Way-Too-Early Grades for Washington Capitals
Heading into the 2013-14 season, it seemed somewhat likely that the Capitals would take a step back due to the team's much more competitive divisional opponents.
However, six games in, Washington sits at 2-4, despite only having played one Metropolitan Division foe, and that was the Hurricanes, who aren't exactly a contender for the Metro crown.
It's way, way too early to panic, and there are reasons for optimism. Here's a rundown of how each of the Capitals' units have performed thus far, complete with grades.
It hasn't been an easy road for the Capitals' goaltending duo of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, as neither young goaltender has been overly impressive so far.
For Holtby, the season started with three losses, and although he did get the start in net for Washington's first victory of the season, he was pulled after allowing three first-period goals to the lowly Flames.
And though Neuvirth rallied the Caps back to get the win against Calgary, the Czech stopper was mediocre against Colorado over the weekend, giving up five goals despite facing less shots than his former goaltending partner at the other end of the rink in Semyon Varlamov.
By nature, the Capitals are a team that plays a high-risk, high-reward type of game, so Adam Oates needs to be able to rely on quality goaltending, and needless to say, Washington hasn't received that on a consistent basis.
Last night's win over the Oilers was a good start for Holtby, but the 24-year-old needs to keep improving in order for Washington to have a chance at staying afloat in a very tough division.
At this point, every rearguard on the Caps roster has a negative plus/minus rating, which is not a good sign, especially given that Washington hasn't played many elite teams early on.
Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, the team's top trio of defenders, are a combined minus-eight, which is simply not good enough.
But what's even more troublesome is this team's lack of depth on the back end, because once John Erskine went down with injury, the Capitals were forced to ice a blue line that featured two rookies in Nate Schmidt and Connor Carrick, as well as a second-year player in Steve Oleksy.
Unless the youngsters are able to contribute more going forward, George McPhee has to seriously consider dealing for a veteran presence, particularly if the goaltending doesn't improve.
If one were to take a quick look at the NHL's scoring leaders heading into Wednesday's slate of games, they'd see a number of Capitals near the top.
Alex Ovechkin is currently tied for the league lead with nine points, while sitting second in goals at six, and Nicklas Backstrom's occupying the top spot in the assist department with seven.
But the majority of their points have come on the power play, which is why they're a combined minus-7.
Who will score more in 2013-14?
Beyond them, Mikhail Grabovski and Marcus Johansson have put up points early on, but it's no coincidence that each sees considerable power-play time as well.
So far, the only bright spot at even strength for the Caps has been the play of the team's bottom-six forwards, as Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward have served as a strong checking line, while Martin Erat (who really should be a top-six forward), Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle have provided Oates with lots of energy and heart.
At the other end of the spectrum, though Grabovski has been solid, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer each went scoreless through the season's first five games until netting goals against Edmonton, and that will have to change for this team to generate enough even-strength offense.
As of now, the Capitals lead the league in power-play goals with eight and sit second in power-play efficiency, so that has been a very encouraging sign for Oates and his coaching staff.
And though not quite as effective, the Capitals sit 12th in the league on the penalty kill, which is just as important as having a successful power play.
After boasting the game's best power play last season, the Caps have picked up right where they left off, which is of the utmost importance for a team with as much firepower as this Washington team.
Special teams are often the difference between winning and losing, so if the Capitals can continue to perform at a high level in both situations, they'll be competitive against virtually any opponent.
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