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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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How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

ARLINGTON – Things have not gone well for the Capitals the last few days. After taking a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington saw that lead evaporate with two losses in Raleigh as they were outscored 7-1 and lost T.J. Oshie to injury. But even as the series momentum has taken a serious shift in Carolina’s favor, the mood in Washington remains calm.

“You know it’s playoffs,” Jakub Vrana said. “You can’t ever get too low or too high. We’re going to try to manage as best we can in the situation that we are right now.”

The underlying calm and confidence the Caps feel comes from past experience. Having always been the team that came up short in the playoffs, now Washington is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and it is not as if their path to the Cup was without its challenges.

“We understand what we went through last year,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “This is part of the experience. We went through some difficult times last year whether it was injuries or suspensions or being down in series, whether it was 0-2 or 3-2 in different series and battling through some tough times. We managed as a group to come through it.”

The Caps went down 0-2 in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets before rattling off four straight wins to advance. They lost three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and faced elimination in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. They responded with two perfect games, shutting out the Lightning in both. Washington lost Game 1 in three out of four playoff series in 2018 and trailed at some point in all four.

And yet, they still came out on top in the end.

Amid those struggles were a number of key losses on the roster. In the decisive Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovksy and Tom Wilson. Backstrom and Burakovsky were out injured while Wilson was suspended. The team will need to lean on that experience now with Oshie out indefinitely.

“Obviously, that’s something that you never want to have is one of your top players going down,” Chandler Stephenson said, “But it shows that last year we had guys coming in and pulling their weight and doing a little more and it helped us a lot. It gave us a little extra spark and it’s just more opportunity for everyone and I think we’re ready for it. It’s obviously motivation in itself to do it for Osh now, too.”

This time, the team will be looking for a spark from Devante Smith-Pelly, a playoff hero from 2018 who was recalled from the Hershey Bears on Friday in response to Oshie’s injury.

“Yeah, it’s tough to not have Osh right now,” Vrana said. “He’s been a big part of this team but it is what it is and we’re going to try to fill the spot as best we can.”

Even Nic Dowd, in his first season with Washington, can feel the confidence in the room.

“That is why they make it best-of-seven,” Dowd said. “This is my first time doing this, but I've played in a lot of playoff hockey before this, American League, college, stuff like that. I think the confidence hasn't changed. I think we still are a calm team. Our guys are going to be ready. Like I said, it is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every team that is left is a good team and every team wants to win."

While there are no such things as moral victories in professional sports, that does not mean good things cannot come from losses. The Caps have not played their best hockey in any of the four games in the series. Perhaps two losses in Carolina will provide the wake-up call Washington needs.

“Maybe that spurs us on to a different level of play because we need a different level of play from everybody,” Reirden said. “They pushed back and now it's our turn to return the favor when they come into our building. We worked hard and played hard all year to have this opportunity to have home ice in this round. Now it's our chance to see it through. It's something that we're going to need everybody and everybody's top game. Credit to them that they've played well, but I also know that there's another level our team can get to.”

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John Carlson's autograph the finishing touch to a Capitals fan's tattoo sleeve

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Leah Carey/Twitter

John Carlson's autograph the finishing touch to a Capitals fan's tattoo sleeve

It's been a long time in the making, but a local Washington fan finally put the finishing touches on his Capitals-themed tattoo sleeve on Thursday.

Maryland-based fan Leah Carey posted a picture of her father's tattooed arm on Twitter, showing off the finished product.

John Carlson is credited with the final assist, as his signature was the last thing Carey's father needed to complete the tattoo collection. He finally got the signaure when Carlson took the time to autograph his arm after a recent practice. Carey then got it tattooed the following day.

In addition to Carlson's autograph, the sleeve includes various Caps' logos over the years, including their Stanley Cup championship crest.

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