Caps showing strong depth. First Quarter Report Card

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Washington Capitals players salute fans after the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena on November 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The first quarter of the season is over and the Capitals have shown that they are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Here is your first quarter report card for the Washington Capitals.

Record: 13-3-5, 2nd in Metro

Offense

The biggest concern coming into the season was how Washington would handle the long-term absence of center Nick Backstrom. The re-emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov has helped fill that void. Kuzy has looked like the Kuzy of old, scoring 27 points, which is 4th in the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin continues to show the world why he is the greatest goal scorer of all time. Ovechkin has started his 17th season better than any other season before. Ovi has 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 21 games, leading the team and second most in the NHL. His pursuit of the all-time goals record is looking more and more possible.

Ovechkin now sits in 4th place on the all-time list with 748 goals, 18 behind Jaromir Jagr. Ovi is almost a lock to pass Jagr this season, and then Gordie Howe next year. Then the sights will be set on Gretzky.

Aside from the veteran production, the numerous rookies that have had to step up has been a storyline all season. From the opening night debut of Hendrix Lapierre, to the roster for Friday night’s win over Florida that saw four rookies suit up on the forward lines, the baby Capitals are getting plenty of ice time.

Despite valuable veterans such as Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha missing multiple games, the Capitals have scored the 2nd most goals in the league. Once the team is healthy, it’s only going to get better

Grade: A+

Defense

During the preseason, the biggest concern I had was how the left side of the defense would lineup. Questions over Michal Kempny’s health meant that rookie Martin Fehervary would be given a bigger role on the blue line. However, the defense has been the most consistent part of the lineup.

Only seven defensmen have played for the Caps, with the top six blueliners playing at least 20 of Washington’s 21 games. The pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen has reaped rewards with their plus-minus ratings sitting at +15 and +18, respectively. 

Jensen’s rating is the highest among NHL defensemen while John Carlson’s 15 assists are the second most among NHL defensemen.

This defensive unit has impressed me the most thus far and their consistency will be crucial as the season goes on.

Grade: A-

Goaltending

The goalie battle between Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek was the hottest topic all offseason and preseason.

Despite Vanecek getting the keys to the goal at the start of the season, Samsonov has taken over with his recent hot streak. Sammy has a record of 8-0-1, including three shutouts, tied for second in the league. Currently riding a five-game win streak, Samsonov should stay in net for the time being.

Vanecek had a strong start to the season, but his inconsistent play has given the advantage to Samsonov. Washington only has one back-to-back set in December, meaning opportunities could be few for Vanecek to earn the starting role again.

I can’t talk about the Caps goalies and NOT mention Zach Fucale. The 26-year-old shut out the Red Wings in his NHL debut. His performance was all over the news the next day, but Fucale has yet to be given a second start as he has since been sent back to Hershey. I’d like to see him get another look before the season ends.

It’s hard to find reliable goalies throughout the season, and I’m anticipating the pendulum swinging back in Vanecek’s favor over time. But right now, the Caps have a lot of a good thing and that feels wonderful.

Grade: A

Special Teams

Typically an anchor of the Washington offense, the power play has been far from that this season. Despite being in the top 10 in power play opportunities, as well as two of the most dynamic forwards in the league, the Caps power play is producing at 18.8%.

This middle-of-the-road power play can be attributed to the injuries to Backstrom and Oshie. In his first season as head coach, Laviolette’s team had a power play producing just under 25%, meaning strategy isn’t the issue. The easy answer is to wait for the team to get healthy.

On the other side, the penalty kill has been more productive than in recent years. Washington has a top-10 penalty kill, as well as the best net PK in the NHL.

Jensen has been a key piece to the penalty kill. Jensen’s shorthanded Corsi For % is the highest in his career at 17.9. Despite my heavy criticism of him, Carl Hagelin’s abilities on the PK are evident. Hagelin’s Corsi For % is 18.9, his highest since he joined the Caps.

If the power play can improve, Washington could possess one of the best special teams units in the NHL. Until then, they stay slightly above average.

Grade: B-

As a Caps fan, you have to be excited with how the team has played. Through multiple forward injuries, the team has stuck together and proved that they are a deeper team than most of us thought. 

With three separate three-day breaks in December, this could be a great chance to get healthy and challenge the elite teams in the NHL.

Overall Grade: A

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