We weren’t overly excited when we wrote The Capitals Buzz for the first month of the season we weren’t too sure about the Capitals. There were some noticeable weaknesses in their game:
- The Caps need to get and keep the lead. They are finding themselves in overtime situations far too many times. OT takes a toll on players- physically and me mentally. We saw this last season and it took a while for them to get back to regulation wins.
- The penalty kill just doesn’t seem to be working for the Capitals right now. They have the 26th weakest PK in the league and it is a real Achilles Heel for them. The Caps are making silly mistakes that send them to the box and they need to tighten up their game to keep out of the box.
- Their face off is even worse. They are 28th in the league and the gap left by Jay Beagle is a glaring hole.
The Capitals have changed a few things since we penned that article at the end of October. For one, Tom Wilson returned after a 14-game suspension. Unfortunately, TJ Oshie, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby, Michal Kempny, and Brooks Orpik all missed games creating new voids on the roster for Coach Todd Reirden to deal with. More of that later.
Lets take a look at the strengths and weakness over the past 30 days and where they have been successful in turning thing around. By-and-large, the Capitals need to keep doing what they are doing and make slight adjustments for whichever team they face.
Winning streak! It is exciting to talk about the winning streak after the ups and downs of October. On November 16 the Caps overtook the Colorado Avalanche (yes Philipp Grubauer was in the net) in a 3-2 Overtime (OT) win. They went on to win the next six games for seven in a row! So yea, they have found a way to keep the lead until the final horn blows.
The PK is looking majorly improved! They now sit with a 78.3 percentage and 20th in the league. They are doing a better job limiting the opponents advantage and their PP is looking stronger as well- fifth in the league (28.2%). The use of strong forwards is paying off in both scenarios. The faceoff still needs improvement- 22nd in the league (48.6%). We lean towards Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd for their style of play but the Beagle-hole is still quite evident.
Tom Wilson returned to the ice 14 November and he did not disappoint the fans!! He scored his first goal in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. And he earned his first penalty of the regular season. By the end of the month he recorded 13 points (7 G and 6 A) in nine games. His presence brought a change to the atmosphere on and off the ice! Unfortunately on the night of his 400th NHL career game, in which he scored a goal, he was also called for a match penalty on an illegal hit to the head- that wasn’t! Caps fans held their breath until the NHL Player Safety folks said it was not a suspension-worthy hit.
Alex Ovechkin continues to demonstrate his skill and resilience as a 33-year old hockey player. He has 19 goals in 25 games with an additional 12 assists. Nick Backstrom too continues to show he is a leader on this team. With his hat trick in New Jersey on 30 November, he closed out the month with a milestone-setting setting assist against former coach Barry Trotz and the Islanders. There is little doubt that the Ovechkin-Backstrom Era is alive and well!
Injuries. Although the Caps have played past the missing players and into a winning streak, it hurts not to have the players upon whom you depend in the lineup. TJ Oshie continues to heal and we are hopeful that he will return to the ice next week. Unfortunately we won’t see Orpik until after the new year.
We still have our reservations about Andre Burakovsky. Yes, we hear all about the potential; however, you don’t win games and championships on potentials. December needs to be a shining month for him or the rumblings about trades may become the storyline.
Goaltending hasn’t been something to brag about. Fans have been spoiled by Braden Holtby and there is nothing stellar to say at this point about him or backup goalie Phoenix Copley. Nothing seriously wrong but something to watch.
And Tom Wilson. Tom has shown that he is the absolutely powerful offensive player the Capitals invested in the past summer. However, now the target in his back is even larger and opposing teams – like NJ – are going to use it to their advantage. The refs expect the worst and won’t hesitate to throw him off the ice. This could create an environment in which Tom becomes more cautious and loses the edge. Not fully his failing; however, it is a reality the Capitals have to face.
Even though the team was missing some of its star players, they rallied together to turn the corner. When everyone returns the Caps will be in an even better position than when they left. December includes some games against western conference teams during the first half with several away games scheduled. Western Conference teams are just different and this is where they will need to make those minor tweaks game-by-game. They meet the Columbus Blue Jackets on their ice on 8 December and we will have a chance to see how their primary challenger for the top spot plays when facing the Stanley Cup Babes!