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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 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.

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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?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

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?

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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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