Strengths and Weaknesses of Washington Capitals' Top Stars

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2013

Strengths and Weaknesses of Washington Capitals' Top Stars

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    Every Washington Capitals player can be viewed as a coin with two sides. 

    Heads versus tails. 

    Positive versus negative. 

    Strength versus weakness. 

    So what are the two sides of the coin for the Capitals' best players? 

    Here is a list of strengths and weaknesses of each of the Washington Capitals' top stars. 


    Note: All statistics courtesy of unless noted otherwise. 

1. Alex Ovechkin, RW

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    STRENGTH: Energy

    Alex Ovechkin is a ball of energy when he is on the ice, and he energizes his teammates in the process. 

    Whether it's crushing unfortunate opponents in the open ice, peppering beleaguered goaltenders with his dizzying array of shots or smashing his 6, 3", 230-pound frame into the Verizon Center plexiglass after yet another goal, Alex Ovechkin's teammates constantly feed off their captain's boundless energy. 


    WEAKNESS: Leadership

    As the undisputed face of the Capitals franchise, Ovechkin was anointed as team captain on January 5, 2010, according to But Ovechkin has had to grow into the role and has had severe growing pains along the way. 

    He has disrupted team chemistry with his comments. After the Caps' 2011-12 season ended, Ovechkin told Katie Carrera of The Washington Post that "the leaders in this group have to be together." Ovechkin added, “I don’t know how to explain better, but sometimes you don’t have to be jealous….I don’t want to say it was a jealous situation for us, but sometimes you just have to be a group together.”

    He was dubbed a "coach killer" by none other than Mike Milbury of CBC Sports, a frequent and vocal critic of Ovechkin. The reputation of coach killer is difficult to live down, even if unfairly earned. 

    Most importantly, Ovechkin has not led his team to the Stanley Cup Final, or to the Conference Final for that matter. In fact, last year I pointed out five reasons Ovechkin was never captain material for the Capitals

    So far, Capitals general manager George McPhee has not read the piece. 

2. Nicklas Backstrom, C

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    STRENGTH: Internal Clock

    By the time Nicklas Backstrom has made a decision with the puck, lesser hockey players would have panicked, causing them to either turnover the puck or miss out on a premium scoring opportunity. 

    Backstrom's steely patience with the puck is uncanny and unable to be duplicated. 

    In fact, it has vaulted the 25-year-old Swede to the the upper echelon of centermen in the NHL


    WEAKNESS: Concussion Concerns

    A study of concussions in the NHL was conducted from 1997-2004 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, according to This article stated that "on average, time lost from the game increased 2.25 times for every recurrent concussion."  

    The lead author of this report, Dr. Brian Benson of the Sport Medicine Centre in the University of Calgary's faculty of kinesiology, said, "centremen appeared to be at more risk, two times more risk of concussion than wingers or defencemen. We didn't do statistical trends on this or analysis, but certainly it appears to be that centremen are at more risk of concussion." 

    Backstrom suffered the first and so far only concussion of his career on Jan. 3, 2012, and missed 40 games as a result. Capitals' fans may not want to talk about it, but Backstrom is a ticking time bomb of sorts. In a physical and often dangerous sport, it is not a matter of "if?" but "when?" will Backstrom be confronted with the specter of another concussion. 

3. Mike Green, D

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    STRENGTH: Offense

    Mike Green is not only one of the most offensively gifted defenders in the NHL, he is one of the most offensively gifted players in the NHL, period. 

    Green regained his scoring touch last season, leading all defensemen in goals with 12. Plus, he allowed Adam Oates to essentially skate five forwards on his power play unit. The strategy worked, as the Caps led the NHL in power-play percentage at 26.8 percent. 


    WEAKNESS: Defense

    Green's offensive acumen helps hide his defensive shortcomings. Analyzing Green's time on ice per game in specific situations helps illustrate the stark contrast in his offensive and defensive abilities, respectively.

    Green led the Capitals defensemen by a wide margin in power-play time on ice per game at 4:02, yet ranked ninth on the team in short-handed time on ice per game at 1:02. 

4. John Carlson, D

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    STRENGTH: Shot-blocking

    John Carlson appeared near the top of the leaderboard for a statistical category highly valued by defensemen and their goaltenders. 

    Carlson ranked third in the entire NHL in blocked shots with 123. He fell only two blocked shots shy of tying for first place with New York Rangers defenseman and shot-blocking expert Dan Girardi.


    WEAKNESS: Turnovers

    Carlson also ranked among the league leaders in an ignominious statistic for defensemen during the 2012-13 season. 

    Carlson finished ninth in the NHL in giveaways with 41. He was 12 behind Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the league lead, and 13 ahead of John Erskine for second place among Capitals defensemen

5. Braden Holtby, G

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    STRENGTH: Stick-handling

    Braden Holtby is an aggressive goaltender who reminds hockey fans of Ron Hextall. One aspect of Holtby's game that prompts these comparisons is an emphasis on stick-handling. 

    Holtby uses his superior stick-handling skills to diffuse an opponent's fore check while also triggering his own team's attack.  

    Last season, Holtby was tied for third in the NHL among goalies with two assists. It is only a matter of time before Holtby scores a goal. 


    WEAKNESS: Stick-handling

    Aggressive stick-handling by a goaltender is a risky proposition, and it came back to haunt Holtby and the Capitals during the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers

    Early in Game 4, Holtby made an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by the Rangers, promptly leading to a goal early in a game the Rangers would win, 4-3. New York would also go on to win the series, 4-3. 

    After Game 4, Holtby spoke to Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times about that fateful play: 

    It was an unfortunate play. I thought I made the right play; I thought I got it high enough for it to be a high stick. And it’s just what happens. That’s the way I play the game, so I’m not going to change. 

    Live by the sword, die by the sword.