It’s the bye week which means no Capitals hockey until Friday. To help get you through the week, JJ Regan and Brian McNally will be looking back at the first half of the season and handing out their midseason grades for the offense, defense, goaltending and special teams.
Today’s grade: Offense
JJ: Alex Ovechkin leads the league in goals and the Caps rank eighth in goals per game with 3.38, but with Evgeny Kuznetsov struggling as much as he is, this offense has a definite ceiling and we have seen that over the course of the teams’ current slump. Kuznetsov is just too important to the team to have only two five-on-five goals in 44 games.
The offensive struggles aren’t all on Kuznetsov by any stretch. Health is a concern for T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller is having a down year and depth production has suddenly become non-existent. You can survive without much from the bottom four, but in today’s NHL a team has to have a strong top-nine. I once considered the situation with Andre Burakovsky to be a luxury in that the team could trade him if the right deal came long or hold him for the playoffs and try to trade him after the season. I don’t think Washington has that flexibility anymore and will have to make some type of move to bolster that third line, someone who can jumpstart Eller and Brett Connolly.
McNally: The Caps outperform their expected offensive metrics annually in large part because of their top-tier talent. Alex Ovechkin is still doing Alex Ovechkin things (37 goals) and overall Washington has a 10.2 shooting percentage at five-on-five, tops in the NHL. And that’s good because the Caps are 22nd at generating shots (23.4 per game) at five-on-five, which is…below average.
Tom Wilson (13) has cooled off, as expected. He will still set a career high in goals despite missing three games to a concussion and a 16-game suspension. Jakub Vrana (15) already has done that in his second season. T.J. Oshie (15) has been fine given he missed 11 games. Nick Backstrom (13 goals, 38 assists) is over a point-per-game player. He’s headed for his fourth 80-point season. Or close to it. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shooting percentage (7.3 percent) will skyrocket soon, according to his history. He’s topped 10.4 percent the past three seasons.
Yes, they could use help on the third line. Lars Eller can’t buy a goal. Andre Burakovsky could be playing his way out of town. Get that stabilized. Or don’t. The Caps average 3.0 goals/60 minutes anyway. They aren’t Tampa Bay (3.21/60). They don’t have to be. They’re good enough here.
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