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Capital Ups and Downs: Ten Games In

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Our weekly look at individual Caps’ ups and downs

Washington Capitals v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Welcome back to Ups and Downs, boys and girls and babes! The Capitals started playing meaningful hockey games three weeks ago, so let’s take a look at how each player fared in the first ten games of the season...

Nicklas Backstrom has had a pretty standard Nicklas Backstrom start to the season. He’s centering the Caps’ top line with Ovechkin and Wilson on his wings and setting up beautiful plays. He has also drawn five penalties and only spent two minutes in the sin bin. His faceoff win percentage is currently sitting at 48.15%, which is the lowest out of all of Washington’s centers, but on par with his 48.64% from last season so it isn’t too concerning yet. Bottom line? He looks like the Backstrom Caps fans know and love, which means there’s nothing to worry about.

Verdict: Steady

The Capitals fourth line is off to a stellar start this season, and Nic Dowd is a huge part of it (when he’s in the lineup, that is). He looks comfortable with his new linemates and has been a part of several stellar plays. He has three points (2G, 1A) through his seven games, including a beauty of a shorthanded goal in Chicago last night. It was the first shorty of his career, but he made it look so effortless. Dowd is also one of only six Capitals who have managed to stay out of the penalty box so far this season, which means the Caps can put his solid PK skills to good use. All in all, Dowd is proving why he deserves to be in the lineup every game he plays.

Verdict: On the rise

Lars Eller has had a bit of an up and down start to the season. He spent three games bumped up to the second line while Kuznetsov served his suspension, and it went...okay. While Eller has the fifth-most points on the team so far with seven (3G, 4A), he has made some truly frustrating plays and his overall game is a bit iffy. However, another bright spot in his season so far? He leads the Caps’ centers in faceoff wins with a 57.59%.

Verdict: Steady

Carl Hagelin had a quiet and iffy start to the season, but he seems to have gotten his game back lately. Including last night’s win in Chicago, Hagelin is on a three-game point streak. He had his second multi-point game in a Caps sweater, tallying two beautiful primary assists. Hagelin has also been a solid presence on the PK and he leads all forwards in shorthanded ice time with 27:03, second on the team behind Gudas. Spending a full training camp in Washington seems to have helped Hagelin, so Caps fans should be optimistic.

Verdict: Steady

Welcome to Washington, Garnet Hathaway! He has been an incredible addition to the Caps’ roster and is a solid “hockey guy” to have on the fourth line. He scored a beauty of a goal in the Caps’ home opener, his first tally while rocking the red, and he’s looked really solid on both Dowd and Stephenson’s wings. With Panik’s recent injury, Hathaway got promoted to the third line and has excelled there as well. Despite ranking 18th on the team in ice time, he is tied for seventh on the team in points with five (2G, 3A). Get excited about this guy, Caps fans, he has potential.

Verdict: On the rise

Evgeny Kuznetsov spent the first three games of the Capitals’ season watching from the press box, but he wasted no time when he returned to the lineup, scoring a goal in his first game back. He rode a five-game point streak to start his season, and he’s ranked third among Caps’ centers with a faceoff win percentage of 50.72%. Friendly reminder that he hit a career-low at the faceoff dot last season with just 38.71%, so this is a big improvement for him. He also seems to look like his old self, which is encouraging. His defensive play still leaves a lot to be desired, but hey, at least he’s getting back on the scoresheet consistently to offset that.

Verdict: Steady

Brendan Leipsic is another newcomer who seems to have fit into the Capitals’ lineup pretty well. He tallied his first point as a Cap in the home opener, assisting on Garnet Hathaway’s goal, and while he is still looking for his first goal in Washington, he is creating excellent chances for himself and it feels like it is only a matter of time before he lights the lamp himself. He already seems comfortable and confident with the team, and he plays well with the other fourth-liners. He has also stayed out of the penalty box through the first ten games of the season, which is encouraging. Overall, he already looks like a solid offseason acquisition for GMBM and the Caps.

Verdict: On the rise

TJ Oshie returned this season after suffering a season-ending fractured right clavicle in last season’s playoffs, and he returned with a vengeance. He leads the team in goals with seven and power play goals with four, and he is already averaging 19:01 of ice time a game. Most importantly, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat and is ready to remind everyone just how talented he is.

Verdict: On the rise

Alex Ovechkin seems to be picking up right where he left off after last season’s 51-goal campaign. He opened the Capitals’ scoring for the season with an absolute bullet of a shot past Jordan Binnington to spoil the Blues’ banner night, and he ranks second on the team with six goals. He is also currently riding a seven-game point streak, leads the team in shots with 45, and has laid 28 hits, which is second only to Tom Wilson. Can’t wait to see what the Great 8 does the rest of the season? Same.

Verdict: Steady

Richard Panik was acquired this season with the intent of being Brett Connolly’s replacement on the third line, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Through eight games, Panik has zero points and only seven shots on goal. However, it’s important to remember that Connolly also had a quiet start in Washington; it took him 12 games to find the back of the net. Panik is still doing a lot of good things for the Caps, they just aren’t reflected on a scoresheet. It’s unfortunate that he has landed on LTIR after colliding with Siegenthaler last week, because it was starting to look like he was finding his groove, but hopefully he’ll be back and healthy soon and can pick up where he left off. Don’t…panik about this new guy yet, Caps fans, give him a chance.

Verdict: Eh

Chandler Stephenson’s pay raise certainly raised some eyebrows this summer, but clearly GMBM and Todd Reirden are big fans of the guy because he has drawn into the lineup over Nic Dowd three times through ten games. He has been playing on Dowd’s wing after Panik’s injury bumped Hathaway up to the third line, but he is a natural center and seems to be a bit more comfortable there. His 53.55% record at the faceoff dot ranks second on the team behind Eller, which is solid even though the number is inflated compared to the other regular centers because he has taken less total faceoffs. Is it a little confusing when someone else is scratched so Stephenson can be in the lineup? Sure, but is he a bad player? No. It will, however, be interesting to see what happens once Panik is activated off LTIR…

Verdict: Steady

Jakub Vrana roared his way into this season, scoring two goals in the Caps’ first two games and sparking plays with his killer speed. His five points (3G, 2A) are tied for seventh-most on the team, and he looks ready to pick up where he left off after last season’s career-highs. He has been bouncing between the second and third lines so far this season, which probably isn’t helping his consistency, but hopefully things will steady when Panik returns to the lineup. Regardless, don’t expect too much of a drop-off from last season’s stellar numbers from Jake the Snake.

Verdict: Steady

Tom Wilson is clearly making it his mission to remind everyone that they should be scared of his offensive talent just as much as they are of his physical presence on the ice. He is second on the team in shots with 24, and his five points (3G, 2A) are tied for seventh-most on the team. He also only has four minor penalties through ten games and leads the team in hits with 32. A fun fact: Wilson scored the fourth shorthanded goal of his career against Nashville two weeks ago. Boy, watching Tom Wilson turn into the power forward Caps management and fans hoped he would be sure has been fun, hasn’t it?

Verdict: On the rise

Holy points total, Batman! John Carlson is having a historic start to his season, tallying 18 points through the first ten games. At the time this is published, Carlson’s 18 points leads the whole league in scoring. Yes, you read that right, in a league with Connor McDavid, Capitals defenseman John Carlson leads everyone in points. The next closest defenseman, Nashville’s Ryan Ellis, has nine. Carlson also leads the league in ice time, averaging 25:57 per game, and leads the Caps in shots blocked with 21. John Carlson in the first ten games of the season? An absolute madman.

Verdict: On the rise

Martin Fehervary only played in three games before getting sent back to the Hershey Bears, but he looked stellar in his limited NHL ice time. He just turned 20 three weeks ago, and he’s already playing with an incredible amount of confidence. He is clearly the next man up for the Caps, and fans should be very excited to see him play in the NHL regularly one day.

Verdict: Steady

Radko Gudas has turned out to be a pretty solid addition to Washington’s blue line this season. He gets more and more comfortable and likable each game; there’s no better way to endear yourself to your new city than by sticking up for your teammates, right? Despite leading the team in penalties with seven, he leads the team in penalty kill time so far with 28:06. The Capitals’ PK has been working really well lately, and Gudas is a big part of that. He has been a pleasant surprise so far this season, and hopefully that continues.

Verdict: Steady

Nick Jensen is a bit of an interesting case. He can move the puck pretty well and has his good moments, but when he makes a mistake it’s usually a pretty big one. Any player that makes you even just a little bit nervous when they’re on the ice is troublesome, and Jensen falls into that category. Hopefully he can be more consistent moving forward, because right now his unpredictability is a huge concern.

Verdict: All over the place

The Capitals needed Michal Kempny to return to the lineup in the worst way through the first eight games of the season. He is one of the team’s best defensemen and without him, the blue line has struggled. Would Kempny be able to return to the lineup as good as new and ready to pick up where he left off last season? Spoiler alert: yes. He scored in his first game back, off a beautiful assist from who else but John Carlson, and saw his ice time increase from 14:24 on Friday night to 19:28 on Sunday. These are all good signs, and hopefully he can help right the Caps’ leaky defense.

Verdict: Steady

Tyler Lewington, who spent most of his season in Hershey and only played in two NHL games last season, has been...iffy through five games in a Caps’ sweater this month. He seems to be another one of those guys that makes you just a little nervous when he’s on the ice because he can be a bit unpredictable. Now that Kempny is back in the lineup, however, Lewington slots in at the 7D spot, potentially rotating into the lineup every once in a while. That solution is never really ideal for the player, but there’s no doubt that it is what works best for the team as a whole.

Verdict: Eh

Dmitry Orlov had a rough season last year, and it seems like he is determined to right the ship coming into this season. His play in all zones has improved, and he is already contributing to the team’s offense; he has one goal and four primary assists through ten games. He also seems to play well with Jensen, and if Orlov can stay the course then maybe he can help Jensen as well.

Verdict: On the rise

Jonas Siegenthaler is proving himself as a legitimate top-four defenseman to start this season. He has taken on more challenging minutes this year and has spent a good chunk of the Caps’ ten games skating on the top pair with Carlson in Kempny’s absence. He has played 26:42 on the penalty kill so far, which is third-most on the team, and he looks confident when he does so. Is Siegenthaler going to spend all season in the top-four? No, but he has more than shown that he can handle it.

Verdict: On the rise

Braden Holtby has struggled to start this season, there’s no doubt about it. His below-average play through a few games has certainly cost the Caps a few standings points. His .878 SV% on the season ranks 36th on a list of goalies who have played at least 180 minutes this season - yikes. He seems to have bounced back a bit with back-to-back good games on Friday and Sunday, and he was certainly the star of last night’s game with 41 saves. Two good games doesn’t mean he’s completely on the upswing, but the fact that his play isn’t continuing to plummet is encouraging.

Verdict: Steady

Welcome to the show, Ilya Samsonov! The Russian goalie snagged the backup netminder spot for the Caps this season, and it’s clear that he won’t be letting go of it anytime soon. He has played 228 minutes through four games with the Caps, and he has a goals against average of 1.84 and a stellar .933 SV%. He has been touted as the future in net for Washington, and he sure as heck hasn’t disappointed.

Verdict: On the rise