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What we've learned about the Caps through the first 10 games


What we've learned about the Caps through the first 10 games

How many games is enough to begin evaluating a team? Everyone can agree that one game cannot define a team or a season, but when do we truly learn who a team really is?

The long answer is pretty much never. An 82-game season is full of ups and downs and a team in October is very different from the one that ends up finishing the season.

But at some point, you need to be able to draw some conclusions to determine what areas a team is doing well and what needs improvement. It is still a relatively small sample size, but 10 games into the season here is what we know about this year’s Washington Capitals.


The Caps are not getting enough shots

People don’t look at shots on goal as much as they used to now that we can look at possession metrics like Corsi, but the fact is if you rank dead last in the NHL in shots on goal, that’s a bad sign. That’s where the Caps currently rank with only 29.0.

The problem is the team is not getting many second opportunities. Remember the cycle that used to be a stable for this team? How many times did you see the Caps cycle behind the net last season? Not so much now. This season they are struggling to retrieve the puck after their initial chances which is leading to the puck heading back in the wrong direction.

Did you scratch your head when the Barry Trotz put Tom Wilson on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie? How about Alex Chiasson with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov? This is why. Trotz is looking for players to retrieve the puck to maintain possession for second and third chance opportunities. That’s not something they have been getting so far.

Depth is a definite weakness for the defense

The Caps did not have many injuries to deal with the past two seasons, but if they had, they would have been better equipped to handle it than this year. Last year Brooks Orpik was on the third pairing and Taylor Chorney was the No. 7 on defense. This year, because of their depth, Orpik is playing a top-four role and is third on the team in time on ice. Chorney meanwhile is playing an everyday role.

And that was before the injury to Matt Niskanen.

Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos will improve as the season continues, but for now the team has to deal with the growing pains of having two rookies on the blue line.

Bowey and Djoos need to be in the top six

At the start of the season, Djoos was the team’s No. 7 and Bowey was in the AHL as Trotz elected to go with Chorney and Aaron Ness on their third pairing. Since Djoos and Bowey have come into the lineup, however, they have proven themselves to be the better options. There are some definite rookie mistakes, but the ceiling is just too high for both players to sit them in favor of Chorney and Ness.

Alex Ovechkin’s decline has been widely exaggerated

We don’t know how many goals he may ultimately end up with this season, but when you score seven goals in your first two games, you’re still a top goal-scorer. He currently sits at 10 goals on the season, about a third of the way to his goal total from last season (33) and there are still 72 games left to go.

Washington needs more secondary scoring

You heard a lot about how the Caps would have to make up for the 48 goals the team lost with Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson leaving in the offseason. So far, they are still searching for an answer.

It’s great that Ovechkin has 10 goals, but the Caps are going to need more production from the supporting cast. Evgenuy Kuznetsov has 13 points, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have 12 and T.J. Oshie has nine. Jakub Vrana has played well to start, but really everyone else is struggling on offense. They need more production from Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky (when he returns from injury), Brett Connolly, Lars Eller and the entire defense.

It’s still too soon to panic

The Caps are dealing with a boatload of injuries and have also had the toughest schedule in the NHL to this point, according to Hockey Reference.

With a 4-5-1 record in the wake of a blowout loss to Vancouver, it is easy to feel like the team should blow it all up, but it is still far too early in the season for anything drastic. If it’s more of the same after another 10 games, however, well then that’s a different story.

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How did the Caps let Johnny Gaudreau get so wide open on his goal?


How did the Caps let Johnny Gaudreau get so wide open on his goal?

A 4-1 win for the Calgary Flames looks like a pretty comfortable margin on the scoresheet, but it was the Capitals who jumped out to the 1-0 lead early in the first period. Just when the Caps had all the momentum on their side, however, Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau received a tip up pass from Sean Monahan and had nothing but ice in front of him to work with.

Gaudreau is the wrong player to give that much room to. He scored to tie the game at 1 in a moment that seemed to turn the game.


You can see the replay of the goal and the play that led up to it here.

From the replay, you can see defensemen Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were both caught on the right side of the ice leaving Gaudreau open on the left.

So what happened? How did Gaudreau get so wide open?

The play begins in Washington's offensive zone. Carlson and Orpik are the defensive pair on the ice, but instead of playing on their normal sides, Orpik is on the right and Carlson is on the left to put him in a better position to shoot off the draw. When the Caps lose the faceoff, Carlson and Orpik want to switch back to their natural positions at the first opportunity, but can't because Calgary has the puck and is pushing up the ice.

The Flames lose possession of the puck in the neutral zone, Orpik recovers and pushes the puck up to Devante Smith-Pelly.

"Brooks pushed it over to [Smith-Pelly] just at the blue line and he went laterally with the puck where he probably should have put it in," Trotz said.


Smith-Pelly was immediately boxed in when he crossed the blue line and he should have dumped the puck to the corner. Instead, he tries a difficult pass left to Alex Ovechkin that is badly off the mark as the puck goes right to Dougie Hamilton. The problem is that, since Washington had possession, Carlson took the opportunity to move back to the right, but Orpik did not yet have the chance to go left because he was in the play. Once the puck gets off his stick, Smith-Pelly turns it over almost immediately and Calgary's quick transition up to Gaudreau catches the Caps with Carlson already back on the right, but before Orpik could get back to the left giving him a free side to skate on.

The result was a goal for Calgary, an ugly replay for Washington and a turning point in a game in which the Caps had jumped out to an early lead.

"They moved it up quickly," Trotz said, "And Gaudreau, if you give him that much space, he's been the hottest guy in the National Hockey League here and we weren't able to shut him down."

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4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Flames


4 reasons why the Caps lost to the Flames

After winning five straight at home a confident Capitals team was dealt a tough blow in a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. Lars Eller scored 62 seconds into the game, but the Flames scored the next four straight goals for the win.

Here's why the Caps lost.

Calgary's quick response to the first goal

The Capitals took the lead just 1:02 into the game, but it lasted only 3:47. The Caps are a team that seems to thrive off early energy. They looked lethargic in the first period in both Nashville and Colorado and they lost because of it. The quick response by the Flames did not allow Washington to take advantage of the energy, the momentum or the crowd after taking the early lead.


A bad defensive lapse in the first period

Covering only half of the ice is an inadvisable defensive strategy. In the first period, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were both caught on the right side of the ice leaving nothing but open ice for Johnny Gaudreau to work with.

From the replay, it did not appear the Caps’ defensemen were caught on a bad line change, it was just a bad defensive lapse. Unfortunately for Washington, Gaudreau is the wrong player to leave wide open and he was able to score Calgary’s first goal.

The second period

The Caps were outshot 13-6 in the middle frame and three of Washington’s six shots came in the final three minutes of the period. Calgary completely dictated the play in the second and took the 2-1 lead on a power play goal by Sean Monahan.


Special teams

Calgary had the worst penalty kill in the NHL coming into Monday’s game with a kill rate of just 70.6-percent. Advantage Washington, right? Not so much. Washington had three power play opportunities and did not score on any of them. The Caps were also called for five minor penalties of their own. Of Calgary’s four goals, two of them came on the power play and another came one second after a penalty had expired. What should have been an advantage for Washington turned into a disadvantage as the Flames outscored the Caps 2-0 on special teams.