All the predictions are in, and this year’s Washington Capitals’ team has great expectations. Standing in their way are a few flaws that could snowball if they are not fixed. Here is a look at the top three:
After Semyon Varlamov dominated throughout (most of) the playoffs last season, most expected him to pick up right where he left off. The kid was put in an excellent position to steal the job away from veteran Jose Theodore. Theo is aging and it is the perfect scenario for a changing of the guard. Yet it seems the only thing that has remained consistent for Varlamov from last year is his sub-par catching hand, which teams are beginning to exploit. Through two games, Varly has allowed eight goals on 48 shots and his GAA is currently higher than Alex Ovechkin’s goal total.
So the rookie struggles, but all is well because the veteran steps his game up and proves his worth, right?
Capitals fans saw a flash of brilliance in the season-opener against Boston, but the celebration for Theo’s re-emergence has been short-lived. Theodore played decent in 30 minutes against Philadelphia after filling in for a struggling Varlamov. Two goals allowed and an overtime loss later, Jose got his second start of the season against the New York Rangers; the team that cost him his starting job in last year’s playoffs. Unfortunately for Jose, it was a ‘same team, same results’ kind of deal. Washington went down 4-3 with Theo yielding a few goals that he would like to have back.
2. Secondary Scoring
The explosive first line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin has surpassed expectations with daunting stats after four games: 12 goals, 16 assists, and a + 13 rating. Heck even the second line of Laich-Morrison-Knuble has put up six goals and five assists. After that, the production drops off slightly.
David Steckel was an attractive choice for a sleeper pick this year, and he still might be, but his offensive production is not where it should be. He has zero points, just four shots on net, and a -4 rating. Predictions do not have Steckel scoring 30 goals this season, so it might be unfair to call him out on a lack of offensive production. But lines three and four combining for zero goals, a measly four assists, and a -10 rating should throw up a red flag.
A player who is predicted to score 30 or more goals is Mike Green. After coming off a 73-point season, zero goals in four games is not the start Green was looking for. The last time Green played the Red Wings was during his stretch of eight consecutive games scoring a goal. In the game versus the Wings, he picked up a goal and a helper.
“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
Yes, it is cliché. Yes, I did use it as my senior quote for the high school year book. And yes, it is true with this Washington Capitals team.
We saw instances last season where the Caps seamed disinterested and lacking motivation when it was clear that a playoff spot would be secured. Fast forward to this season and (parts of) the past three games have been early indicators of lackadaisical efforts. Against Toronto, Varly allowed three goals in the third period and against the Flyers, he was scored on four times in the second period (The Washington Times has more on Varlamov’s knack for allowing goals in bunches).
Don’t throw all the blame on the keepers just yet. The Caps rank among the top four teams in the number of times shorthanded. It should be clear that as the number of times a team is shorthanded increases, the likeliness of winning the game decreases. Let’s use the Capitals/Flyers game from last Tuesday as our example. Washington took six penalties in the second period alone that translated into four goals against in the period, two of which being shorthanded. Philadelphia finished 3/10 on the Power Play. To put this in context, six teams in the league still have not been shorthanded 10 times this year. The Capitals went on to lose in overtime after blowing a 3-2 and a 5-4 lead.
There are a lot of things good with this year’s Caps team, but a few not-so-good shortcomings the squad needs to fix. Match-ups with Detroit, New Jersey, San Jose, and Nashville in the next week should give us a better understanding of where the Capitals stand.