The Washington Capitals have lost seven games in a row for the first time since the mid-80s. Though this is a team failure, all members of the team do not share the blame equally. Only now, as we enter the all-star break and bye week, can we have the intellectual and emotional remove to figure out who are the good guys and who are the naughty boys.
These virtuous gentlefolk bear no blame for the team’s woes. They are veritable King Cnuts, fighting the tide in futility.
Alex Ovechkin. He’s trying. He’s got three goals during five-on-five and two more on the power play. His on-ice goal differential is only even (seven for the Caps, seven for opponents), but that’s a result of terrible goaltending — even after accounting for opponent shot quality. Here’s a simple rule: If Ovi gives your team a hat trick, you should win.
Dmitrij Jaskin. He’s been played only sparingly, but he’s been excellent in small doses, driving play and controlling quality better than any other Caps skater (51 percent of attempts, 56 percent of scoring chances, 71 percent of high-danger chances). He committed his first penalty of the season this week, but it saved a goal. Whatever’s going wrong, more Jaskin can’t make it wronger.
This posse isn’t perfect, but they’re helping more than they are hurting.
Devante Smith-Pelly. DSP isn’t scoring and isn’t driving possession, but he’s one of the rare forwards to remain defensively responsible during the slump. Opponents aren’t getting feeding frenzies up front when DSP is on the ice, perhaps because he doesn’t get involved in aggressive forechecks.
Jakub Vrana. Despite going goalless during the slump, Vrana has notched three assists, been successful in his forechecking assignments, and generally been on attack more than defense. A little more puck luck would get Jake into the angel tier.
TJ Oshie. Oshie has been good pretty much everywhere. He’s got three goals assists and five assists, proof of some good chemistry with Ovechkin. Even without a goal, his offense has bounced back from a down year, though he has not been immune to the defensive breakdowns that have sunk the Caps lately.
Nicklas Backstrom. He’s got six points (three at evens, three more on the power play), but he’s slightly underwater in his five-on-five goal differential. With better goaltending, he’d be back to his overlooked-Caps-MVP status.
It’s a gray, gray world in which these players live. Maybe they try to do the right thing when they can, but it’s just not that simple.
Jonas Siegenthaler. Siegs is marginal do-gooder, actually. He’s got an even goal differential during five-on-five, he’s limiting quality chances despite being beaten on volume, and he’s doing so despite defensive deployments (just 37 percent of his shifts have started in the offensive zone during the slump). Then again, Siegenthaler has benefited from the rare good slice of goaltending — a 93.1 percent — in his five games played of seven.
Andre Burakovsky. His production isn’t anywhere near where it needs to be, but Andre’s recorded three points (one goal, two assists) during the slump and is only one goal below even overall. Not great, but better than we’ve seen from Dre lately.
John Carlson. This is a tricky one. Carlson’s scoring a bunch (two goals, three assists), but he’s bleeding high-danger chances (16 per hour for opponents) and has been outscored 10 to 4 despite having better goaltending than many of his pals. Carlson’s PK time hasn’t been any better; the Caps allowed 27 attempts and two goals in just 10 shorthanded minutes. But Carlson’s getting horrible goaltending (83.9 percent) that is making his play seem worse than it is.
Madison Bowey. Nothing is working for Bowey right now, but his five-on-five goal differential is only minus-one. His shifts have rarely clocked time near the opponent’s net, so there’s just not much happening here. Only one Caps skater has produced less offense lately, and we’ll get to him below. Meanwhile, Bowey hasn’t played much special teams, so his impact is just at even strength, where it is both scant and underwhelming.
Travis Boyd. In an encouraging reversal of his season trend, Boyd’s been hovering almost even in attempts and chances, and he’s even added a couple assists to his ledger thanks a charitably high on-ice shooting percentage (8.3). Still, it’s hard not to see him as a drag on the bottom six, and his minus-2 goal differential testifies to that fact.
Brooks Orpik. Despite being the only Caps player with a positive goal differential during (plus-1!) , Orpik is clearly in over his head, allowing 67 opponent shot attempts and 16 high-danger chances per hour. Orpik looks okay on goals because his teammates are shooting 11.9 percent when on the ice with him. What I can’t figure out is why he’s started 13 of his 18 non-neutral shifts in the defensive zone.
Evgeny Kuznetsov. To my great surprise, Kuznetsov’s underlying numbers have been encouraging during the slump. The Caps draw even or better in attempts and chances. Plus, Kuznetsov finally got another five-on-five goal. But Kuznetsov still has problems in neutral with and without the puck — be it the uninspired forecheck or the ill-advised slingshot pass. Call them big mistakes or tangible details, they’re still in Kuzy’s game and they’re still holding him and his team back.
Matt Niskanen. Reasonable people can disagree on putting Niskanen here. He is struggling for sure, and it’s hurting badly. His goal differential during the slump is a team-low minus-7, he’s been on for a team-high 11 goals plus three more on the PK. And yet I have to say I’m encouraged by the new Kempny/Niskanen pairing. I think they’ve got some chemistry to work out (assignments on the backcheck especially), but the basic structure seems to be there. Just gotta wait for the percentages to catch up. Call me quixotic, but I still believe in Niskanen.
This is the tier for Christian Djoos. (Photo: Elizabeth Kong)
Christian Djoos. He hasn’t played since December. He is missed.
To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee. (In this case, “I” is the player, and “thee” is winning hockey games.)
Brett Connolly. Connolly is depended on for tertiary scoring, which he is not providing (one assist), and low-risk third-line play, which he is also not providing. He’s minus-5 during five-on-five play with on-ice percentages in the mid 40s except for high-danger chances, which are at 35 percent. He just has to be better.
Tom Wilson. After starting his season late with a torrid scoring pace, Wilson has cooled off entirely. He’s got one assist during the slump (a secondary), and isn’t going to the net with any regularity. He’s been outscored 1-7, which is attributable to horrible percentages (on-ice shooting is 1.9), but we have to admit he is not playing the new Tom Wilson style that we were all loving.
Michal Kempny. Kempny has spent much of the slump paired with Carlson, so he’s got most of Carlson’s on-ice numbers without any of his scoring. In his defense, Kempny has fared well on the penalty kill, and I think — some big mistakes aside — his new pairing with Niskanen will be successful.
Dmitry Orlov. The Orlov-Niskanen pairing had been troubled since the start of the season, but it really plummeted in the last two weeks. And while Orlov’s on-ice percentages haven’t been that bad — they’re just about even — he’s been on the ice for a team-high 11 opponent goals. Orlov has done a fine job at keeping the slot clear, but he and Niskanen have been incapable of transitioning to offense. That finally cost the team when Washington’s save percentage suddenly dropped nine points.
Chandler Stephenson. This is not NHL-quality hockey. Stephenson is on his heels on every shift (37 percent of shot attempts, 38 percent of scoring chances 33 percent of high-danger chances) and generates virtually zero offense (bottom 99th percentile of NHL forwards), but he’s enjoyed a save percentage 96.7 percent so he doesn’t look like the problem. And, to be fair, he is not the problem. His continued usage is.
Lars Eller. We expect so much more of the 3C (briefly promoted to 2C). Eller’s got one assist (a secondary) in response to seven opponent goals. He’s been a mess on the penalty kill as well, surrendering a team-high five goals while a man down. Saving hurts Eller, badly, but even he would admit he’s not playing even close to his best hockey. The break will do him good.
Nic Dowd. Dowd played just three games of the slump, but they were brutal. The Caps were outchanced roughly two-to-one during Dowd’s shifts, allowing two opponent goals. Dowd has the lowest PDO (the sum of on-ice shooting and saving) during the slump, a bracing 85.0 (where league average is 100). Whenever Dowd gets a sweater again, he’ll need to do much better, and I think he will.
Off-the-charts hockey malice. Suck levels over 9000. (Image: Zeplin)
Braden Holtby. The guy who saved 93 percent with such consistency it was scary has saved 86.5 percent recently. It’s so bad I want to cry. Holtby’s not at fault for the absurdly high level of dangerous chances he’s facing, but he needs to save more than 63 percent of them.
Pheonix Copley. During his four games of the slump he’s saved 85.9 percent of shots, giving up 11 goals. It’s so bad, I have no words. Copley can’t fix the team defense, but better goaltending would stop it from causing another seven-game losing streak.
Also in this tier: Tomas Hertl, Nazem Kadri, Viktor Arvidsson. Real bad hombres.
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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