Washington Capitals Who Must Step Up If Team Wants to Contend

Jonathan Munshaw@@jon_munshawCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2013

Washington Capitals Who Must Step Up If Team Wants to Contend

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    After starting off the season 0-3, the Capitals have improved their record to 1-3-1 after losing to the New Jersey Devils in overtime and defeating the Buffalo Sabres in Washington on Sunday.

    This is no time for the Capitals to relax, though, as they need to work quickly to even their record so that they don't fall behind other teams in the Southeast Division in this shortened season.

    Thus far, right winger Joel Ward is the Caps' leading scorer with three goals, and captain Alex Ovechkin just recorded his first goal of the season on Sunday.

    The team can't afford for Ward to be the only goal-scorer on the ice, and the defensemen have to step up their play and take some of the pressure off goalies Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. 

    Washington needs a few key players to improve their play on the ice and show a little more fire than they have so far this season if they wan't to contend. As of Monday night, Washington was fourth in the Southeast Division with three points, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom the Caps lost to in the season opener, and the Winnipeg Jets, whom Washington lost to when the Jets were playing their third game in four days. 

    In this 48-game season, the Capitals don't have time to keep thinking about what changes they need to make, they need to do it immediately, before they fall even further behind the division leaders.

    Although the Capitals may improve over time with more practice under Adam Oates' system, they first need several players to step up and play better if they want to straighten out this season before it gets worse. 

Nicklas Backstrom

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    The Capitals' first-line center has been struggling thus far this season, producing only two points in five games, with both points coming in the second game of the season against the Jets, when Backstrom assisted on two goals. 

    If Backstrom continues on the pace he is at right now, he would score around 20 points all season, with the shortened 48-game season.

    When Backstrom is on the ice, his main job is to give the puck to Alex Ovechkin and put him in a position to score. Right now, he isn't doing that, as Ovechkin just got his first goal on Sunday afternoon against the Sabres. 

    Backstrom has a plus-minus of minus-two this season and has shot the puck only nine times.

    Either Backstrom needs to start setting up his linemates to score, or he needs to start producing his own scoring opportunities.

    Backstrom's production has been declining since the '09-'10 season, when he scored a career-high 101 points. The year after that, he missed several games due to injury, and had only 65 points. Last season, he missed just about half the season and produced 44 points.

    Backstrom is also heading up a power-play squad that has been struggling this season to capitalize on the mistakes of the other team.

    The Capitals' alternate captain hasn't scored yet this season, and if they want to contend for the playoffs, the Caps need their best center to start playing like their best center, rather than someone who belongs on the second or third line. 

Alex Ovechkin

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    Even though Ovechkin broke his scoring drought this year on Sunday, scoring his first goal of the year against Buffalo, he has still been under-performing for someone who is supposed to be the most talented player on Washington's roster.

    Ovechkin has two points this year including his goal on Sunday, and has a plus-minus of minus-two, similar to his linemate Nicklas Backstrom.  

    Washington's captain is putting the puck on the net, shooting 18 times, more than anyone else on the team, but he hasn't been converting many of those shots into goals, with a 5.6 shooting percentage.

    For someone who is supposed to be one of the biggest stars in the NHL, Ovechkin has allowed his numbers to decline during the same time period as Backstrom's. During the '09-'10 season, Ovechkin had 109 points and 50 goals. The next season, in five more games than the previous season, Ovechkin had 85 points and only 35 goals, a career low. 

    Currently, right winger Joel Ward is the team's leading scorer with three goals, but the team can't rely on that all season and needs its star players to start scoring.

    Ovechkin is putting plenty of pucks on the net, but he needs to work within the new system to find ways to get those pucks to go past the goaltender. If Ovechkin starts producing, the team will immediately see their record improve. 

Marcus Johansson

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    The Capitals' center is close to the bottom of the league, and is at the bottom on Washington's roster, in plus-minus with a minus-five so far this season in four games.

    Johansson has already been benched this year by coach Adam Oates, and he certainly hasn't played like someone is supposed to be Washington's second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom. 

    Johansson has no goals, no points and only two shots this season, the same number of shots as Eric Fehr, who has played in only two games this year.

    The team would be immediately improved if Johansson started producing on a more consistent basis; the team could stop relying on other players to score who haven't been nearly as touted as Johansson has been in the past several seasons. 

    Johansson was able to put up 46 points in 80 games last season, points that the Caps could use as they continue to struggle to keep up with other teams' offenses. 

    Fehr, Johansson and fellow center Mathieu Perreault are the only non-defensive players to not have a single point so far this season, and if Johansson could start producing some assists to players like Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle, the chances of Washington evening out their record would improve. 

Mike Green

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    The Capitals need their most talented defenseman to get back to the form he was in several years ago when he first entered the league if they want to get their offense back on track.

    Green, who once was one of the best scoring defensemen in the league, now is producing menial numbers on the ice compared to what he had during the '09-'10 season, when he posted a career-high 76 points and a plus-minus of 39.

    Last year, in 32 games, Green had only three goals and seven points, scoring on only 4.7 percent of his shots. 

    This year, Green does have one goal and two assists, but the team needs Green to be in top form if they want to improve their record.

    Green is one of the leaders on the ice for the Caps behind Ovechkin and Backstrom, and if Green isn't producing, it's likely the other defensemen won't either. 

    If Green can avoid the injury bug he's been plagued by lately and play the game with the fire he did only a few short years ago, he could inject some life back into a team that has looked slow on defense and offense. 

John Carlson

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    Behind Mike Green, John Carlson has been Washington's best defenseman in the past few seasons but hasn't played like it so far this year.

    Carlson only has one point in five games, and has a plus-minus of minus-one.

    Besides the fact that Carlson hasn't been producing on offense, his defense hasn't been that great either.

    Against the Winnipeg Jets, Carlson played very relaxed defense, allowing a goal to go in off of his skate when he tried to block a pass using his skate rather than his body or stick.

    Carlson is one of the numerous Caps who have just been playing slow this season and is one of the household names on this roster.

    Carlson certainly has the talent but hasn't shown it this season.

    He is also a member of the second power-play unit, a unit that has been struggling to convert on power-play opportunities. 

    If Carlson and his defensive partner John Erskine both started producing, it would give the team some depth on the ice. When running on all cylinders, Carlson and Erskine could just as easily be the first defensive line rather than the second. 

Mathieu Perreault

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    Similar to Marcus Johansson, Perreault was supposed to be a second- or third-line center for the Capitals. 

    Sadly, that hasn't worked in the Caps' favor so far, especially this season.

    Rumors have been circulating over whether or not Perreault wants to be traded. Assuming Perreault stays with the team, he needs to produce more, so the Caps aren't relying on only two or three players to score all the goals.

    Perrault has a plus-minus of minus-three in four games and doesn't have a single point. Last year, Perrault's first full season with the team, the center put up 30 points and had a plus-minus of nine. Similar numbers to that this season could give a boost to the third line, and Perrault could produce with some of the grinders on the roster who pull through when the flashier players such as Ovechkin and Backstrom don't. 

    He has only three shots this season and could at least be putting more pucks on the net, assuming that Oates chooses to keep him in the lineup, with other centers such as Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks performing much better. 

    Perrault was once thought to be part of the future of the Capitals, and now fans don't even know if he will start from night to night.