The Early Days are Strong: Five Takeaways So Far

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Washington Capitals Center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) celebrates a goal in the first period during a NHL game between the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche on October 19, 2021, at Capital One Arena, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The season is still young, but the first three games have shown a lot about what team the Capitals are. Here are five takeaways from the early days of the 2021-22 Washington Capitals.

1- Fun Kuzy is back? Fun Kuzy is back!

The most disappointing player from last season was Evgeny Kuznetsov. Even if you ignore the multiple suspensions, Kuznetsov’s performance on the ice was not what Caps fans had come to expect from him.

Thankfully, Kuzy has shown the offensive prowess we know he possesses. Tied for the team lead with 6 points, Kuznetsov’s highlights remind me of his run in 2018. His first of two goals against Colorado on Tuesday night brought back the dirty bird celly, something we all missed. Tom Wilson attributes Kuznetsov’s rekindled love for the game as a reason for his success.

But going deeper into the numbers, there’s even more to like from Kuzy. Kuznetsov’s even strength Corsi For Percentage sits at 54.4, meaning that Caps possess the puck that much at even strength when he is on the ice. That’s a 3% increase from last season. His Corsi rate per 60 minutes is 7.9, a substantial increase from last season’s 2.5.

Yes it’s only been three games, but this is exactly what Caps fans had been missing from Kuzy. It feels good to see him back to this level.

2- This goalie battle is going to be fun

When Vitek Vanecek was announced as the starting goalie for the opening game, it was a bit of a shock. However, Vanecek showed why the Caps paid a second round pick to get him back from Seattle. In his two starts, Vanecek has made 45 saves on 48 shots.

In response, Ilya Samsonov got the start against Colorado, one of the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup. After a shaky first period, Samsonov got comfortable and performed well in a 6-3 win.

3- A defensive Capitals team?!

While both goalies are playing well, credit should be given to the defense. The Caps are surrendering 25 shots per game, the second fewest in the league.

Being paired with John Carlson on the top pairing is doing wonders for Martin Fehervary. With Fehervary on the ice, the Caps have a save percentage of 95.8, but it’s the experienced Carlson that will help him in the long run.

The addition of Taylor Cholowski off of waivers from Seattle will provide a more reliable 7th defenseman while Kempny continues to recover in the AHL.

4- Which rookie will win?

It was clear that Hendrix Lapierre outplayed Connor McMichael in the preseason, which is why Lapierre got the start against the Rangers. His first career goal was certainly a highlight as well!

Laviolette gave McMichael a shot against Colorado and the 2019 first round pick played well enough to stay in the conversation. Each player is getting roughly 10 minutes of ice time per game. This is a great play by Laviolette, keeping pressure off of the youngsters while they compete for the 3rd line center role.

5- Ovi is still Ovi

Every offseason, pundits say that Ovechkin’s goal scoring will decrease this season. Guess what? It still isn’t happening. Ovi scored twice in the season opener and added a goal in each game this season.

The variety of goals is impressive. From a slick back hand off of a friendly board bounce, to a classic wrister in the slot, Ovechkin has yet to score a one-timer from his office. That should scare anyone who bet against him in the Rocket Richard race.

The Caps next five games are against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season. This is a chance to see more from Lapierre and McMichael as well as what these goalies can add tot he competition.

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