2013-14 Grades for Washington Capitals Stars Ahead of the Olympic Break
Heading into the Olympic break, the Washington Capitals' 2013-14 season has been one of peaks and valleys. What began as a promising year is suddenly bordering on disaster.
For now, fans have to hope that the upcoming time off will benefit this battered and bruised roster, as just four of the team's members will be heading to Sochi for the Games.
Like the team's overall performance, the majority of the team's top players haven't lived up to expectations on a consistent basis, which is a big reason why this is team is close to the basement of the Eastern Conference after 57 games.
Here's a look at individual grades for each of Washington's stars at this point in the season.
Unlike many of his teammates, Alex Ovechkin has been tremendous offensively and is leading the league by a wide margin with 39 goals, despite only playing in 53 games.
No, he's not scoring as many of the end-to-end beauties that he became known for early in his career, but he continues to bury power-play tallies, despite everyone in the building knowing that the Caps' primary intention is getting the puck to him for a one-timer.
As a result, the Russian captain is far and away the most dangerous weapon the Caps have, and that's why Adam Oates seems less concerned with Ovechkin's rather dreadful minus-19 rating.
Due to the fact that Washington doesn't have another player with more than 17 goals, the chances of this team sneaking into the postseason may hinge on whether Ovechkin can continue to put the puck in the net at a prolific rate.
It's hard to assign this grade to a guy who is leading the league in total goals, power-play goals and shots, as well as sitting second in power-play points and seventh in overall points, but the drop-off in Ovechkin's performance in his own zone is too great to overlook. Still a good start, but one has to hope that if Russia disappoints in Sochi, it won't cause the superstar's play to regress like it did following the 2010 Games.
Following a stellar season and a subsequent invitation to Canada's Olympic camp, Braden Holtby appeared to be the long-term answer to Washington's problems in net.
Unfortunately, Holtby hasn't been able to give Washington enough support from the crease and has been prone to give up goals in bunches far too often.
For now, Michal Neuvirth appears to have earned more confidence from the coaching staff, but the No. 1 job is very much still within Holtby's reach if he can turn things around following the break.
Some may say this is a bit harsh, given that Holtby hasn't had a very reliable defense in front of him, but for a guy who was viewed as one of the rising goalies in the league, he hasn't been good enough. His save percentage and goals against average are by far the worst of the team's three goaltenders, and that has to change.
It'd be unfair to say that this has been a lackluster season for Mike Green, but by that same token, he's struggled with the same issues that have plagued him for the majority of his career.
Those issues would be injuries, as The Washington Post's Katie Carrera reports that Green will likely be out until the break with a concussion, as well as defensive lapses, which have left him sitting at minus-nine.
That said, Green remains Washington's most dangerous offensive rearguard, though John Carlson has replaced him frequently as the primary quarterback of Washington's power play.
One would like to see him improve on his seven goals because for a guy with a laser of a shot, his 5.4 shooting percentage leaves a lot to be desired.
For what he's lacked defensively, his offensive production of 30 points remain among the league leaders from the blue line. At this point, Carlson's dethroned Green as the team's top blueliner, but Green remains a vital part of this team's extremely inexperienced defensive core, and the Capitals need him to return at full strength soon.
Like Ovechkin, Backstrom's been one of Oates' few offensively dangerous threats on a consistent basis, but even he has fallen into lengthy slumps at times this season.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, Backstrom's currently mired in a 13-game goal drought, and though he's continued to rack up assists, as a No. 1 center with a deceptively good shot, he's got to score more.
He's fourth among all NHL players with 42 assists and has been vital to Washington's success on the power play, which is why he leads the league in power-play points.
Earlier in the season, this would've been higher, especially back when Backstrom was virtually automatic in shootouts, but like the rest of his teammates, he's stuck in a slump in that regard as well. It goes without saying that the Swedish star's ability to generate offense will be one of the keys to Washington turning things around, so hopefully he gains momentum while representing his country in Sochi.
The 2013-14 campaign has been something of a coming-out party for John Carlson, as the 24-year-old has blossomed into the two-way presence Washington hoped he would.
Though not quite as offensively gifted as Green, Carlson's size, mobility and poise have helped him establish himself as Washington's leader in ice time, indicating that he's Oates' most trusted option on the back end.
There have been times where Carlson's tendency to be a little too loose at times in his own zone has resurfaced, but he's earned his spot on the United States' loaded Olympic roster by generally being more responsible defensively.
He's definitely capable of putting up bigger offensive numbers, especially given how much time he receives on the power play. Overall, the coaching staff and management team can't complain about his performance thus far.
He's been arguably the team's most consistent presence in the defensive zone. Despite regular plays against the best in the world, his plus-minus is far and away the best of the Caps' top rearguards. Oates has to be hoping that he'll gain confidence from the Olympic experience, and that he'll come back from Russia a better player for it.
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