Do The Capitals Still Have A Team Speed Problem?

Are the Caps still not fast enough?
Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

For several years it was clear the Washington Capitals were a pretty slow team. It was something that held the team back and when they got into the playoffs, if they got into the playoffs, was a key factor in them getting eliminated.

Think back to series vs the Carolina Hurricanes, or the New York Islanders, even the Boston Bruins. The speed and tenacity those teams had just ran over the Capitals. Some of those series were closer than others. The Hurricanes series was 7 games but there were plenty of times that the Caps got dominated in that series. The Bruins and Islanders series were not very close at all.

I don't think anyone would come out and say this is a fast team this year. But the team did make some moves, whether they wanted to or not, that ended up improving thee overall team speed.

Potentially the biggest move was one that was basically made for them when Nicklas Backstrom stepped away from the team. You can't bash Backstrom. He is a team legend. But we all have our time. He was never really the fleetest of foot, he was getting older, and he had an injury that seemed to make his skating worse.

Washington also moved on from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Unfortunately for the Capitals, Kuznetsov was one of the guys who was a very good skater. He had good speed, he's shifty, can move well. He just simply didn't display that often for the last four or five years in D.C. Good skater, didn't give the effort to show it most nights.

And over the years the Capitals got rid of other slower players on their team. Marcus Johansson and Lars Eller were on the team last season. Even Anthony Mantha who is not the worst skater, but still not the fastest was traded this past deadline.

Faster guys have come into the lineup at the same time. Younger guys who can go like Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre and Sonny Milano have proved they can play. These are guys in their mid or early twenties who have shot some life into the Capitals in more ways than one.

But there is still a lot of, at the very best, average skaters on this Capitals team. Having an average skating team might be okay in the regular season, I think we're starting to see how it won't work at all come playoff time.

The New York Rangers are up in their series with the Capitals two games to nil. They're the better team, they're the faster team. I don't know anyone who would argue that. But to me, team speed has been a big issue and it's an issue I wasn't expecting to be as big as it is.

Specifically, when you look at the Capitals top six, this is what it lined up like according to daily faceoff.



How many of those guys are good skaters? I would say one, and that's McMichael. Ovechkin and Oshie are old and slowing down. Or have just bluntly slowed down. The second line is okay, but none of those guys are very fast. Wilson can be fast. But he's like a semi truck to me. Not very quick, but faster when he gets going.

The bottom six is a little better. But it's the bottom six at the same time. Lapierre is a good skater, but his game definitely needs to improve. He turns the puck over way to much for my liking. A different story for another time, but it can sends New York the other way on rushes. Sonny Milano is also on his line and he can really skate. Then at the same time, Max Pacioretty is on that line and, oof!

Then the Capitals 4th line is Malenstyn-Dowd-Aube-Kubel. Malenstyn and Aube-Kubel are good skaters. But with all due respect, they're fourth liners for a reason. This isn't the Capitals fouth line from a few years ago. If my memory serves it right it was Dowd alongside Hagelin and Hathaway. Those guys would wreak havok on teams. The speed and physicality hurt teams, and both Dowd and Hathaway could get you on the scoreboard more often than their current line.

Even on defense that Caps aren't the fastest. Which again will hurt when you have fast Rangers come at you. Thanks to some injuries some non playoff teams will be looking at the Capitals D and be thankful that's not what their lineup looks like. But right now it's Fehervary-Carlson. Average skaters I'd say. Alexeyev-McIlrath. Ok. And Johansen-van Riemsdyk. Again, it's just average. Some guys are better than others. There just is not a guy or two who can clearly skate you out of trouble. Or could skate trouble into the other teams. Like a Makar or Heiskanen or something. Not that those guys grow on trees or anything. Even the guys out are not the best of skaters. They're ok again, those guys being Rasmus Sandin and Nick Jensen. Good skaters, not fast though.

But it's just that top six that is the problem. The Rangers are going to eat that up in terms of skating. If you're going to have a top six with one good skater the teams pucks management needs to be nearly spotless. And this is a team that has shown that they are not great with puck management, especially when they are trailing in games.

If you need to play the dump and chase game, as a Ranger, who are you scared of? Who is going to get on you fast? You're scared of Wilson, cause he'll hit you. And like we said if he is going he can get fast. Who else? If you can force turnovers, you have to skating advantage over this Capitals team easily. That's been clear two games into this series.

Skating has decided series over the years. The Capitals can say that. As a Sharks fan I can say that. They had a great team in the 2016 Cup Final. Most "experts" and commentators picked them to win that series. They simply could not keep up with the Penguins that year, Pittsburgh won in six. Speed was the difference. And you could argue that Penguins team of 2016 and 2017 changed the league. Every team tried to get faster after those Penguins teams won and it's something every team is still trying to do.

The Capitals have gotten better in the skating department over the last year or so. But I think this series have proven they still have a ways to go. Can they still make this a series? Absolutely. But they are going to need to find a way to close the skating gap to make it competitive, and with the way the team is currently built, I'm just not sure how they are going to do that.