If the Washington Capitals are going to overcome a slow start to the 2013 season, they will have to start looking to their top players to lead them.
You can go up and down the Caps roster and see exactly why the team is off to a poor start.
Some guys are playing well. Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski come to mind.
Other players—several of which had such high expectations—have not lived up to their potential. Braden Holtby has struggled so far, even though he has been hung out to dry by his defense numerous times—and we are barely even into the season.
You have players like Mike Green and John Carlson, both of whom signed pretty lucrative contracts in the offseason, and neither has done much of anything so far.
Green has put eight shots on goal and has a minus-one rating so far.
Carlson has an assist and seven shots on goal.
In general, though, the Caps defensemen have clearly not yet grasped head coach Adam Oates' new system and many costly mistakes have been made.
But the offense, which was supposed to be revamped by Oates, has been struggling.
Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played together with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL during the lockout. One would think that would have helped their consistency and production.
Backstrom has two assists, six shots on goal and a minus-three rating.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, has zero goals, one assist and 11 shots on goal. If this is really going to be a year of resurgence for the "Great Eight," then he will have to amp up the intensity and fast.
Marcus Johansson has only two shots on goal through three games.
Jason Chimera has two assists and five shots on goal so far.
So, as one can see, if the Caps are to turn this around, their top players must perform better.
With a few of games to look at, it is easy to ponder how the Top 10 players on the Caps might fare this season.
Your top 10 might very well be different from mine. But for my top 10, I am looking at the 10 players I feel have the most impact upon how well—or poorly—this team will fare as the 2012-13 season progresses.
Here then are my predictions for stats for these Top 10 players for the 2012-13 season.
As mentioned briefly, one of the bright spots for the Capitals thus far has been the play of Wojtek Wolski.
The Caps did not make a ton of moves in free agency this offseason. Signing Wolski to a one-year, $600,000 deal was, however, one of the few moves the team did make (Washington Post).
It was a move that could yield big dividends. Or perhaps not. It has all the makings, though, of a low-risk, high-reward, sort of situation.
Wolski has never been what one might consider a prolific goal-scorer. The only 20-goal season he ever had was during the 2006-2007 season when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche when he scored 22 goals, had 28 assists and had his only 50-point season.
A concern has to be his durability as he has not played more than 37 games in a season since 2010-2011.
With that as a backdrop, then perhaps this 48-game schedule might be just what the doctor ordered for Wolski.
He is off to a good start for the Caps as he has a goal along with nine shots on goal, in the first three games.
If he can maintain that sort of pace, Wolski could be a key contributor to the Caps and he could be a major reason that the team climbs back into contention.
Here then are some predicted stats for Wojtek Wolski for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—102
Power Play Goals—2
Jason Chimera is one of those players who can be a real spark plug for the Capitals.
When he is on his game, he is deceptively quick and is an underrated scoring threat.
Last season was a breakout season, of sorts, for Chimera. He had a career high with 20 goals, double the total he had the previous season. It was the first time Chimera had ever had a 20-goal season.
To go with his 20 goals, Chimera added 19 assists.
In the playoffs, Chimera continued his stellar play with four goals and three assists. Suffice it to say, expectations for Jason Chimera were quite high entering the season.
So far, Chimera has not done a whole lot.He has two assists with five shots on goal. That's not too bad—but like so many of the Caps, it could be better.
The question now is even in this shortened season, will Chimera be able to stay on the pace he set last year or will he slip back.
That is hard to say. Chimera has been in the NHL for 11 seasons and has scored double digit numbers in goals in six of those seasons so another solid season is a distinct possibility.
Here is how I see Jason Chimera doing this season:
Shots on Goal—87
Power Play Goals—1
Troy Brouwer is another of those impact players for the Caps who might be flying under the radar of fans.
The Caps themselves, however, saw something special in Brouwer as just before the lockout went into effect they signed him to a three-year, $11 million extension (Washington Post).
Make no mistake though, Brouwer is a very important member of the Caps as his success or failure will, to a large extent, dictate a lot of the other moves coach Adam Oates can make.
For instance, if Brouwer is effective this season, then he can be placed on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Or he could be placed on the second line with Mike Ribeiro and Jason Chimera or Mathieu Perrault.
What this does is create flexibility for the Caps, something they have been lacking a bit the past couple of seasons. If Brouwer can cement his status as a top-six forward, it just creates all sorts of line combinations involving players like Brooks Laich, Chimera, Marcus Johansson, Perrault, Joel Ward, Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb.
But Brouwer has never exactly been a huge goal-scorer. His best season so far was in 2009-2010 when, as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, Brouwer netted 22 goals, had 18 assists and a career high 40 points.
Last season, his first season with the Caps, Brouwer tallied 18 goals and 15 assists. He did register a big game winning goal in Game 5 of the series against the Boston Bruins and became a leader of sorts on a team that, at times last year, lacked leadership in a big way.
So far this season, Brouwer has been one of those few bright spots as he has a goal with five shots on goal. His minus-two rating, however, tells me he needs to get much better at back-checking, especially in the system Adam Oates is trying to install.
And with the Caps penalty kill being absolutely atrocious, Brouwer must avoid costly penalties, such as the delay of game penalty he got hit with Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.
Still, I like what I have seen from Brouwer on offense so far.
Here is how I see Troy Brouwer's 2013 season going:
Shots on Goal—90
Power Play Goals—3
If you read anything I write about the Capitals here on Bleacher Report, then you know exactly what I think of John Carlson.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote an article wherein I presented my argument as to why Carlson would be the Caps' next breakout star.
I won't restate all of those reasons here but 57 percent of those who read that article agreed with me.
The Caps obviously saw something special in Carlson as they signed him to a six year, $23.8 million contract just before the lockout went into effect (Washington Post).
That is a pretty hefty contract so Carlson has a lot to live up to.
What Caps' fans have to love about Carlson is that he seems like a natural two-way defender and he is a tremendous shot-blocker.
Carlson has shown some real two-way potential. His nine goals and 23 assists a season ago were not too bad.
Carlson is also a shot-blocking magnet. In 2011-2012, Carlson led the Caps with 153 blocked shots, which was good enough for 18th in the NHL in blocked shots.
Carlson is also tremendously durable, playing in all 82 games a season ago, and he was second on the team in average ice time per game, logging almost 22 minutes per game.
His playoff performance was even better as he averaged just over 24 minutes per game, had two goals and added three assists.
So far this season, Carlson has an assist and he has put seven shots on goal, which is not too bad. Something that should make Caps' fans feel encouraged is that, thus far, Carlson is a plus-one; a season ago he was a minus-15.
Of course, Carlson did have a costly penalties assessed against him against the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens. Carlson, for whatever reason, just does not seem as focused as he needs to be and this is hurting the Caps.
Still, under Adam Oates' system, the Caps' defenders have the green light to jump up into the offensive zone. This is exactly the type of system in which Carlson should thrive.
Here are some predicted stats for John Carlson for the 2013 season:
Ice Time—22 minutes per game
One of the main reasons the Caps might be struggling is because Brooks Laich is not in the lineup.
Laich has missed the first three games with a groin injury. He was supposed to return to the practice rink with his teammates on Wednesday but, as the Washington Times reported, that did not happen.
Laich has been somewhat up and down the past few seasons. For instance, last year Laich scored 16 goals and 25 assists. But he was also a minus-eight as opposed to the plus-14 rating he had the year previously.
For three seasons, from 2007-2010, Laich was a 20 goal scorer in each of those seasons. There is little question his productivity has declined some the past few seasons.
Some people feel that Laich had to spend too much time trying to be the Caps' answer for a second line center. Indeed, Laich might be better situated on the wing and using him as a second line center has been a big reason for the reduction in his productivity.
That is why Laich is so important to the Caps. If Laich can get back out on the wing, where he belongs, there is no reason why Laich cannot once again be a major producer.
For that to happen though, Laich will need some help from Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro was brought in to be the answer to the team's second line center problem. If Ribeiro is moderately successful in this area, this will free up Laich to play on the wing.
It also might free up Laich to play the third line center if the need arises. He could even be moved up to the top line on occasion and team up with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Brooks Laich creates options and the Caps could roll, at a minimum, three quality lines at opponents night in and night out.
Beyond that though, Laich is a very good skater, has excellent hands and a good shot. He is a natural leader and he is another of those players the Caps have that lead by example.
Based on the poor early start, the Caps need Brooks Laich and they need him now.
Here are some projected stats for Brooks Laich for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—87
Power Play Goals—4
One of the biggest gambles the Caps made this offseason was when they decided to sign defenseman Mike Green to a three-year, $18.25 million deal (Washington Post).
Green has been injury plagued, to say the least, the past few seasons. He has only played in a grand total of 81 regular season games the past two years.
Obviously, the Caps would like to see the return of the Mike Green who scored 73 points in 2008-2009 and then followed that up with 75 points in the 2009-2010 season. If the Caps get that, then the gamble will more than pay for itself.
What is encouraging about Green is how it seems he actually, and somewhat ironically, learned how to play defense during the playoffs last year.
During the Caps playoff run, Green blocked 28 shots, good enough for fourth on the Caps and 16th best of all players who played in the playoffs.Green also had a plus-five rating for the playoffs, third best on the team.
There is little question that Green, when he is healthy, is one the best two-way defenders in the NHL. Some might even say his play from 2008-2010 redefined what a two-way defender actually is.
And his play during the playoffs last year showed just how effective a pure defender Mike Green can be.
Thus far though, things are not looking too good for Green or the Caps. Green has no goals, no assists, eight shots on goal and a minus-one rating.
Not too encouraging—but at least it is early.
Here then are some predicted stats for Mike Green for the 2013 season:
Ice Time—24 minutes per game
Just how important is Nicklas Backstrom to the Washington Capitals?
Look back at last season. Backstrom missed 40 games of the regular season due to injury.
How much was this a factor? The Caps offense, without Backstrom in the lineup, was at times anemic. Not even Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin could spark the Caps offense to life at times. The team floundered around the entire time Backstrom was injured, and seemed to be locked into the No. 8 seed in the playoffs or perhaps missing the playoffs entirely.
Once Backstrom returned though, the team changed gears and started playing very well. They went on a tear at the end of the season, winning four of their last five and not just sneaking into the playoffs, but getting there with a bullet and capturing the No. 7 seed.
As was reported on NHL.com, in the playoffs Backstrom led all Washington forwards in ice time and assists. He was second on the team in points during the playoffs. Backstrom even got into the whole shift in philosophy during the playoffs and became a shot blocker as he was tied for third among all forwards with 16 blocked shots.
His game winner in double overtime against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of that series really seemed to get the Caps going on their unexpected playoff run.
Anyone who observed the Caps last season would likely admit that the team is very different with Backstrom in the lineup. As the top line center, Backstrom is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. He is one of the most important parts of the Caps offense as not only can he score and skate with the best of them, but he is an invaluable resource for Alexander Ovechkin.
But, for whatever reason, Backstrom has not started off the 2013 season well at all. He has two assists but he is also a minus-three and, at times, he has almost seemed a bit disinterested. Whether there are lingering health issues for Backstrom or whether there is just something missing from his game, Backstrom's slow start is a huge reason the Caps are struggling so much.
If the Caps have any hope of righting the ship, they will need the absolute best that Nicklas Backstrom can bring to the table.
Here are some predicted stats for Nicklas Backstrom for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—88
Power Play Goals—4
On Draft Day 2012, the Capitals made one of the biggest moves they made all offseason.
It was on that day that George McPhee cut a deal with the Dallas Stars whereby the Caps got Mike Ribeiro in exchange for Cody Eakin and the 54th pick in the draft (Washington Times).
The thought process for McPhee was simple. He had been looking for a second line center for a couple of years and he felt that Ribeiro would more than fill that role.
It was a move that made a lot of sense, especially as Ribeiro is in the last year of his contract.Obviously, as he is in the last year of his contract, one would assume that Ribeiro will do all he can to impress the Caps and his teammates.
He brings a ton of experience to the Caps as he has played in over 700 games during his NHL career. Despite all that action, he is not injury prone. In fact, the fewest number of games he has played in any season since 2003-2004 was 66 during the 2009-2010 season.
While Ribeiro cannot really be considered a prolific goal scorer, he is more than adequate as far as lighting the lamp. He has averaged 19.88 goals per season since the 2003-2004 campaign with a high of 27 goals in 2008 and a low of 16 in 2006.
So far this season, Ribeiro has been one of the better players on an under-performing Caps team. He has three assists in three games and has four shots on goal.
He has been playing quite hard, perhaps a bit too hard as his 10 minute game misconduct penalty near the end of the game against the Winnipeg Jets evidenced.
Whether Ribeiro is really the answer to the Caps' second line center issue remains to be seen. But, so far, Mike Ribeiro has been trying hard.
With the way the Caps have played so far, that is really all you can ask of him.
Here are some predicted stats for Mike Ribeiro for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—69
Power Play Goals—3
By now, most Caps' fans know all about Braden Holtby.
Holtby was thrust into action on the eve of the 2012 playoffs due to injuries sustained by Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. His first task? Outplay the defending Conn Smythe trophy winner, Tim Thomas of the defending champion Boston Bruins.
What happened next could not have been expected by anyone except the most optimistic Braden Holtby fans out there. With all of 21 games of regular season NHL experience under his belt, Holtby took the hockey world by storm, beat Thomas and the Bruins in seven thrilling games and then got the Caps to a Game 7 against the Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, and the top-seeded Rangers.
Along the way, Holtby posted a 1.95 goals against average for the playoffs, good for third overall among all playoff goaltenders.
Only Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the 2012 NHL playoffs, and Lundqvist had a better goals against average than Holtby, among goalies who played more than 10 playoff games last year.
Holtby also had a .935 save percentage.
Only Quick and Phoenix's Mike Smith had a better save percentage among goalies playing in more than 10 playoff games.
Needless to say, expectations for Holtby for the 2012-2013 season were through the roof. Many Caps' fans had to feel like with Holtby in net the Caps chances, even in a very shortened season, would be really good.
His play with the Hershey Bears during the lockout had to make Caps' fans feel a bit better.
Holtby played in 25 games for the Bears and logged over 1400 minutes between the pipes.
He was fifth in the AHL with a 2.14 goals against average, third with a .932 save percentage, was second in the AHL with four shutouts and was seventh in saves with 712. He finished with a 12-12-1 mark during this AHL stint which is good but, admittedly, not great.
But so far, this season has been rough for Braden Holtby. He gave up six goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the season opener and then gave up four more against the Winnipeg Jets in the Caps' home opening loss.
Holtby was replaced in net by Michal Neuvirth for Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens. Neuvirth fared no better in a 4-1 loss.
To be fair, Holtby has not gotten much help from his defense. No one seems to be blocking shots and Holtby has faced too many odd-man rushes in the two games in which he has played. It is hard to say whether what Holtby is going through is the result of the Caps poor overall play in front of him or whether it is something with his game.
I am thinking the former. Holtby is just too good to stay in this mini-slump for the entire season and one has to figure—or perhaps hope—that the Caps start playing better defense.
Here then are some projected stats for Braden Holtby for the 2013 season:
Goals Against Average—2.25
It should come as no surprise at all that the most important player on the Washington Capitals is Alexander Ovechkin.
Hasn't it really been that way since he burst upon the scene during the 2005-2006 season?
No one on the Caps is watched, loved, blamed or scrutinized more than the Great Eight.
What is also true, at least statistically speaking, is that Ovechkin's numbers have been down the past couple of seasons. There is no denying that.
His 65-goal, 47-assist onslaught during the 2007-2008 season seems like it happened a century ago. Ovechkin's numbers have been way down by his own standards the past couple of seasons. But when compared to the rest of the NHL, they are not so terrible.
Ask most Caps' fans and Ovechkin's 38 goals a season ago would be considered a major disappointment. Still, Ovi was fifth in the league in goals.
Where Ovi's numbers fell off badly though were in the assists and points departments. He only had 27 assists last year (a dismal 122nd in the NHL) and his 65 total points ranked 37th in the league.
There was a lot of optimism in D.C. that new head coach, Adam Oates, would be able to get Ovechkin back on track. If Oates could get Ovechkin back to being the scoring threat he once was, the Caps offense would really prosper.
But so far, the results have been very minimal—and that might be rather kind.
Through three games so far, Ovi has done next to nothing. He is trying to get the puck on net as he now has 11 shots on goal. But he has no goals to show for it and has only one assist.
He is a minus-one, which is not a huge deal but with the team playing so poorly overall, they need their captain to step up in all areas of his game.
Oates, to his credit, is being creative as he has been playing Ovechkin on the right wing so far this season. In a desperate attempt to jump start the offense, Oates moved Ovi back to left wing in the third period against Montreal Thursday night (ESPN).
I would think that Oates might be better off leaving the Great Eight on the left wing, at least until the offense gets going.
Ovechkin's slow start is even more perplexing when one considers that he spent almost the entire lockout in Russia playing in the KHL. His time spent playing for Dynamo Moscow suggested that Ovi might be poised for a really big 2013 season.
For the Russian club, Ovechkin played in 31 games, scored 19 goals (fourth-best in the KHL), had 21 assists, 40 points and a plus-13 rating. Anyone who watched any of the KHL action saw that Ovi looked a lot like the Ovi of old.
So far though, he looks like the Alexander Ovechkin of the past couple of seasons and it is a major reason the Caps are struggling.
I think Ovechkin will still bounce back but we all might need to temper our expectations a bit.
Here then are my predicted stats for Alexander Ovechkin for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—182
Power Play Goals—5