Once a week this season, we're taking a closer look at the numbers and pointing out a few trends that every Capitals fan should know about.
The third line
A lot has gone right for the Caps over the past month or so. The most significant development, though, could be the emergence of the Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky line as an offensive threat. Since Jan. 1, a span of 13 games, Burakovsky has five goals while Connolly and Eller have four apiece. One of the Caps’ top priorities this offseason was bolstering bottom six depth…and it seems like after a slow start for all three players, they’ve begun to gel as a unit.
What a turnaround he’s enjoying. After putting up a grand total of two goals in the Caps’ first 24 games, the 35-year-old has put up 15 goals in the Caps’ last 24 contests—five more than Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie in that span. With 17 goals, he’s on pace for 29, which would be his highest total since 2006-07. He’s also an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Speaking of Oshie, he’s been a roll as of late, as well. Since sitting out in Montreal on Jan. 9 with an upper body injury, the first line right wing has five goals and seven assists in eight games. Despite missing eight games due to injury, the 30-year-old has 18 tallies and is still on pace for a career-best 33. He’ll also need a new contract at season’s end.
Since the calendar flipped to 2017, Kuzy has accumulated 16 points (four goals and 12 assists) in 13 games. Only Nicklas Backstrom (17 points) has more in that span. Even if Kuznetsov stays hot, though, it's going to be very tough for him to approach last year's point total (77) due to his ice cold start. With seven goals and 28 assists, in fact, he's currently on pace for 60 points.
The Caps’ record against the Central Division
After last week’s 4-3 overtime win in Dallas, they improved to 8-0-0 against the Central. Jay Beagle, meantime, has scored seven of his 10 goals this season vs. Central Division foes.
More players could be taking laps in practice as punishment for taking too many penalties. (Assuming, of course, the Caps ever manage to get in another practice due to the unrelenting schedule.) Anyway, since we’ve been using Jan. 1 as a benchmark, let’s continue to do so. Since the calendar flipped, the Caps have been assessed a league-high 56 minor penalties. Kuznetsov, Connolly and Oshie have each taken a team-high six during that span. Ovechkin is next with five. The Caps are at or near the top of the league in many key statistical categories. Unnecessary (and untimely) penalties should not be among them.
Speaking of the captain, he’s going through a bit of a dry spell at the moment. In fact, he’s got only one goal in the last seven games. The 31-year-old still leads the Caps with 22 goals on the season but he’s now on pace for 38—after scoring 50 or more each of the past three seasons. If he’s going to claim a fifth straight Rocket Richard Trophy, he’ll need to reverse the recent downturn, obviously. Entering Wednesday’s games, Ovi was tied for fourth in goals with Evgeni Malkin. It should also be noted that Ovechkin is averaging almost two fewer minutes of ice time per game year-over-year, which, as the team’s thinking goes, will lead to a fresher Ovi come playoffs.
Recent goals against/shots against
Including the wild 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh, the Caps have allowed 18 goals in five games (3.6 per). They’ve also allowed 31.4 shots per game in that span. That’s an admittedly small sample size. It also followed a stretch in which the Caps were absolutely lights out defensively. But it may be something to monitor. Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged recently that teams tend to get a little loose defensively when there’s not a lot of practice time. And there sure hasn’t been much of that lately.
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