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Connor McMichael’s Goals are Coming... But Will They Come Soon Enough?

McMichael’s offensive production has been stellar in everything but goals. Will that change in time for Laviolette to keep him in the lineup?

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

To start the year, one of the predominant questions—particularly after Nicklas Backstrom was pronounced out to start the year—was which rookie would be inserted into the lineup: Connor McMichael or Hendrix Lapierre.

Although the Caps started the year with Lapierre in the lineup, McMichael quickly found himself as a regular in the lineup after Lapierre played just 7:26 at even strength against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That said, how’s McMichael been doing? Well, he sure doesn’t look out of place, particularly compared to Lapierre when looking from an advanced statistical perspective:

Capitals Skaters in Goals & Expected Goals 5v5

Player Goals For % Expected Goals For %
Player Goals For % Expected Goals For %
Connor McMichael 42.86 67.93
Conor Sheary 66.67 63.5
T.J. Oshie 40 62.4
Evgeny Kuznetsov 88.89 60.9
Alex Ovechkin 83.33 59.09
Tom Wilson 81.82 54.25
Daniel Sprong 83.33 52.91
Anthony Mantha 53.85 51.75
Garnet Hathaway 100 50.63
Lars Eller 62.5 49.43
Carl Hagelin 100 49.01
Nic Dowd 100 47.81
Hendrix Lapierre 66.67 42.06

Further, a lot of this is coming from McMichael’s offensive shot generation, where he’s amongst the Caps leaders in almost every major (non-points) category:

Capitals Skaters Individual Rate Statistics

Player Individual expected goals/60 Individual Shot Attempts/60 Individual High Danger Scoring Chances/60
Player Individual expected goals/60 Individual Shot Attempts/60 Individual High Danger Scoring Chances/60
Connor McMichael 1.37 18.66 7.11
Alex Ovechkin 0.97 17.18 2.15
Garnet Hathaway 0.91 18.08 4.52
Anthony Mantha 0.88 12.6 4.64
Evgeny Kuznetsov 0.86 10.89 5.45
Hendrix Lapierre 0.83 13.09 7.27
Daniel Sprong 0.58 18.5 3.36
Conor Sheary 0.55 10.47 2.79
Lars Eller 0.53 10.59 4.12
T.J. Oshie 0.46 11.93 2.65
Tom Wilson 0.45 9.96 2.21
Nic Dowd 0.28 6.87 0.86
Carl Hagelin 0.22 9.22 0

It’s worth noting something: McMichael isn’t pumping a ton of low-danger shots at the net. He’s second on the team with 7.11 high danger changes per 60 and ranks 17th in the entire NHL (amongst skaters with 20 minutes played). His individual expected goals per 60 is even better, as his 1.74 per 60 leads the Caps and is 5th in the entire NHL.

That said, despite that, he’s still without a goal this year. It seems highly unlikely that a shooter with the volume (and quality) of McMichael will stay down for long, though, and a goal surge might well be coming.

However, will the goals come in time? One thing that has been noticeable, unfortunately for McMichael, is that his playing time has started to drop at five on five:

Connor McMichael 5v5 ice time

Game Team TOI
Game Team TOI
2021-10-19 COL at WSH WSH 9.75
2021-10-21 WSH at N.J WSH 11.33333
2021-10-23 CGY at WSH WSH 12.48333
2021-10-25 WSH at OTT WSH 12.35
2021-10-27 DET at WSH WSH 11.21667
2021-10-29 ARI at WSH WSH 10.38333

This is compounded by the fact that McMichael has yet to crack the Caps 18th-ranked powerplay.

From McMichael’s perspective, there’s another problem that might be coming soon too: Nicklas Backstrom is on the mend and could return to the lineup in short order:

Nicklas Backstrom was on the ice in full gear prior to Thursday’s practice working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, a sign that he is progressing in his recovery from a hip injury.

“He is going through a progression that hopefully is leading him back to us,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.

Backstrom has yet to play or practice with the team this season and is currently on long-term injured reserve. He has been dealing with a hip injury from the end of last season that did not heal over the offseason.

Whenever Backstrom’s possible return is discussed, Laviolette has stressed the process. Seeing him skating in full gear is a positive sign that he is taking the next step in that process.

There’s another sub-question here: would the Caps consider playing McMichael at the wing while T.J. Oshie remains out? The Caps have McMichael developing as a center and might not want to hinder that - plus they might want to keep him another year in Hershey. However they are the oldest team in the NHL and are in win-ASAP mode, and it’s hard to imagine an optimal Capitals lineup without McMichael.

With all this being said, the Caps have some tough decisions coming up. McMichael seems to have earned a place in the lineup, particularly given his shot production. However, even on an older team, it might be tough to see him crack a lineup with a healthy Nicklas Backstrom, as the Caps will have their full complement of centers (Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller, and Nic Dowd).