Knee-Jerk Reactions to Early Performances of Washington Capitals' Top Stars

Ryan DavenportContributor IOctober 8, 2013

Three games into the 2013-14 campaign, the Washington Capitals don't look like a team that's won five division championships in the past six seasons. 

There are a number of reasons for this, as the Caps have struggled at times at both ends of the rink, particularly during even-strength play. 

As always, the Caps' ability to stay afloat, especially in a stacked Metropolitan Division, will depend heavily on whether the team's best players can do what's expected of them, because this is a relatively top-heavy roster. 

After the first week of the season, here's a look back at how the Caps' most valuable weapons have performed thus far. 


Alex Ovechkin

There's not much to say about the reigning league MVP other than that he's been the best player in the world for the past six days, which is why the NHL recently named him First Star for the first week of play.

No, the Capitals haven't been getting the results they want, as they've won just one of three contests, but that hasn't been the captain's fault, because Ovechkin's leading the league with four goals and six points so far. 

Sure, it's worth noting that he's benefited from the Capitals' early success on the power play, but Ovechkin has continued to show us why he's on a short list of players who have won three Hart Trophies in the early going. 

In addition to his raw stats, Ovechkin has been clutch, as he scored twice and assisted on Nicklas Backstrom's equalizer against Calgary, and then scored the game-clinching goal in the shootout to douse the Flames in Washington's home opener. 

He has to be more effective at even strength, but it'd be ludicrous to say that Adam Oates could have asked for much more from his star forward during the first week of the season. 


Mike Green

He may not have scored yet, but Mike Green's been very effective with the man advantage, which is a very encouraging sign of things to come for Capitals fans. 

As Washington's quarterback on the power play, Green's ability to challenge opposing penalty kills with his shot, puck movement and mobility is critical to the Capitals offense, so his play has been a big reason why Oates' boys have once again had the league's best unit. 

With four power-play assists in three games, Green has been doing what's expected of him offensively, but his minus-three rating is troubling, especially because he's a regular fixture on the Capitals' top defensive pairing. 

Green has to be better in his own end, but if he continues to move the puck like he has so far, D.C. will have a very good shot at laying claim to the game's most potent power-play unit by season's end. 


Braden Holtby

Heading into the season, Braden Holtby was rightfully considered to be the Capitals' No. 1 goaltender, but at least so far, he hasn't lived up to that billing. 

In fact, though the Caps are 1-2, if Oates hadn't lifted Holtby in favor of fellow young stopper Michal Neuvirth against Calgary, Washington would be winless, as the 24-year-old got lit up by the Flames for three goals before the game's opening frame had ended. 

He's a resilient goalie, so there's no reason to believe that he won't bounce back, but if he can't turn things around in the short term, expect Oates to give his Czech partner a shot at being the starter, at least temporarily. 


Mikhail Grabovski

If there was any doubt as to whether Mikhail Grabovski was capable of replacing departed center Mike Ribeiro, the former Toronto Maple Leaf answered that question during his first game as a Capital. 

Against the reigning Cup champs on the road, Grabovski tallied a hat trick and an assist, and he was the type of dynamic force down the middle that George McPhee was looking for when he signed the 29-year-old to a one-year deal late in the summer. 

Grabovski's ice time has increased with each game, and though he's yet to score since the road loss in Chicago, he's looked solid in every zone of the rink and will undoubtedly be a key player for Washington this season. 

And though it's still early, the former 58-point man has made a strong case for himself to receive a contract extension before the season's half over. 


Nicklas Backstrom 

So far, Backstrom has been playing like a first-liner, as the Swedish playmaker has been a crucial component of the Capitals' attack. 

Like the rest of the team's most skilled offensive cogs, Backstrom's production has come mostly on the power play, as his lone goal and two of his three assists have been with the man advantage. 

That being said, Backstrom's struggled on draws (he's twice lost more than 55 percent of his attempts already), and though he's in no danger of losing his job as the team's top pivot, the former No. 4 overall pick has to be better going forward. 

As long as Backstrom's playing with confidence, this team will be productive offensively, but whether he and his teammates can right the ship in their own end remains to be seen. 


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