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.