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Capital Ups and Downs: Playoff Push

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Our weekly look at individual Caps’ ups and downs

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

How did each Washington Capital fare through this past week’s four games? Let’s take a look...

March started really well for Nicklas Backstrom, but he slowed down a bit last week. He has two assists and only four shots on goal through four games. Coach Todd Rierden switched up the lines in the loss against the Wild so Backstrom was centering Ovechkin and Wilson, so maybe the flip will help turn his offense back up. Hopefully he flips the switch again soon, because the Caps need him producing at a consistent level again.

Verdict: Dropping

Travis Boyd only played in two games last week, but he looked great out on the ice. Despite only totaling 7:36 of ice time against the Flyers yesterday, he snapped his 25-game goal drought with an absolutely beautiful redirect of a Niskanen shot from the point for his fifth of the season, and the eventual game-winner. The Caps’ fourth line tends to rotate, but Boyd is making a pretty good argument for why he deserves to be in the lineup more.

Verdict: On the rise

Andre Burakovsky continued his solid play of late last week. His ice time has gone up, averaging 11:30 per game over four games, and he tallied one goal (his 13th of the season) in the win in New Jersey. In case you missed it, his 12th goal of the season was an absolute beauty of a snipe. His newfound confidence is still showing, which should make Caps fans very happy.

Verdict: Steady

Do you know which Cap has the most goals since the All-Star break? If you guessed Brett Connolly with 12, you’d be right, and he certainly kept that momentum going into last week. He posted a +6 rating and had a team-leading four points (2G, 2A), including a beautiful play to set Vrana up for his breakaway goal against the Flyers yesterday. Connolly also hit a notable career milestone last week: his first 20-goal season. Conno continues to provide the Caps with some much-needed secondary scoring...did someone say #contractyear?

Verdict: On the rise

Nic Dowd played in all four games last week, and he looked solid. He tallied two assists, including the secondary assist on Boyd’s game-winner yesterday afternoon. He was also the Caps’s best center at the faceoff dot, winning 14 of 26 for a 53.85%, and was tied for second-most hits on the team with 13. The fourth line has looked very good lately, and Dowd is a big reason why.

Verdict: Steady

Lars Eller has leveled off a bit since the beginning of March. Aside from his two-point night (1G, 1A) in the Caps’ thrilling OT loss to Tampa, The Tiger has been pretty quiet offensively. He posted a +5 rating over four games, which is mostly likely due to him centering the recently-hot third line, but Caps fans and the coaching staff alike are probably hoping he picks things up again soon.

Verdict: Dropping

Carl Hagelin missed Friday’s game against the Wild due to illness, and his absence was noticeable. Without Hagelin in the lineup, the Caps looked slower overall and the third line lost some of its spark. He tallied three points (1G, 2A) in his three games last week, and he now has just as many points after the trade as he did with the Penguins and Kings before the deadline (eight). Hagelin’s wheels have continued to impress out on the ice, and he seems to be fitting in just fine in Washington.

Verdict: On the rise

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Dmitrij Jaskin hasn’t been in the lineup since Washington’s ugly loss to Anaheim on February 17. Nothing to see here.

Verdict: Steady

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s play seems to fluctuate constantly, almost like you don’t know which version of him you’re going to get from game to game. Last week, Kuzy looked to be on an upswing. He scored twice to hit the 20-goal mark for the third time in his career and reach 100 career goals, he stayed out of the box, and was second on the team in shots with 16. Despite flipping spots in the lineup with Backstrom during Friday’s game to center the second line, he still averaged 20:51 of ice time last week. It looks like Kuznetsov is on the up and up again.

Verdict: On the rise

T.J. Oshie had a pretty solid week. After a quiet start to March, he picked things up a bit with one goal and two assists over four games. Most notably, he snapped an eight-game goal drought with his tally against Tampa on Wednesday. He was also the focus of NBCSN’s Star Sunday during yesterday’s game, in which he as second on the team in hits with four. Oshie looked a bit more like the player Caps fans know and love last week, thank goodness.

Verdict: Steady

Alex Ovechkin was pretty quiet last week. He had three assists through four games, and he hasn’t scored a goal since his monster two-goal game in Tampa on March 16. His lack of scoring is not for lack of effort, though: Ovi led the team in shots last week with 18 (although he had zero shot attempts in Tuesday’s game in New Jersey). However, someone might want to remind Ovi that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes and take the good shot (remember when he set Wilson up for a hard-angle shot despite clearly having the better angle?). It feels wrong to say that the Great 8’s play is dropping, but it is what it is.

Verdict: Dropping

Chandler Stephenson played in three of the Caps’ four games this week (he was a healthy scratch against Philadelphia yesterday), and he was...quiet. One might even say silent. He had exactly zero shots on goal in his 29 minutes of ice time. He blocked one shot and won two of five faceoffs. That’s all. At this point, you have to wonder why Jaskin hasn’t gotten any ice time over Stephenson when Stephenson is this painfully ineffective.

Verdict: Dropping

Jakub Vrana is continuing his stellar season. He had two points last week, including a speedy breakaway goal that brought his season total to 22. His total from last season? 13. He is four goals away from doubling his previous single-season high, and at the rate he’s going that shouldn’t be a problem. Also, in case you missed it, Vrana got in his first career NHL fight last Wednesday when he stood up for an injured Michal Kempny.

Verdict: Steady

Tom Wilson was one of only three Caps with two goals last week, and boy were they pretty. His sharp-angle shot in New Jersey came off a slick pass from Ovechkin, and his goal against Philadelphia yesterday was a perfectly placed deflection of a Nick Jensen shot. His two goals also came on only eight shots. The only downside to his play last week? His three trips to the penalty box. Other than that, he’s been solid.

Verdict: Steady

John Carlson had a rough week, y’all. He had a particularly awful game against Tampa; he was on the ice for the Bolts’ first three goals, and personally scored that third one. He led the team in ice time (averaging 27:51 TOI per game) and also tied Brooks Orpik for the team lead in giveaways. He spent a lot of time on the power play and penalty kill, both of which struggled last week. Hopefully this was just an off-week for Carly and he turns things back around.

Verdict: Dropping

The Djoos was loose once again! That’s right folks, Christian Djoos slotted in on the Caps’ third pairing in place of Brooks Orpik against the Devils, and he didn’t miss a beat. He tallied his only point in his three games in his first game back, but it was a beauty. He fired a perfectly-placed pass to Brett Connolly, who was waiting in front of the net to tip in what ended up being the game-winner. Even after a ten-game stretch as a healthy scratch, Djoos looked confident last week and slid right back into the lineup.

Verdict: On the rise

Nick Jensen had another good week in Washington. He tallied two primary assists in the same way: a wicked shot from the blue line redirected into the net by a waiting forward. He also had eight shot blocks through four games, second only to Matt Niskanen. His confident puck-moving ability is obvious whenever he’s out on the ice, and it is clear that he is quickly becoming an important part of the Caps’ blue line.

Verdict: Steady

Michal Kempny’s week was cut a bit short after sustaining a nasty-looking leg injury against Tampa Bay on Wednesday. He took an awkward fall after a hit from Tampa’s Cedric Paquette, and was unable to put any weight on his left leg while exiting the ice. While no specific information about his injury has been released, he is out indefinitely. Caps fans wanted more ice time for Djoos, but this probably wasn’t the way they wanted it to happen. Get well soon, Kempny, the blue line needs you.

Verdict: Steady

Matt Niskanen had a bit of a rough week, with the exception of his primary assist on Travis Boyd’s game-winner yesterday. In Friday’s loss to the Wild, Niskanen made a horrible turnover in the neutral zone that led to Luke Kunin’s game-winner. He also often looks sluggish on the ice, almost like he is overthinking every decision he makes, which leads to small mistakes that are incredibly frustrating to watch. Niskanen has been struggling all season, and this week was no exception.

Verdict: Steady

Dmitry Orlov had been redeeming himself earlier this month with some increased offense, but his defensive mistakes become much more glaring when he doesn’t have a pile of assists to fall back on. Through four games last week, Orlov only had one assist and four shots on goal. His defense has left a lot to be desired lately, and last week was no exception. He doesn’t look as sluggish as Niskanen does, but he makes just as many frustrating mistakes.

Verdict: Dropping

Brooks Orpik was a healthy scratch last Tuesday, missing his first game since January 23. However, once he was back in the lineup, the stress of watching him play returned as well. His game against Tampa wasn’t terrible, but he made some big mistakes against the Wild that were hard to ignore. His horrible misplay of the puck in the neutral zone led to Jordan Greenway’s goal, and at one point he made a sloppy pass attempt in his own zone that went off Kuznetsov’s skate and right back to Braden Holtby. The only reason it wasn’t an own goal is because Holtby was, thankfully, awake in net. Orpik also had a total of four giveaways in three games, yikes. His play isn’t any worse than it has been this season, but it hasn’t gotten better.

Verdict: Steady

Pheonix Copley played in just one of Washington’s games last week, and the only one away from Capital One Arena. The Devils didn’t test him too hard, but he looked solid. He allowed one goal on 21 shots, making for a .952 SV%. He didn’t do anything particularly spectacular, but he did exactly what the Caps needed him to do.

Verdict: Steady

Braden Holtby had another good week in net. He posted a .912 SV% overall and a high-danger save-percentage of .931%. His numbers took a hit in Wednesday’s OT loss to Tampa, but he looked good otherwise. Holtby is also one of the only reasons the Caps were able to beat the Flyers yesterday; he saved 35 of 36 shots and only allowed one power play goal. Holtby’s play has been consistently good over the past few weeks, which is exactly what the Capitals need in this final playoff push.

Verdict: Steady