like only yesterday that the Caps were executing keg stands out of the Cup and rolling around in Georgetown fountains... alas, here we are ten games deep into the 2018-19 season.
So what do we know about this year’s Capitals?
First and foremost we know that it’s only been ten games - i.e. roughly an eighth of a very long season - and therefore any observations, good or bad, should be taken with a grain of salt and a note about small sample sizes. Problems that are apparent in October can be fixed by April, and red-hot success can cool by the time spring rolls around.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to identify areas of promise and areas of concern. With one month down and at least six (and hopefully more) months to go, here are some stray observations about the reigning champs:
- The power play is still incredibly lethal. One of the few mostly consistent elements to the Caps’ game over the years, through coaching changes and personnel changes, is the overall dominance of the team’s power play - and this year is no exception, as they are currently operating at an insane 37.1% clip. Obviously that’s not likely to be sustainable over the course of a full season, but they continue to show that the combination of Ovechkin’s unstoppable shot from his office, Kuznetsov and Backstrom’s cerebral playmaking skills, Carlson’s blast from the point and Oshie’s disruption in front of the net is a tried and true formula.
- Stars are shining. Unsurprisingly, the power play being successful is merely a side effect of the red-hot starts for some of the team’s top names. Carlson has gotten off to one of the best starts by a Caps’ defenseman in franchise history and once again puts himself in the Norris conversation. Ovechkin has eight goals and 14 points through ten games... and while he doesn’t currently lead the League in goals, let’s just say it’s more likely he finishes near the top of the pack than some of the other early leaders. Kuznetsov continues his dominance from this past spring and already has 15 points, most on the Caps, and Oshie’s six goals have him sitting in second on the team in that department, and he’s on pace to establish new career highs in goals and points. Those four have paced the team to a strong offensive start and a ridiculously effective power play.
- Goaltending is a question mark. Both Holtby and Copley have put together mostly solid performances this season, but they’ve also both been beaten up in at least one game out of the first ten - and have especially struggled on the penalty kill, their combined efforts giving the team the second-worst save percentage while shorthanded at just .732. As the team in front of them adjusts to the new penalty-killing system, and some of the newer players settle in to their roles, this number should - should - improve... but it’s still an area of concern for now.
- That target is no joke. There’s a reason that the Panthers came into Capital One Arena without a win and left with their first victory of the season (albeit in the shootout), that the rebuilding Rangers forced the Caps to overtime, that the Oilers and Flames were able to hang with the Caps in their two outings - teams are bringing their very best games when facing the defending champs, and the Caps haven’t always been up to the challenge.
- Wilson is missed. Thanks to Wilson’s reckless and unnecessary hit in the final game of the preseason, the Caps have been without their top-line winger to start the season and likely will be for the next few weeks as he finishes his League-mandated 20-game suspension. And while the team has done fine overall in his absence to this point, there’s no question that something is missing when they take the ice each night. Some of that is showing on the penalty kill, where Wilson had become a consistent presence and had the third-highest ice time among forwards last season (behind Beagle and Eller).
The rest is evident in the team’s ongoing search for another winger to play alongside Ovechkin and Kuznetsov; the latest incarnation with Vrana seems to be working out, but that line - and the team in general - is lacking that big-body presence disturbing play along the boards and in front of the net. The fact remains that when he plays smart and controlled, Wilson is an extremely effective member of this Caps’ squad - and November 21 can’t come soon enough.
- The inconsistency of youth. Part of what made the 2018 postseason run so dynamic was the fact that some of the younger players stepped up and played a pivotal role at key times. So far this season, the returns are mixed on the youngsters; Vrana is having a strong start to the season, playing with confidence and earning a spot on the team’s top line, but Burakovsky continues to be inconsistent and Djoos and Bowey haven’t really been factors yet (at least not in an overtly positive way) on the back end.
- Beagle’s replacements have made an impact. No one is looking at the void left by Beagle and bemoaning the loss of one of the game’s great talents (no offense, Jay). Coming into this season, however, we knew that someone would need to step in to fill some of the elements Beagle provided - the hard work, the faceoff skill, the penalty-killing, etc. So far the team hasn’t really missed a step when it comes to the fourth line - neither Dmitrij Jaskin nor Nic Dowd has Beagle’s adeptness on draws, but they’ve put their own stamp on the Caps’ bottom six and there have been times when the fourth line has been one of the better trios in a game (granted, not ideal from a team perspective but still).
- There are few things more beautiful than this: