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Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

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

T.J. Oshie

In his last 11 games, Oshie has seven goals and five assists. Since Jan. 1, in fact, the first line winger is the Caps’ leading goal scorer with 14. That’s two more than anyone else on the team…and Oshie missed six games during that stretch. With one more goal, Oshie will match his career high of 26, which he set last season. And the timing couldn’t be better for the 30-year-old, who is setting himself up for a big free agent contract this offseason. “Every player handles it differently,” Coach Barry Trotz said of contract year pressure. “Some players have career years on those years. Some players wilt under that pressure. He’s real focused. He’s having an exceptional year.”    

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 67 (21 goals, 46 assists) in 65 games. And he's been red hot the past 15 contests. During that span, the 29-year-old center has eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points—seven more than any of his teammates in that timeframe. Backstrom also logged seven shots against the Stars. He hasn’t taken seven shots in a game since 2013. So, yeah, he’s feeling it.

Penalty kill

The Caps’ penalty kill has risen to fourth (tie) entering Wednesday’s game with an effectiveness rate of 85.0 percent. Over the past 10 games, the Jay Beagle-and Karl Alzner-led unit has thwarted 25 of 28 shorthanded situations. This, of course, is a good thing for a team that’s got a penchant for taking minor penalties. In fact, since Dec. 31, the Caps have been assessed 124 minors. The next team is Tampa Bay with 106.

RELATED: Caps' playoff opponent watch: Battling Brooklyn

Cold

Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin has not scored a goal at even strength since Jan. 31—a span of 15 games—and has no goals in the Caps’ last seven contests. Overall, the 31-year-old has 27 goals (two more than Oshie) and is on pace for 34. Ovechkin had 50 or more each of the last three seasons. Asked about the downturn this week, Trotz said he’s confident his captain will get hot. “Early in that [slump], I don’t think he was getting very many chances,” Trotz said. “I think he’s working better for those chances [now]. He’s going to score, I’m pretty sure about that. …He’ll get back on track and get hot here. It’s tightening up now [so] you have to work for your goals, you have to work for your space.”

Goals per game since the bye

From Jan. 3 - Feb. 11, a span of 20 games, the Caps boasted the best offense in the NHL, scoring a total of 93 goals (4.65 per game). Then they had a six-day bye week. Since returning, they’ve scored 20 goals in nine games (2.22 per game). Sure, they’ve played a few desperate teams that adopted a, shall we say, defensive posture. (Flyers and Devils, I’m looking at you.) Still, it’s time for Ovechkin and Co. to bear down and get the “snipe” back in their game, as Trotz is fond of saying.  

Recent first periods

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Caps were tied with the Maple Leafs for the most first period goals (67) in the NHL. That trend, however, has been slowing as of late. In fact, in the nine games since the bye, they’ve come up empty in the first period six times. “We haven’t dominated,” Trotz said. “It was a sort of a mindset [prior to the hiatus]. We came out with a lot of juice and jumped on teams. And lately, we just haven’t. We haven't come out with that, ‘Let’s jump on you early and not give you a chance to get off the mat.’ We’ve been sorta saying, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals ink two college free agents

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

Other key Caps questions:

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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