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3 things that went right for the 2018 Caps that went wrong in 2019

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3 things that went right for the 2018 Caps that went wrong in 2019

Friday was the anniversary of the Capitals Stanley Cup win. But on Saturday, Caps fans were left with the memory of 2018 and the knowledge that a new team will be crowned the champs this year after Washington’s first-round exit.

The 2018 Caps had an answer for everything the playoffs threw at them. The 2019 Caps…did not.

What exactly was the team able to do so well in 2018 that they were not in 2019? Let’s compare.

Depth scoring

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were both incredible in the playoffs. The problem for Washington was that the rest of the offense was not.

The Caps scored 20 goals in seven games against the Carolina Hurricanes and nine of them came from Ovechkin and Backstrom. Forget top-six vs. bottom-six, this is two players accounting for 45-percent of the team’s offense.

In 2018, Washington scored 86 goals in 24 games, good for 3.58 goals per game as opposed to the team’s 2.86 in 2019. Eighteen different players scored en route to the Stanley Cup compared to 10 in 2019. Granted, it is a smaller sample size and more games over time would presumably give you more goal scorers. But the reason why the offense was so effective was because it did not revolve entirely around those top players. In 2018, the team’s two leading goal-scorers were Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov who scored a combined 27 goals. That is just over 31-percent of the team’s offense.

A championship team needs depth scoring and the bottom-six has to be able to contribute at key moments. In 2019, however, the Caps were not just reliant on the top-six, they were reliant on their top two for offense. It does not matter how good Ovechkin and Backstrom are, they cannot be expected to carry half of the team’s offense by themselves.

A healthy blue line

Near the trade deadline or around the start of the playoffs, you always hear analysts say something along the lines of “you need seven or eight defensemen to make a deep run.” That’s because over the course of a grueling postseason, you are going to have injuries to deal with on the blue line. Most players cannot play through a broken jaw like Zdeno Chara.

For the Caps, the most significant injury to the defense happened before the playoffs even began as Michal Kempny suffered a serious knee injury and did not play at all in the 2019 postseason. Jonas Siegenthaler stepped in for Christian Djoos after three games and played well, but it was not enough.

Sure, the Caps had their injuries in 2018, but none of those were on defense. Washington’s playoff run lasted 24 games and five defensemen played in all 24. Jerabek played the first two but was replaced by Christian Djoos who played the remaining 22 games.

That means for 22 games in the playoffs, the Caps had the same six players on defense. That is absolutely incredible.

Everyone pitching in

This was something that really struck me when I rewatched the third period of Game 5 in the latest Capitals Talk podcast. Everyone and I mean everyone, had to contribute. There were no passengers in 2018.

Kuznetsov, who scored one goal in seven games in 2019, was a beast with 32 points. Ovechkin scored 15 goals. Lars Eller scored the overtime winner in Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets—the goal that saved Washington’s season—and the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against the Vegas Golden Knights. Devante Smith-Pelly was a hero with seven goals. Andre Burakovsky’s two goals were in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brooks Orpik scored the first Stanley Cup Final game-winning goal in franchise history. Matt Niskanen’s one goal tied the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3.

Heck, even Jakub Jerabek recorded an assist in just two games played.

Remember how the Caps were without both T.J. Oshie and Michal Kempny in 2019? Well, the 2018 team had personnel issues too. Nicklas Backstrom was dealing with a hand injury and Tom Wilson was suspended for three games. In Game 6 in Pittsburgh, Washington was without Backstrom, Wilson and Andre Burakovsky who was also injured. So what happened? Nathan Walker notched an assist in his only game of the playoffs to set up Alex Chiasson.

The Caps just did not get those kinds of key contributions from all over their lineup in 2019. There were far too many players who were essentially non-factors.


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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.


Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?


Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

It takes years to determine who the best players in any given draft are. How would past NHL drafts look if they were redrafted today? Let's look back at the 2003 draft and see how it shaped today's NHL.

Here's a look at the first round of 2003 redrafted.

The draft was a total bust for Washington

In the real draft, the Caps took Eric Fehr 18th overall. He played in 652 NHL games. The remaining five players the team drafted combined for one single NHL game. Yikes.

Phaneuf to the Caps?

In the redraft, I had defenseman Dion Phaneuf going to Washington. Before you groan, let's not forget that he played in over 1,000 NHL games and, while he was with Calgary, he looked absolutely dominant. I don't think there are any questions that he struggled handling the pressure as captain of Toronto. Almost every stat takes a precipitous decline when you compare his Calgary numbers to when he was with the Maple Leafs. I don't think that would have been a problem in Washington as just one year after this draft, the Caps selected a guy by the name of Alex Ovechkin who took all the attention. If Phaneuf had been in a city where he could just play, he would have been a top-pair defenseman for most of his career.

This also would have affected the 2004 draft for Washington. The Caps had three first-round picks. They used one on Ovechkin then took Jeff Schultz and Mike Green late in the round. Do they go both defense at that point if they had taken Phaneuf the year before? I'm not so sure.

Would Bergeron have helped Pittsburgh?

Patrice Bergeron was the best player in the 2003 draft. He went with the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the No.1 overall pick that year and selected goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That is not a bad pick by any stretch, but with one of the best two-way forwards of all-time available to them, would Pittsburgh have been able to pass him up knowing how good he really was?


The interesting thing about this is that if Pittsburgh had taken arguably the better player in Bergeron, it may have cost them in the long run. Fleury was the backstop of three Stanley Cup runs for the Penguins. OK, so he only played in two playoff games in 2016 and yielded the crease to Matt Murray, but he retook the No. 1 job in 2017 when again Pittsburgh won the Cup. Also, just two years after the 2003 draft, the Penguins ended up with a pretty decent two-way center by the name of Sidney Crosby. The idea of a team with both Crosby and Bergeron on it is daunting, but its two players of the same position and they would have still needed a goalie.

The Penguins may not have ended up with the better player overall, but they did get exactly the player they needed in Fleury.

Fleury to Columbus?

In the redraft, Fleury dops from first to fourth and is snagged by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would Fleury have been able to get Columbus over the playoff hump sooner? That's a tough question to answer.

Goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Yes, he could have given the team a boost, but the roster was awful there for several years after the expansion draft. When the team did finally make the playoffs for the first time in 2009, it was off the back of an incredible rookie season from goalie Steve Mason. They also had a pretty good netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky from 2013 to 2019, or at least he was pretty good in the regular season.

Correction: regular season goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Actually, Bobrovsky was terrible in the playoffs for much of his career. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that better netminding from Fleury -- who is a strong postseason performer -- could have potentially changed the trajectory of the franchise.

See the first round of 2003 redrafted here.

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