Something is wrong here. And no, it's not BSchenn's face. (Rant)
The Washington Capitals are 5-7. It’s been awhile since I posted a recap for a variety of reasons, so it’s time for some thoughts:
The Capitals are awful at even strength. Just abysmal. Using data from ExtraSkater and Behind the Net: when the score is close, Washington’s 44.3 fenwick percentage ranks 28th in the NHL, ahead of only Buffalo and Toronto. Their corsi percentage ranks 26th in the NHL at 46.1% when the score is close. It’s even worse when the score is tied in terms of possession, too. They have been outshot and outchanced badly in each of their last two games, both losses on the road in Western Canada. And it’s not like these last two games have been outliers, either. The team has been carried to some wins by Alex Ovechkin so far this year, but have not looked good for long stretches and if their even strength play does not improve, the season will go very badly very fast. You just can’t win in the NHL by relying on special teams, which is what Washington has done, in general, in their five wins this season.
Those special teams have been very, very good. The Caps are currently second in the league in penalty kill percentage at 90.7% and 5th in power play percentage at 24.7%. Those are both very good numbers, and represent the great work that assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has done improving the special teams under Adam Oates (who obviously deserves a lot of power play credit as well). That has been a big bright spot so far for this club, but like I said – you can’t win games consistently or win championships unless you can possess the puck at evens. This is a striking reality for the club that must be addressed.
Some people over the first month of the season have been lamenting Washington’s lack of “consistency” and “effort” as a primary reason they are losing games. I could not disagree more. Consistency and effort are critical to winning hockey games, but they’re not the reason Washington is struggling. The team is simply not very good right now. They have significant holes on defense even when their top blueliners are performing, and that’s not the case right now. The fourth line is a possession nightmare. The second line hasn’t played well. And the top line has defensive issues. The only line which has been playing well consistently recently is the third unit – and that’s not good enough. Jason Chimera won’t score like this forever.
Brooks Laich is not a second-line center. He can be a second-line winger in a pinch, but he belongs centering the third line. He’s not in the class of Mike Richards or David Backes (which he is according to George McPhee) and he frankly never was. Great energy guy, great leader, above-average defensive player and penalty killer. Not a scoring-line center for a team that wants to compete for a championship in this league. That’s why they brought in Mikhail Grabovski.
Also being used improperly – Tom Wilson and Eric Fehr. The team made the ill-advised decision to keep Wilson in the NHL for 82 games last week, and he’s been rewarded with less than 4:45 of ice time in these last two games. He’s played well on the ice in terms of possession, but is being used in a role that reminds me of a goon. If he’s gonna be here, use him in scoring minutes. It’s just a massive waste otherwise. Fehr has seen more ice time than Wilson, but is being used poorly as well. He’s playing out of position because the team decided to deal Mathieu Perreault, and as a result his numbers are suffering. Eric Fehr is a good third-line winger. Let him be one.
The intrepid Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy tweeted last night that he remembers being “roundly mocked” when he suggested the Caps should trade for Ryan Miller. He did so in a way that clearly indicated he felt they should. No. An aging and declining Miller isn’t the difference between this club winning anything and them not. To spend assets on a goalie who frankly is not a big upgrade (if any upgrade at all) over Braden Holtby would be simply asinine. The goaltending is not the problem with this club, and hasn’t been for the last six years.
I wrote in my 27 Thoughts post before the season started that I believed that Washington could compete for a playoff spot. They still can, but I am much less confident in them doing so now than I am now. As good as Grabovski has been, I slightly overestimated his impact and did not properly gauge just how bad the Washington defense was going to be. Alex Ovechkin has been excellent, generating shots at a record clip and scoring goals in bunches. Nicklas Backstrom has also been very good. But other than that, there’s not much to write home about.
Adam Oates’ Capitals have the same amount of standings points through 60 games as Dale Hunter’s did – that would be 67 (thanks to JP for reminding us of this). That’s not good. I was constantly very vocally critical of the style Washington played under Hunter, and still hold to this day that he wasn’t a great coach for the team because of his .500 record in charge of the club. I must admit that the Oates honeymoon has worn off a bit for me. He could still turn it around, but again, I find myself wondering how much longer the team will continue on this pace before a massive shoe drops and something big changes. Because despite the fact that Ovechkin has been totally rejuvenated under Oates, the team has not. And that’s a big, big problem.
I’ll see you guys after Friday night’s game in Philly.