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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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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

4 reasons why the Panthers beat the Caps

The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers

Here's how the Caps lost.

An emotional start for Robert Luongo

Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.

Another shaky start for Braden Holtby

This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.

Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson

With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.

A late penalty to Lars Eller

With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.