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Who's hot and who's not?: The Caps' once potent power play is finding its way

Who's hot and who's not?: The Caps' once potent power play is finding its way

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.

Hot

The power play

After striking twice with the man advantage in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders, the unit has (finally) cracked the upper half of the NHL. It’s now ranked 14th at 18.7-percent. Over the past six games, it has connected on seven of its 21 opportunities. Going back 13 games, it has scored at least one goal on nine occasions. Over those 13 games, the unit has been clicking at 23.5-percent, which is the seventh best rate during that span. So, yeah, the Caps’ potent PP is pretty much back on track.

Jakub Vrana

All the rookie does is make plays…and shoot the puck. Hard. Since going pointless in his first four NHL games, Vrana has racked up a goal and two assists the past three games. Of course, one of those assists was initially counted as a goal vs. the Isles but was eventually switched to Justin Williams who inadvertently tipped it en route to the net. Vrana has also mustered four shots in a game three times in his seven NHL contests.

Justin Williams

Speaking of Stick (which is one of my all-time favorite hockey nicknames, btw), he’s en fuego as well after a frigid start to his 16th NHL season. The 35-year-old has four goals the past four games, five points over the past five contests and has contributed to few more goals by going to net and running interference at the top of the crease. Williams had two goals in his first 23 contests. Seems like his protracted slump is over.  

Evgeny Kuznetsov

One of the Caps’ biggest concerns over the first two months of the season has suddenly become one of the team’s biggest threats on offense. The 24-year-old center has six assists in the last five games, including five primary helpers. He’s been moving his feet, making a bee line to the net and, most important, being decisive when the puck is on his stick. Is the old Kuzy back? I need more information. But it certainly looks promising.

RELATED: 12 Days of Capitals: Barry Trotz

Cold

Andre Burakovsky

The coaching staff’s patience with the 21-year-old finally ran out on Tuesday as young Burakovsky was scratched for the first time this season. The move wasn’t much of surprise; during Monday’s practice he rotated in on a four-man forward line. He hasn’t scored a goal since potting a pair in the opener, a career long drought of 26 games. He failed to record a point in seven straight games and lately had seen his ice-time dwindle single digits. It’ll be interesting to see what happens going forward. The player who replaced him, Brett Connolly, scored against the Islanders and now has three goals in his last 13 games played.

Goals from the blue line

Matt Niskanen’s two goals on Tuesday night helped propel the Caps to their fifth straight victory. But on a whole, the Caps’ blue line is lagging behind in terms of scoring. In all, Washington has a total of six goals from defensemen. Here’s how that compares to the top-5 teams in goals per game: Pittsburgh (11 goals from Dmen), New York Rangers (12), Columbus (13), Philadelphia (20) and Montreal (17). Look, the Caps are on a roll. Dormant forwards are showing signs of life. Special teams are humming. The team is strong defensively and in net. But there are areas where they could use a little more. And this is one of them.

Alex Ovechkin

The captain is one of the last guys I ever worry about. Buuuuut…he is going through a bit of a cold snap. Since his hat trick vs. St. Louis on Nov. 23, he’s registered one goal in nine games. Ovi’s still getting shots—he’s put 13 on net the past three games—and he’s still on pace for 38 goals. But he needs to pick it up, and I suspect he knows that.

Tom Wilson

Wilson is a big reason for the Caps’ improving penalty kill, logging more shorthanded ice time than any forward not named Jay Beagle. The 22-year-old also leads the team in drawn penalties per 60 minutes played (1.83). That all said, they need more from Wilson, who has two goals and no assists, in 28 games. Perhaps his empty netter vs. Vancouver and three shot performance vs. the Islanders is the start of something.

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Third line shines for Caps

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The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The 2 biggest questions the Caps still need answered after 10 games

The Capitals are 10 games into the 2019-20 season. For the most part, things have gone well. The team is 6-2-2 and sits atop the Metropolitan Division. John Carlson leads the entire NHL with 18 points which puts him in some pretty elite company. Ilya Samsonov looks as good as advertised while Braden Holtby looks like his old self after a brief reset. Alex Ovechkin has six goals already and T.J. Oshie leads the team with seven. Plus, both special teams units look improved.

That’s a pretty solid start.

But there remain two important questions that still need answers.

Who should play on the right on the second defensive pair?

Michal Kempny finally returned after missing the first eight games of the season. He started the last two on the third pair, but is working his way back up to the top pairing. Once he gets there, the defense will finally be at full strength.

That gives Washington a pretty solid top three of Kempny and Carlson, plus Dmitry Orlov. But who should play on the right with Orlov?

Jensen had the first crack at it to start the season, but after some up-and-down play, Radko Gudas was bumped up for a few games. Since Kempny returned, Gudas moved back down to third to play with him and Jensen moved back with Orlov.

So far Gudas has been as good as advertised, but playing well on the third pair does not necessarily mean he should be on the second.

Jensen was one of Detroit’s top defensemen when he was acquired by the Caps. The team is still waiting for that player to emerge. It has been a tough transition for him to Washington's system and, while he has shown flashes of strong play, he remains largely inconsistent. His Corsi-For percentage at 5-on-5 is the second-worst on the team at 46.82-percent. He is one of only three Caps below 50-percent with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tyler Lewington being the other two.

The issue for the Caps may be that they have two high-quality third pair right defensemen in Jensen and Gudas and only one top-four right defenseman in Carlson which leaves a hole on that second pair.

When it comes to the defense, we should reserve all judgment until Kempny is back to playing on the top-pair full-time so we can see this defense at full strength. Until then, however, the second pair remains a question mark.

Can the Caps get enough production from the third line?

There wasn’t much offense to speak of from the Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, Richard Panik trio and it didn’t take Todd Reirden long to split them up. Hagelin is the Swiss Army knife of the Caps’ offense, but his offensive production is limited. Panik meanwhile has had a tough start to his Caps’ tenure with zero points and is on long-term injured reserve.

As always, the top six for this team remains lethal and the additions of Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway to the fourth line have been home runs. The third line is the only one that remains a question and it may need a boost from a player like Jakub Vrana, who has been playing there the last few games with Eller and Hathaway, to help spark some production. Ultimately, however, you would like to see Vrana back in the top six and Hathaway back on the fourth. Hagelin, Eller and Panik are the best fit for the third, but if they can’t produce together it may mean weakening the top six or the fourth line by moving players around to find a combination that produces on that third line.

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John Carlson's seven assists nabs him the NHL's second star of the week

John Carlson's seven assists nabs him the NHL's second star of the week

John Carlson has opened this season with monster numbers, putting up three goals and 15 assists in 10 games. He currently leads the league in points with 18. 

The NHL has noticed and named Carlson their second star of the week. Boston's David Pastrnak got the first star, while Buffalo's Carter Hutton was named the third star.

In four games last week, Carlson notched one goal and seven assists for eight points. He currently leads the league in assists with 15.

Carlson is also in historic company. The only other two defensemen to score as many or more points than Carlson in the first 10 games of a season are Bobby Orr (2‑16—18 in 1969-70 and 5-13—18 in 1973-74, w/ Boston) and Paul Coffey (3-17—20 in 1988-89, w/ Pittsburgh).

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