Overall a really solid start for the Caps. The underlying numbers are encouraging as well. Anything to complain about or right according to plan?
Amazingly, shockingly, the biggest issue for the Caps is their power play. You know, that same power play that has been operating at close to 25% for the last three seasons, the one that boasts guys like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov? That’s the one. At the moment they’re operating at a 13.2% clip (just five goals on 38 tries), which is simply not good enough. And it’s not just the start of this season where it’s been an issue – the power play dried up late last season (with an isolated explosion of productivity in their first-round series against Philly). That’s somewhat troubling, and leads us to question whether the rest of the league has finally figured them out.
That said, 12 games in they’re still generating shots and chances with the extra man, and it is only 12 games in – that 13.2% isn’t the worst mark in the League tells you how early it is. There’s time for it to fix itself, and as long as they’re doing well at five on five – and killing penalties at the rate they are – they’ll probably be fine. Probably.
One area we might point to is that Braden Holtby already has 10 starts to Philipp Grubauer’s two. Is Trotz going to run Holtby out there 70+ times again?
Well, to be fair, he didn’t exactly run Holtby out there that much last season. Holtby made 66 starts last year (which makes his 48 wins all the more impressive) – still a lot, but Grubauer got in some work.
Regardless, the plan is definitely to get Grubauer into more games this year, and to give him better quality games. Trotz has talked about how last season Grubauer was reserved for a lot of “garbage” games (second of back-to-back games, the last game of a long road trip, etc.) where the team in front of him probably wasn’t as fresh. They don’t want to do that to him again, and so far they’re sticking to it.
Even more interesting is how well Grubauer has played in his limited role so far this year, while Holtby has at times struggled to regain his form a bit. He wasn’t bad last year, but Grubauer definitely seems to have inspired more confidence in his play to start this season than last – that should help alleviate Holtby’s workload if he keeps it up throughout 2016-17.
Andre Burakovsky, he’s huge, he’s young, he’s kicking in the skulls of anyone he sees in possession so far this year. How big of a monster is this in waiting?
Burakovsky could be a HUGE (yuge?) monster. He’s got an incredible shot and is playing with confidence, and that’s starting to show up in the results. It seems like the missing pieces for him are just things that will come with time, experience and maturity – a bit of a better finish and a little more size. He’s tall but still not as filled out as he likely will be (although he definitely got bigger over the summer); as he grows into his size he’ll be harder to push off the puck, and then… watch out. He’s really fun to watch as it is but he could be something pretty special down the line.
How has Lars Eller looked so far? He’s a player that we always thought got a rough ride in Montreal.
Eller’s looked really good; he was told coming in that the third-line center spot was his, and he’s fit into that role pretty nicely, finding some good chemistry with Burakovsky and Justin Williams (and really whoever ends up on that third line). Having that established role, and somewhat stable, skilled linemates, should be a big help to someone who absolutely got misused a bit in Montreal (and at the very least lacked that established role and often the skilled linemates). He’s probably on pace for about 10-15 goals this year, about where one would expect him to be, but more importantly he’s a strong skater and surprisingly feisty, which makes him a good penalty-killer and just generally tough to play against. The Caps needed that on the third line for sure.
So this is the year, right?
Well, the Cubs won the World Series and there’s a Trump presidency on the horizon, which means the apocalypse must be nigh, so…. yes?
In all seriousness, though, it very well could be. This is probably the deepest team they’ve ever had (deeper even than last year), they’re faster, and they’re extra motivated after yet another early playoff loss to yet another Cup-winning Penguins team (and yes, typing that out is as nauseating as it should be to read it). And considering that this summer holds a lot of tough decisions, and a lot of these guys won’t be back in Washington next season… it really needs to be.