Before the season began, I identified five storylines I wanted to track this year.
Now, twenty-one games into the season, let’s check the wavelengths on these vibes.
I like both of these players, but I have to admit I’m frustrated that Washington is in the same spot they were in last season: with two unproven goalies who have blown multiple chances to earn the job.
I doubt the fates of Vanecek and Samsonov will remain parallel forever. The situation wasn’t stable last year, and now it feels even less so. But until something changes, the Capitals will have two young fellas in net, both just kinda middling.
I think we’re still in that same situation. Yesterday I rated Washington’s goalies as a C. Samsonov has put up two below-average games since those monster shutouts in California, and Vanecek has had just one above-average game in his last four appearances.
I want to highlight the impact here. Washington has 31 points in 13 games, putting them third place in league by points percentage. But if the Caps won just half of their one-goal games (instead of losing seven of nine), they’d be the best team in the NHL outright.
Neither Vanecek nor Samsonov have seen more than 1500 shots in their careers, so there’s still talent left to be revealed, but everything we have seen describes them both as “just fine.” Washington can continue to wait to see if one of them stands out, but I think the most likely outcome is that we’re already seeing what we’ll get. That would mean the Caps will remain in détente until someone in the front office decides top pull the trigger, probably around the time of the trade deadline. Time to look up goalies on expiring contracts on non-playoff teams.
The Caps have gotten chased out of the barn in three consecutive playoffs by younger and faster teams, but Washington is still committed to its veteran core. Their roster on opening night will be the third oldest in the league.
Through circumstances beyond their control, the Washington Capitals have been seen an injection of youth into their roster, and it’s been terrific. With Nicklas Backstrom (34, hip), TJ Oshie (35, lower body), Lars Eller (32, COVID), Nic Dowd (31, lower body) missing time due to injury and illness, the team has been forced to get younger. Here are four drops of new blood:
I don’t think all four of these lads plus Leason, Lapierre, Malenstyn, and Cholowski could ever become full-time NHLers, but the results we’ve seen from them so far have been encouraging. The Caps’ front office and coaching staff did not necessarily choose to play them, but they have benefitted from having no other choice. Once this team is healthy, these players will lose their ice time to the experienced guys , and that may not make this team unambiguously better.
[Kuznetsov again has] the same winsome attitude that won us all over in the first place. A joy-first approach to a sport desperately in need of it.
Oh hell yes. Kuznetsov has been the secret ingredient in that scrumptious Ovi Sauce, assisting in seven of Ovechkin’s goals, with three Kuznetsov goals coming off Ovechkin setups. Kuznetsov’s points rate during five-on-five is 2.6 per hour, fifth in the NHL behind two teammates and McDavid/Draisaitl. He’s had three games this season in which he’s recorded three assists. He’s been a monster.
Yes, he’s still getting extremely cushy deployments, and yes, he still plays a high-risk style that allows for dangerous counterattacks, but to describe Kuznetsov’s season as anything other than a comeback would be incorrect. He’s got the smile back in his game, and that means so very much.
Will Wilson allow a well below average bottom-six player to take an above average top-six player out of a game for five-plus minutes? That wouldn’t be very smart. But whatever happens, Tom Wilson will be the topic of conversation.
Last night Sergei Bobrovsky left the game after clotheslining himself using Tom Wilson’s arm.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 26, 2021
As a result, Tom Wilson’s name trended on Twitter. This is the perfect example of Wilsoning, the natural phenomenon where Tom Wilson’s dramatic mass becomes so dense that reality warps around it.
And yet, Wilson’s on-ice performance has been largely free of drama. Wilson has not dropped his gloves for a single fight this season. He’s been producing nicely, with six goals and nine assists during five-on-five. He’s got two shorthanded points. He’s producing more than ever in his career while taking fewer penalties than ever in his career.
The only downside I can imagine — and I’m reaching here — is that Wilson’s talent for drawing penalties has evaporated since the Cup run. That’s maybe the most impactful on-ice effect of Wilsoning, and it would suck a lot more if Washington’s power play weren’t so bad.
If Ovechkin can play, I’m pretty sure he can score. His last six seasons — all played in Ovechkin’s 30s — have showed no apparent aging curve at all. . . The only question is the obvious one — about machines from Russia and how often they break.
Alex Ovechkin has scored 18 goals in 21 games, and that’s despite the Caps power playing being blah. His individual shot-attempt rate is down by a bit, but he’s making up for it by setting up teammates. His 2.37 assists per hour during five-on-five is second in the entire league, behind only Timo Meier.
He is 36 years old. He is on a 70-goal pace after 21 games. Sometimes people use the word unprecedented in a hyperbolic way. I’m not. This is literally unprecedented.
Alex Ovechkin is writing history right now. Gretzky should be sweating right now.
And with Draisaitl and McDavid likely to cannibalize each other’s votes, Alex Ovechkin should be your early frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.
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