Forwards - Brief Summary
The first month of the Capitals' season has been chaotic. The top line, led by Alex Ovechkin has been producing at or above expectations while the second line has been anything but. The third line has helped chip in the way a team needs it to, but the fourth line is a far cry from last year's line.
Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals for most of October and his linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson are among the league's leaders in assists. Ovechkin is also shooting again, with about 10 more shots than the NHL's second place shooter. But Johansson and Backstrom have only 2 goals between them along with their 20 assists. That's a pretty nasty ratio.
Ovechkin's Plus/Minus a Minus (Compared with NHL's Top Scorers)
|Martin St Louis||TBL||7||7||14||+7|
|James van Riemsdyk||TOR||7||6||13||+8|
Yep, Ovechkin is the only "minus" player on this list of the NHL's top point scorers for October.
For the most part, the Capitals have the same personnel they had last season, but this year they don't have the excuse of a lockout-shortened training camp under a new coaching staff. The changes up front have Mikhail Grabovski replacing Mike Ribeiro at center and rookie Tom Wilson replacing the veteran locker room leader Matt Hendricks on the fourth line. Other than that, this is pretty much the same team that could truthfully blame the referees for not advancing beyond the first round of the 2013 Playoff series against the New York Rangers.
Grabovski, who McPhee picked up on a one-year deal after the Maple Leafs bought out his contract after one year of his five-year deal, began the season with a blast. Grabovski scored 3 goals and added an assist on opening night then put on a bit of a disappearing act before finding the scoresheet again the past few games. He has since quieted down while Ribeiro has been heating up in the desert playing the first year of his four year deal he signed this offseason with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Jason Chimera and Joel Ward have performed nicely, but their second line counterparts Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer have been as disappointing as Chimmer and Wardo have been solid. Eric Fehr has yet to find his game in his first year playing center at the NHL level. Coach Adam Oates was stuck on having Fehr play center during October, but he dropped to the fourth line forcing Laich to play center towards the end of the month.
Comparing the Capitals Lines
- 1st Line: Ovechkin—Backstrom—Johansson
- 2nd Line: Erat—Laich—Brouwer
- 3rd Line: Chimera—Grabovski—Ward
- 4th Line: Volpatti—Fehr / Beagle / Latta—Wilson
As the month progressed Tom Wilson passed his 9-game tryout before his entry-level contract kicked in. He hasn't improved noticeably and his role seems to have diminished as October played on. Wilson has a good upside but may still be on the Capitals only because the team is lacking in size up and down the lineup. He just hasn't shown hands capable of putting the puck in the net at this level yet and isn't effective anywhere in the offensive zone.
Perhaps the team's biggest enigma is Martin Erat. We're still waiting to see why GM George McPhee was willing to ship the Capitals second best prospect to Nashville in exchange for the aging winger and Michael Latta. Erat was vanquished to the fourth line as of opening night, then had 3 assists in his first game playing on the second line. That production against Columbus has all but disappeared since.
Meanwhile, Latta has been up and down between Washington's fourth line and Hershey (where he leads all forwards with 4 points in 6 games for the struggling Bears who have begun the season 2-4-0). Jay Beagle has only appeared in a few dozen minutes this season, but the Capitals have nobody in the system to call up. Considering Hershey only has two players averaging over half a point a game, finding scoring on the farm hasn't been easy for the Caps this month.
Defensemen - Brief Summary
Let's start with this: The entire corps of Capitals defensemen have scored 1 goal this season on 117 shots. On the blue line, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and John Erskine all return. Jack Hillen and Steven Olesky were also back to keep the Capitals defense the same. The only thing that changed as of the opening of this season is another year of experience for these six guys that are all in their 20's except for Erskine.
Problem is, Erskine played horribly when in the lineup and earlier today joined Hillen on long term injured reserve. Erskine's injury paved the way for undrafted free agent collegian Nate Schmidt to join the Capitals blue line. Schmidt has played well at times as seen in this video, but has been mistake prone as the Capitals are having a tough time keeping up with their opponents on a nightly basis.
The second game of the season, Jack Hillen had a serious knee injury that will keep him out for several more months, putting a wrench in the team's defensive depth. Teenager Connor Carrick lasted two games before being sent down to Hershey where he's picked up a pair of assists in 5 games with a -1 rating. Carrick is the only defenseman to score for Washington this season and gets my #1 Goal of the Month for the Washington Capitals in October.
Dmitry Orlov failed to make an appearance for the Capitals in October but is leading the Hershey Bears in points with 6 despite playing only 4 of the team's 6 games. He was recalled earlier today and could make his season debut on November 1 in Philadelphia.
Only Ottawa, Toronto, and Buffalo are giving up more shots per game than Washington's 34.5 mark. There must be something in the water up around Lake Ontario. Interestingly however, Toronto has a 10-4-0 record despite being in the Bottom Three in Shots For (26.5) and Shots Allowed (36.1), so go figure.
Goaltenders - Brief Summary
Braden Holtby has played well in the past few weeks despite his team letting him down on a regular basis. Holtby has had to come up with some huge saves just to keep the Capitals in games, but the multitude of shots he's been forced to face coupled with the quality has him putting up below average numbers among NHL goalies. Holtby's record is 4-5-0 this year.
No goalie in the NHL with more wins has a higher Goals Against Average than Holtby's 3.07 GAA. Talking save percentage (which shows us a bit about the number of shots faced), the goalies with more wins and a lower Save % than Holtby's .913 are Jonathan Quick (8 wins, .903); Roberto Luongo (7 wins, .909); and Mike Smith (6 wins, .912). That's not bad company.
Holtby's backup Michal Neuvirth has been equally inconsistent. Between Holtby and Neuvirth, the goaltending has yet to steal a game for the Capitals (i.e. Henrik Lundqvist's 2-0 shutout against Washington).
Special Teams - Brief Summary
Washington's power play was fantastic for the first 9 games of the season, leading the NHL in that department. But that's where all the Capitals' goals were coming from. Now that the Capitals are scoring at even strength, the power play has begun to falter. This cost them at least one point in the month's final game in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the Capitals penalty kill has been on a roll. But they're giving up a ton of scoring chances and shots. Holtby and Neuvirth have a disproportionate save percentage on the PK which has helped bump their numbers to the top of the league as well.
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