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Capital Ups and Downs: Turning Things Around

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Our weekly look at individual Caps’ ups and downs

Winnipeg Jets v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We’re bringing this back, folks! This edition will focus on the past two weeks, just to give us more to look at in the revival of this series. Let’s take a look at how each Capital has fared since the beginning of March:

Nicklas Backstrom is having himself a month so far: he is tied with Ovechkin and Carlson for the team-lead in points with seven (3G, 4A) and had a three-game scoring streak while averaging 19:42 of ice time and facing a lot of the tougher matchups every game. He was the focus of NBC’s Star Sunday on March 3, and he more than deserves the recognition. Keep your eyes peeled for his next assist, which will be his 50th of the season and make this his sixth-straight 50-assist season.

Verdict: On the rise

Travis Boyd has played in all eight games this month, which is a good consistent stretch for a guy on a constantly-rotating fourth line. He has three assists, but has only tallied six shots on goal. Caps fans don’t have to be worried when Boyd is on the ice, but right now they don’t necessarily have a reason to be excited either.

Verdict: Steady

Not only is Andre Burakovsky still a Capital after the trade deadline, he is playing his best hockey of the season right now. He is tied with four other forwards for the second-most goals on the team this month (three), has stayed out of the penalty box so far, and overall looks much more confident on the ice than he did earlier this season. He’s skating like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders, and Caps fans should be excited to see that he’s finally turning his play up a notch.

Verdict: On the rise

Brett Connolly had an impressive February (7G, 3A), but had cooled off this month until Thursdays win in Philadelphia. He had one goal in the Caps’ 5-3 victory over the Flyers on March 6, but he posted a three-point night in Philly a week later. He added one secondary assist to his point total this season to bring him to 40, and he is one goal away from his first career 20-goal season. It looks like Brett “#contractyear” Connolly is back at it again.

Verdict: On the rise

Nic Dowd was pulled out of the lineup against the Flyers on March 14, but the switch was probably due to the Caps’ win streak ending and not his play. He looked solid in his six games this month, notching two primary assists and a +2 rating, and that’s exactly what he’s been all season: solid.

Verdict: Steady

Caps fans everywhere were crossing their fingers during the All-Star break, hoping Lars Eller would put a little pep in his step for the rest of the season. Thankfully, this month he’s done just that. He has four points (3G, 1A), a +3 rating (his season +/- is currently sitting at a -7), and is incredibly important to the Capitals’ PK unit, logging 23:03 of SH ice time over eight games. His shooting percentage is also at an excellent 12%, a marked improvement from last month’s 8.7% that was achieved on just two fewer shots (23). Shoutout to The Tiger for picking things up for the end of the season.

Verdict: On the rise

By now, most Caps fans have probably realized just why they hated Carl Hagelin so much when he was playing for other teams: he’s really good. He’s been showing off his offense this month with two goals and three assists and has fit seamlessly into the Caps’ third line. He’s been stellar on the PK too, helping bring the unit back to life. Also, in case you missed it: Hagelin’s got wheels.

Verdict: On the rise

Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t been in the lineup since Washington’s ugly loss to Anaheim on February 17. Nothing to see here.

Verdict: Steady

While he has only spent two minutes in a penalty box and also managed to score his first road goal since October 22 (just think about that for a second), Evgeny Kuznetsov has cooled off after a scorching hot February (8G, 9A). In half as many games, he only has one goal and five total points. Kuzy’s play can be frustrating because it constantly seems to fluctuate, and right now it looks like it’s in a downswing.

Verdict: Dropping

T.J. Oshie has also had a quiet March so far. Since he hit 20 goals in the blowout win against Ottawa last month, he has four assists through eight games and hasn’t scored a goal since March 1’s victory over the Islanders. He’s part of the Caps’ ever-powerful second line that faces many of the tougher matchups every game, but Backstrom and Vrana seem to be cashing in on offensive opportunities more often. His season-long shooting percentage is, as per usual with Oshie, high a whopping 16.2%, but he is only at 5.3% this month.

Verdict: Dropping

Despite hitting the 1,200 point milestone against Pittsburgh this week, Alex Ovechkin had been pretty quiet (by Ovi standards) this month until his monster game in Tampa when he played a season-high 25:57 (his highest TOI since March 30, 2013, when also played 25:57). He only had two goals in the first seven games of the month, but he scored his league-leading 47th and 48th goals of the season in the loss to the Bolts. The Great 8 was a lock for 50 goals earlier this season, so some people dared to whisper about 60. Don’t be too worried about him hitting 50, but unless he turns things up a notch for the last ten games of the season, the total might not be much higher than that.

Verdict: Steady

Chandler Stephenson has only played in two games since Washington’s loss to Buffalo on February 23, the 5-2 win in Philadelphia and the 3-6 loss in Tampa. He was quiet offensively, but the fourth line looked solid as a whole. Nothing to report either way.

Verdict: Steady

Jakub Vrana has three goals in eight games this month, including a two-goal outing in the loss to Pittsburgh last week. He also added a primary assist to his point total and achieved the first 20-goal season of his career, all while only averaging 13:30 of ice time per game. Watch out for Jake the Snake, y’all, he’s turning the heat up again at just the right time.

Verdict: On the rise

Tom Wilson has steadily been racking up the points this season, and in March he finally achieved an impressive milestone: the first 20-goal season of his career. And keep in mind, he’s missed 18 games this season. He has three points (2G, 1A) so far this month, and it’s looking like he’ll eclipse 40 points for the first time in his career at the rate he’s going.

Verdict: Steady

All-Star John Carlson is continuing his All-Star campaign. He continues to steadily rack up points as he’s averaging 24:27 minutes per game in March. He has two goals and five assists, including three power play helpers, and has a +3 rating while matching up against difficult opponents. Caps fans can continue to count on Carly to get the job done.

Verdict: Steady

The Djoos has not been loose since February 23, but hopefully he’ll get into the lineup again soon.

Verdict: Steady

People said Nick Jensen would be a great deadline acquisition for Washington this year, and he’s been proving everyone right. Like Hagelin, this new guy has some serious wheels. He’s confident with the puck, has a great hockey IQ, and should make fans feel at ease when he’s on the ice (minus that one horrible play on Saturday when he got totally outmuscled by Alex Killorn). He has been playing the majority of his shifts in DC with Brooks Orpik, but it sure would be interesting to see how he fares with some of the Caps’ other blueliners. Regardless, he’s impressed in a Capitals jersey so far.

Verdict: On the rise

Michal Kempny has turned up the offense this month with five assists in eight games. He has also only made one trip to the penalty box, which is a refreshing change of pace for the Capitals’ minor penalty leader. Both of these shifts in play are encouraging, and hopefully they continue.

Verdict: On the rise

It isn’t news that Matt Niskanen is having a rough season. However, this month hasn’t been as bad as others. He plays an average of 21:32 minutes a night, and leads the team in PK minutes with a total of 28:34. He has one assist and, even better, a +4 rating through these eight games. Not quite ready to say that Niskanen’s play is on the rise, but there is, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for the end of the season.

Verdict: Steady

March did not start off well for Dmitry Orlov. In both games in New York, an Orlov turnover lead directly to the opening goal-against. A lucky bounce for Tampa was an unlucky bounce off Orlov for their second goal of the game. He’s been trying to redeem himself through some increased offense, tallying six assists so far this month, but that can’t always offset sloppy defensive play. He’s been steady, but steadily mediocre.

Verdict: Steady

Listen, y’all: at this point, it will never not be frustrating watching Brooks Orpik play. He doesn’t always make egregious mistakes, although he’s had a couple of bad giveaways these past eight games, but there isn’t ever much to write home about. He’s logged the least minutes of all Capitals defensemen, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s currently in the same boat as Dmitry Orlov: steady, but steadily...eh.

Verdict: Steady

Pheonix Copley has only played in one game this month, but it was a good one for him. He helped Washington hold the Jets to just one goal on March 10, and posted a .971 SV% on 34 shots against. The Caps needed him to be good in net against a powerful Winnipeg offense, and he delivered. After a bit of a rough February despite winning all four of his games, this feels like it could be a bit of a bounce-back. However, one good game does not mean his overall play is on the up and up.

Verdict: Steady

Braden Holtby has had a pretty good run in net this month, with the exception of his outing against Pittsburgh, and has posted a .914 SV% and 2.28 GAA. His numbers took a hit after the loss in Tampa, but he looked good for 90% of that night. The fourth goal-against was, admittedly, a pretty bad look for him, but his game was pretty solid otherwise and he made some highlight-reel saves. His play has been steadily improving since the All-Star Break, but he has really hit his stride lately. He’s looked solid and seems to be shaking off mistakes with more ease.

Verdict: On the rise