I have had the pleasure of watching the Washington Capitals take on the Carolina Hurricanes twice in Raleigh. I was thoroughly impressed. This is a team that is hitting on all cylinders right now, and looking very, very strong. They currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with 59 points and are one behind the Dallas Stars at 60 for the league best.
Firepower All Around
What is impressive about the Capitals at this point is their depth of talent. Their top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie is a formidable group that is very difficult to contain. As a group these three have 46 goals in just 37 games so far this season. Add in their assists and they have accumulated 93 points already. This team can score and do so quickly in waves. Just ask the Buffalo Sabres about last Wednesday night’s three-goal burst in the third period that the Caps fired at them to secure the 5-2 win.
There is not much drop off in production for the Capitals’ typical second line featuring Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams. The three have account for 32 goals and a total of 83 points. This team has firepower all over the bench and they are putting it to good use, racking up 28 wins before the year’s end.
With Jay Beagle out for possibly six weeks after hand surgery Saturday morning, coach Barry Trotz will be mixing up the lines as he did Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Even in a 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes Thursday night, the team looked good. They were on a nine-game winning streak and it is unlikely that losing to the hot ‘Canes will knock them off their dominating road to the Cup. In the losing effort Ovechkin showed how truly great players make young players pay for their mistakes, blasting the puck past Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack immediately after grabbing it in the ‘Canes zone.
Kuznetsov is leading the team in goals after this during Saturday night’s SO loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets:
A Brick Wall
The Capitals have one of the league’s elite goalies in Braden Holtby. Sporting a 24-4-1 record, Holtby has a stout .932 save percentage and an amazing 1.93 goals against average. John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks has slightly better numbers, but has only appeared in 14 games compared to Holtby’s 30.
At 26, Holtby is still young with a very bright future. His play is really outstanding, and a goals against average of under two is remarkable. Holtby, Gibson and James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the only three goalies holding that distinction in the league.
Philipp Grubauer is only 24 and is not elite, but he is 4-3-1 and not causing ‘Caps fans to lose their lunch when he is in the lineup. He was in-goal both times I saw Washington in Raleigh, and he won one and lost one. I felt like he has good ability, and has potential to grow into a good goalie over time. As long as he does not completely melt down over the course of the season, the Capitals should be fine with Grubauer giving him a break as needed.
With the offensive firepower the Capitals have and the play of Holtby in-goal, this could be the season Ovechkin gets to lift the Cup.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.