After being shut out by the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time in 8 days, many fans are wondering where the offensive juggernaut of the 2009-10 season has gone. It's no secret that Alex Ovechkin's goal totals are down, Nicklas Backstrom has been non-existent, and Alexander Semin hasn't registered on the radar since late November and is now saddled with an injury. Everyone, it seems, has their own answer: Fans have suggested that Ovechkin is a year older, heavier, and unwilling to make plays that might result in suspension. Caps' Coach Bruce Boudreau might theorize it's a newly-implemented system that is more defense focused. In a recent interview, Ted Leonsis states the Caps are merely "pacing themselves." However, as the Capitals find themselves battling back from a deficit nearly every night are there any hard-and-fast answers behind the drought of lamp lighting?
Last year, the Capitals were averaging 3.61 goals/game 44 games into the season, quite the opposite of this seasons' squad who averages 2.82. Of course injury, strength of schedule, ice time and line combinations may play some part of the decrease, but is there any hard-and-fast answer to the Caps' lack of lamp lighting?
Washington's struggling Power Play is hardly news. Currently ranked 17th overall at a success rate of 18.0% 44 games into the 2010-11 season, this year's squad pales in comparison to the 2009-2010 team. At this point last season, the Caps had converted 41-of-172 attempts with the man advantage - good for 23.8%. The drought seems to have affected everyone: #8's output on the PP has dropped from 7 goals to 2 this season, Backstrom dropped from 7 to 4, and even spread to Brooks Laich (from 6 to 4).
Things aren't looking up for the team either: After starting the season at 23.9% on the PP in October and November, the Capitals have staggered to convert only 10.8% of the time in December and January. Could the Caps be missing the extra-man play of Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison, who each had 4 PPG to their credit last season at this point? It seems Boudreau is trying what he can, tapping Jason Chimera, John Carlson and even Matt Hendricks for ice time - but using roughly the same system for the past year seems to have run out of gas. DC needs to get down to the basics and focus on keeping the puck in the zone, providing good pressure, and not passing up shots in favor of cute (and often too long) passes.
Struggling Stars :
Although the struggles of the Caps' stars is not groundbreaking, much like the PP woes, it is still notable. 44 games into the 09/10 season, the Caps had 24 multi-goal games - 17 of which belonged to Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom. This season, the Caps can only claim 12. Additionally, where Semin and Green's goal totals equal that of last seasons' at this point, Ovie (27 vs 15) and Lars (17 vs 11) are well below 09/10's totals. Ovechkin is on pace for a 27-55-82 season; Backstrom 20-52-72.
Scoring chances could be a direct result of Boudreau's new defensively minded system, but are their other underlying issues? Before his injury, there were grumblings that Semin was benefiting from countryman help during his "contract year"? Is Nicky B coasting now that his big deal has been inked? Has Ovie's partying finally caught up to him? Are the players being spread too thin between HBO, team events, and various sponsorship engagements? Are the players staging a silent protest against GMGM for trading Flash? Much like other conspiracy theories, they're fun to speculate about but the fact remains the same: the goals just aren't there.
As the Capitals' stars have been struggling to find themselves, the third and fourth line has been able to offer some goal support. Matt Hendricks is tying a career high points-per-game average, David Steckel is tying a career goals-per-game average. Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr and Marcus Johansson have all scored goals in the clutch, and are enjoying increased ice time as a result. Even Hershey Bear call ups Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon have been able to find the score sheet. Year over year, the total number of goal scorers aren't that far off (23 in 09/10, 22 in 10/11) but even with everyone chipping in, the 10/11 Capitals aren't benefiting from quality scoring off the top line. Last season, there were 15 games in which the top line did not light the lamp compared to 11 this season. While last seasons' Caps team appear to have relied on the third-and-fourth liners more, here is something to consider: This seasons' team has been shut out 6 times thus far this season, compared to once all last season. Also, where the 09/10 Caps had 8 double digit goal scorers at this point (4 off the top line), 10/11 has only 4 (3 of which are on the top line).