It has been a strange season for the Washington Capitals. Really, for many reasons, it has been an up and down season.
It’s been an up and down season with injuries. The Capitals start the season without Backstrom and Wilson. They lose Oshie early, Kuemper had an injury early in the season. Basically if you’re on this team you have had an injury this season. Then when someone has come back from an injury, someone else goes down with one. Backstrom and Wilson come up, Carlson and Wilson go down.
You can blame injuries for a hard season if you would like. Right now the Capitals are barely hanging on to a playoff spot. They are in this position thanks to that up and down season.
The Caps started their season 8-10-3. Obviously, not a good start. But then they bounced back. From American Thanksgiving to just after the Christmas break they were one of the NHL’s very best teams. In that time they were 12-3-1. Only the Carolina Hurricanes had more points during that time, the Capitals having 25 points, the Canes having 28. During that time Washington was even better than the Bruins who had 23 points.
But the Capitals have fallen on hard times once again. Since the very end of December they are 8-10-2. One thing you can look at for their up and down season is goals and how many goals they score a game.
To start the season it was a little tough scoring goals. In the first twenty-one games of the season they scored 2.76 goals a game. That was sixth worst in the entire NHL. Then, like their record, they rebounded. During their 12-3-1 stretch they were scoring a lot more goals. They scored 3.56 goals a game, going up to seventh best during that time.
Now here we are. The Capitals have fallen on hard times again and their goals for per game has fallen back to bottom third of the league again. Over their last twenty games they are scoring 2.90 goals per game, better than before, but down to 23rd in the NHL during that time.
Unless your name is Alex Ovechkin, who has 32 goals on the year, it really has been a score by committee kind of team. Unfortunately the committee does not always show up.
As we speak the Capitals second leading goal scorer is Marcus Johansson, who has 13 goals this season. A good season for him, but if I told you at the start of the season that Johansson would be your second leading goal scorer in mid February how would you feel?
Dylan Strome has 12. That’s OK. Probably average for him. Sheary also has 12, average for him. You have guys that have been banged up or injured. Oshie being one of those guys has 11 goals in 39 games. Backstrom has 3 goals in 14 games. Wilson had 2 goals in 8 games. Carlson had 8 goals in 30 games.
Then you have the disappointments. Guys that you look at when you see the Capitals are not scoring many goals. Anthony Mantha has 9 goals in 52 games. His lack of production leading to him spending some time in the press box. You also have someone who is potentially the perfect example of up and down: Evgeny Kuznetsov. In terms of goal scoring it’s been mostly down for this guy. Someone that you rely on, a lot more than Mantha, Kuznetsov has just 9 goals in his 56 games played. That puts him on pace for a fairly pathetic 13 goals at seasons end.
Thirteen goals is good for the average person. Awful for a guy you rely on, and pay to be one of your star players.
You want another up and down? How about the power play? If you’re not scoring on the power play, you’re going to score less goals. How about that genius conclusion?
Using the same three timelines from earlier we can see the power play is massive for this team. The first third of this season their power play was clicking at 19.5%, 24th in the league. Then during their hot streak they were scoring on the power play 23.9% of the time. Not a huge leap, but up to 14th. Now here we are again and they’re down to 18.9%, still good for 17th.
So what is it? Is this team not good at scoring goals? Or do they not get chances?
The Capitals get chances. It was tougher at the start of the season for sure. They were 17th in the league in scoring chances. Then they turned it up a bit and moved up to 11th during their run. Since that run ended they are back to 13th.
Overall their chances per game looks like this. To start the year it was 29.2 chances a game. It then went up to 31 a game and it’s now essentially the same at 30.9 chances a game.
What about high danger chances? A chance is a chance, that can come from anywhere. Do they get to the scoring areas of the ice? The high danger areas? Well, during the season they have actually been getting gradually better.
To start the year they were ranked 17th in high danger attempts for. In their hot streak then went up to 16th. Not a huge jump but it was still up. Now since their hot run ended they are 10th best in high danger attempts. In terms of per game their high danger attempts look like this. It started 11.4, went to 12.2 and now sits it 14 per game. They’re getting to the areas more now than they have all season.
At some point, I think it just comes down to the players ability to bury pucks. It comes down to, unless your name is Ovechkin, take your chance and put it in the net and on the board. Thanks to a couple of factors that is harder this season for the Capitals than it has been for a long time.
We mentioned one reason already. Injuries. The Capitals have missed key players who can score for large chunks of this season. Backstrom, Wilson, Oshie and Carlson. Even if they are playing, how close to 100% are they? It takes time to come back from injury and feel good.
I think the other reason goals are down is the Capitals now have to rely on guys to score goals that are not great at scoring goals. They have to rely on Sheary who is having a very average season for him. He’s been in the NHL since 2015-16, his career high is 23. He’s on pace for 17, not bad for him.
Dylan Strome is on pace for 17 goals as well. His career high is 22 which he set last season. His next highest total, 20, that was back in 18-19 which was split between Arizona and Chicago.
Again, Johansson is your second leading scorer. He has scored twenty or more goals just twice in his entire career which started with the Capitals in 2010-11. His career high in goals is 24 which he scored in his last season in D.C. before leaving after the 2016-17 season. He’s on pace for 18 this season. Again, average. You can’t expect much more than this from this player.
Lars Eller is not having the best of seasons, but he is still not far off what he usually does. That being scoring in the low to mid teens in goals.
It feels like this team needs bigger things out of guys who have proven they don’t really do bigger things. They’re good players who when they have that high end talent leading the way they can chip in. But when you need them to lead, it could be rough.
Then the final factor is the disappointing players. The guys you know can do it, but haven’t. That being Mantha, who had a 25 goal season as a young guy. Add another season where he had 16 goals in 43 games. That was the COVID shortened season, and he missed games that year as well. If he scored at that pace all season that was a thirty goal season. For whatever reason, he just has not scored enough goals while in Washington. But he has proven in the past, as a young player, the goal scoring talent is there.
Kuznetsov is the other disappointment. He scored 27 goals in 2017-18. That was easily his best season. Since then it’s been disappointment galore from him. He started last season really good but fell off in the second half again. Even in doing that he was able to score 24 goals.
His talent is obvious. I really do not think I am out of bounds when I say Kuznetsov can be a top NHL player if he gave his all most nights. He just rarely gives his all. If he gave a great effort most nights he could be a thirty goal guy scoring over a point per game. But he doesn’t. And here we are, he’s on pace for a 13 goal season in a season where the team needs help scoring.
At the end of the day the Capitals rank 20th in goals for per game this season. They score 3.04 goals a game this year.
This is a team that has an average offense. They generate an average amount of chances. What this team asks of their players is that they outperform what they have proven to be. That is probably the biggest reason offense is down this year.
Blame the injuries if you want. The Capitals knew they would be without key players to start the year and injuries always happen. Especially when you have at least one injury prone key player like the Caps do have.
Based on the players the Capitals have, should we be surprised offense is down this year? No. The players are performing to their averages. Maybe our expectations are just to high for them.