With the Caps now seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and a full eight points behind the 'Canes for the Southeast Division lead—with the Caps having played half of their schedule already—there is no more margin for error.
The Caps need points, and they need them now if they want to have any hope of making the playoffs this season.
And if the Caps are going to get there, they will need some major contributions from their best players.
For many of these top players, their personal seasons have, in many respects, mirrored the season that the Caps have had—largely erratic and inconsistent.
There are some players, such as Mike Ribeiro, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward, who have exceeded all expectations.
Then there are players like Jason Chimera who have been huge disappointments.
Players like Alexander Ovechkin are all over the place as far as consistency is concerned. Ovi can notch a hat trick one game, and then go and make a terrible mistake as he did against the New York Rangers on Sunday that seemed to turn the game around.
Ditto for Braden Holtby, who has three shutouts on the season, but who also has been pulled by Adam Oates twice in the Caps' last six games.
Lost in all of this has been the absence of Brooks Laich, who has not played in a game all season.
Suffice it to say, if the Caps have any hope at all of sneaking into the playoffs, it will take all hands on deck.
Very early in the season, I wrote an article predicting stats for the Caps' 10 best players. At the mid-point of the season, it is time to take an updated look at this list to see how close I was, how far off I might have been and to see how things might end up.
I am also modifying the list a bit. It pains me to leave Brooks Laich off the list because I firmly believe his absence is a major reason the Caps are in this hole. But right now it is really up in the air if or when we will see Laich.
Jason Chimera is also no longer in my Top 10. With zero goals, eight assists and a minus-three on the season, Chimera has to be the biggest disappointment of the season for the Caps.
But for these remaining 10 players, it is time to step up and get the job done.
The Caps did not make a ton of moves in free agency this offseason. Signing Wojtek Wolski to a one-year, $600,000 deal was, however, one of the few moves the team did make (Washington Post).
Wolski was not being brought to D.C. to light the world on fire with his scoring touch. He 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—he scored 22 goals, had 28 assists and had his only 50-point season.
Wolski started off the season fairly strong but then cooled off considerably. The low point for him was an 11-game scoreless drought that ultimately resulted in his being a healthy scratch in the Caps' 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 2.
But Wolski was brought back for the game on March 5 against the Boston Bruins and he scored a huge game-tying goal that capped a furious comeback by the Caps from a three-goal deficit. He followed up that effort with a goal and two assists against the Florida Panthers.
At the beginning of the season, I predicted the following stats for Wolski for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—102
Those numbers might be a bit high—but not by too much. Wolski currently has four goals and four assists. So at the mid-point of the season, he is close to that nine-goal mark. I don't think he will quite get there, but he will get close.
Here, then, are revised predictions for Wojtek Wolski for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—90
Joel Ward has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Capitals this season.
The man who scored one of the biggest goals in Caps' history last spring—the game-winner in overtime of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins—came into the 2013 season with what could best be termed "tempered expectations."
It was back in July of 2011 when the Caps signed Ward to a four-year, $12 million deal (Washington Times). Ward had just come off a fantastic playoff run with the Nashville Predators where he scored seven goals and had six assists in just 12 games. The Caps hoped that Ward could continue that torrid pace last season.
Things did not really work out that way, though, as Ward scored only six goals all of last season to go along with 12 assists for a rather disappointing 18-point season. But Ward again demonstrated his ability to step it up in the playoffs with that huge goal against Boston.
Ward would also, however, draw a crucial double-minor penalty in the closing moments of Game 5 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Rangers would score with 6.6 seconds remaining to tie the game, then win it in overtime. The Caps would ultimately fall to the Rangers in seven games.
This year, however, Ward has been nothing short of spectacular. He has already matched his goal total from all of last season with six. He has eight assists and is a plus-nine, which is the highest efficiency rating on the Caps.
No one has worked harder night in and night out than Joel Ward, and if the Caps fail to make the playoffs this season, it will have nothing to do with the rather-inspiring effort that Joel Ward has put forth so far. He always seems to be in the middle of the action and is a true threat to score whenever he can touch the puck.
Here is how I see Joel Ward's numbers ending up this season:
Shots on Goal—75
Troy Brouwer is another member of the Caps having a very good season—and that is a bit of an understatement.
The Caps saw something special in Brouwer during the offseason as just before the lockout went into effect they signed him to a three-year, $11 million extension (Washington Post).
It has paid big dividends for the Caps so far this season. With nine goals, Brouwer is tied for the team lead with Mike Ribeiro and Alexander Ovechkin.
Brouwer has also been a key component of the Caps' excellent power play, which currently ranks fourth in the NHL at 25.6 percent. Brouwer's four power-play goals rank third on the Caps.
It is an interesting development, as 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, he 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.
That lack of leadership has been an issue for the Caps again this year, and the effort of Troy Brouwer is one of the few things keeping the team in the playoff hunt—albeit just barely.
When the season began, these were the numbers I had predicted for Brouwer for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—90
Brouwer is almost to 10 goals already and he already has more power-play goals than I expected. He is shooting the puck more often than I thought he would and, in just about every way, has had a much larger impact on the team than I expected.
Here, then, are my revised predictions for Troy Brouwer for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—105
John Carlson is one of the those Caps' players who is really hard to figure out.
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).
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.
He had nine goals and 23 assists a season ago and led the Caps with 153 blocked shots, which was good enough for 18th in the NHL.
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 contest.
His playoff performance was even better, as he averaged just over 24 minutes per game, had two goals and added three assists.
Carlson got off to a rather slow start this season and, for a while anyway, his conditioning did not seem to be where it should have been.
But he has improved his game as the season has progressed. He has four goals and seven assists on the season and has a plus-one efficiency rating. It is important to recall that a season ago, Carlson was a minus-15, so there is definite improvement being made. His 65 blocked shots leads the Caps and is seventh overall in the NHL.
When the season began, these were the stats I had predicted for John Carlson:
Ice Time—22 minutes per game
For the most part, that will likely be pretty close, although it looks like Carlson will have quite a few more blocked shots than I originally anticipated.
All in all, John Carlson is turning in a pretty good season for the Caps and he will obviously be a big part of the Caps' future as they move forward.
Here, then, are revised predictions for John Carlson for the 2013 season:
Ice Time—23 minutes per game
I am not sure if Craig Laughlin is correct that Eric Fehr is the comeback player of the year—but he is definitely not far off.
What a season Fehr is having for the Caps. He was a first round pick for the Caps in 2003 and he played in D.C. for six straight seasons, from 2005 through 2011. He was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in 2011 for salary reasons, and Fehr played in 35 games for the Jets last season.
But Fehr dealt with shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the first 20 games of the season. He only scored two goals, had one assist and a minus-six rating. Obviously, that was a far cry from Fehr's career high during the Caps' explosive 2009-2010 season when he had 21 goals, 18 assists and a plus-18 rating.
So it was somewhat of a surprise when the Caps brought Fehr back to Washington just after the lockout ended, signing him to a one-year, $600,000 contract (Washington Post).
But Fehr has responded and is having an unexpectedly good season so far. With six goals, six assists and a plus-eight rating, he has been a key contributor to the Caps this year. He is tied for fourth on the team in goals with Joel Ward.
He is sixth on the Caps in points with 12. His game winner in overtime against the Boston Bruins on March 5 looked like something Alexander Ovechkin would have done back in the good ol' days.
It is hard to not be very impressed with what Eric Fehr has done this year, and it certainly looks like a really good season could be in the works for him.
Here, then, are some projected stats for Eric Fehr for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—73
There was a time—not too long ago, to be exact—when Mike Green was considered the be the prototype for what the new wave of NHL defensemen would be like. In many ways, Green redefined the concept of a two-way defender.
That was back in the days when Green scored 73 points in 2008-2009 and then followed that up with 75 points in the 2009-2010 season.
But 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.
Despite all the injuries, though, Green played very well during the Caps' playoff run last spring. He 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. He played a tough, tight and defensive style of hockey that Caps fans had not seen before.
All of this was enough to convince the Caps to take a huge gamble on Green when they decided to sign him to a three-year, $18.25 million deal (Washington Post).
So far, the gamble does not look like it will pay off. Green has just two goals and five assists on the season. What's worse is that he is once again dealing with injury. Green was placed on injured reserve by the Caps last week after aggravating a bothersome groin injury (Examiner.com).
Early in the season, here are the stats I had predicted for Mike Green:
Ice Time—24 minutes per game
Before he was injured, Green was averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game, and even with his injuries he had already become a much better shot blocker than I expected. There is little question he was an important part of the Caps' defensive scheme prior to his injury. Still, some of those numbers will have to be scaled down a bit.
Here, then, are some revised predictions for Mike Green for the 2013 season:
Ice Time—25 minutes per game
One of the main reasons the Washington Capitals will likely miss the playoffs in 2013 has been the somewhat disappointing play of Nicklas Backstrom.
That is not to say Backstrom has played badly. His 18 assists so far are second on the team to only Mike Ribeiro, and with 21 points he is again second to Ribeiro.
But he only has three goals this season, and for a team that needs all the goals it can get, just three goals from arguably the second-best player on the team is just not going to cut it.
The Caps' offense, without Backstrom in the lineup for 40 games last season, 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 Caps 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.
In 2013, however, Backstrom is having trouble finding the back of the net. It is hard to pinpoint why he is not scoring more goals. His chances are there but he does not seem as assertive with the puck as we have seen in the past—or as decisive.
You do, however, have to be impressed with his faceoff win percentage, and he is currently second on the Caps, winning 52.7 percent of his draws.
Early in the season, these were the stats I had predicted for Nicklas Backstrom:
Shots on Goal—88
Unless Backstrom goes on a real tear in the second half of the season, it does not seem likely he will reach 12 goals. He will probably have more assists and points than originally anticipated. His shots on goal look to be about right.
Here, then, are some revised predictions for Nicklas Backstrom for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—86
If there is an MVP for the Caps at the mid-point of the season, it has to be Mike Ribeiro. The man Caps fans simply call "Ribs" is having a stellar season on multiple levels.
Ribeiro leads the Caps in most major offensive categories. He is tied with Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer for the team lead in goals with nine. He leads the team in assists with 19. He has a healthy seven-point lead over Nicklas Backstrom for the team lead in points with 28. He is second only to Ovechkin in power-play goals with five.
In short, Ribs has done it all for the Caps this season and he has done it pretty much every night.
Ribeiro has made George McPhee look like a genius. It was on Draft Day 2012 that 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. His play so far this season has got to have the Caps thinking about a contract extension. Ribs has been far more than just an adequate second line center. He truly has been the Caps' MVP so far this year. His effectiveness on the power play cannot be mentioned enough.
Historically, Ribeiro cannot really be considered a prolific goal scorer. 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. His performance this season, then, has been a somewhat-pleasant surprise.
Early in the season, these were the numbers I had predicted for Mike Ribeiro:
Shots on Goal—69
As can be seen, Ribs has already reached my early prediction for goals, should easily exceed my predictions for assists and points and is already more effective on the power play than expected. And, shockingly, he is not really shooting the puck that much, having only put 32 shots on goal so far this season.
With that being said, here are some revised predictions for Mike Ribeiro for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—67
What a roller coaster of a season this has been for Braden Holtby.
From the highs of leading the Caps within a whisker of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, to a particularly disappointing start to the season where he gave up 10 goals in his first two games, to losing his No. 1 goalie job to Michal Neuvirth, to gaining it back, to getting three shutouts but being pulled twice in his past six starts—that is about as up-and-down-a-season as a second-year goalie can possibly have.
In the first five games he played this season, Holtby posted a 1-4-0 record with a 4.20 goals-against average and a .849 save percentage. Along the way, he lost his starting job to Michal Neuvirth—or so it seemed.
On Feb. 7, in an ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Holtby relieved Neuvirth after he gave up a second goal. It was at that moment that Coach Adam Oates turned to Holtby at a critical juncture—and he delivered.
Holtby would go on to start the next 11 games for the Caps. His record was 8-3-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts.
But along the way, Holtby has been pulled twice by Oates, once in an ugly 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on February 27 and then again in the Caps' last game, a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Regardless, it certainly looks like Braden Holtby has secured the starting goalie job for the duration. This was evidenced by the Caps' signing Holtby to a two-year contract extension worth $3.7 million back on February 25 (NBC Washington.com).
Holtby is not quite playing up to the level he was during the 2012 playoffs, but he has definitely been playing pretty well as of late.
Early in the season, these were the numbers I had predicted for Braden Holtby:
Goals Against Average—2.25
Some of those numbers look pretty accurate, while others might need a bit more tweaking. Holtby already has more shutouts than I thought he would get this season and he will likely start more games than anticipated. There is virtually no chance for him to get to that 2.25 goals against average, and his save percentage will probably not be as high as I had originally hoped.
Here, then, are revised predictions for Braden Holtby for the 2013 season:
Goals Against Average—2.53
Speaking of roller coaster seasons, that would certainly describe the season of Alexander Ovechkin as well.
At times, he has been spectacular, such as he was on February 23 when he recorded his first hat trick in over two years in a 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Then there have been moments such as the 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, where Mike Milbury absolutely ripped Ovi for his terrible play. It was not an isolated incident either, as a bad play by Ovechkin on Sunday against the New York Rangers turned that game around as well.
With Ovi's inconsistent play, it is sometimes easy to forget that this is the same guy who during the 2007-2008 season led the league in goals and points and captured the Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Hart Memorial Trophies—the first player in history to win all four major awards in one season.
But this is also the same player whose play has indisputably declined the past few seasons. The fact of the matter is that since Ovi hit a a career-high 65 goals during the 2007-2008 season, his goal total has gone down every season up through the 2011-2012 campaign. Even then, Ovi only scored 38 goals, quite a bit below the standards he set for himself many years earlier in his career.
This season, Adam Oates has been creative, to say the least, to try and get Ovi back to scoring as he did earlier in his career. He has lined him up on right wing and inserted him into just about as many line combinations as possible.
So far, the results have been fairly average. Ovi has nine goals and is tied for the team lead in that category. He is ranked only 37th in the NHL in goals scored. He also leads the team in power-play goals with six and that is good for sixth in the NHL. But he also has a minus-six rating, which is worst on the team next to Marcus Johansson's minus-seven.
For a team captain to have a minus-six rating is an inexcusable stat, and there is just no way to sugarcoat it.
Without question, if the Caps are to have any hope at all, their captain must step up and play much, much better.
Early in the season, these were the numbers I had predicted for Ovi:
Shots on Goal—182
He has already exceeded my prediction for power-play goals and is right on pace for those 18 goals I had predicted, as well as the assists I predicted. He is also shooting the puck more than anticipated with 101 shots through 24 games. One has to figure, with any luck at all, that more of those shots will go in through the second half of the season.
Here, then, are revised predictions for Alexander Ovechkin for the 2013 season:
Shots on Goal—210