As we celebrate the last Thanksgiving of the decade, there is a lot Washington Capitals fans can be thankful for this season. The team currently sits atop the NHL standings and is playing some of its best hockey since winning the Stanley Cup in the 2017-18 season.
While some questions remain about the ultimate trajectory for this team, and there are more than 50 games of hockey still to be played this season, there are definite bright spots that all Capitals’ fans can be optimistic about.
1. John Carlson’s Emergence
Longtime Capitals fans have always believed that John Carlson could enter the realm of those considered elite NHL defensemen. This season, he is leaving even the most skeptical observers little doubt that he is among the most skilled in the league.
Through 25 games, Carlson sits fifth in NHL scoring – as a defenseman – with 8 goals, 28 assists and a total of 36 points. He also is a solid plus-15 and is logging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game. He is, without question, the early frontrunner for the Norris Trophy.
2. Faith in Vrana Paying Off
The Capitals saw something special in forward Jakub Vrana when they selected him 13th overall in the 2014 Entry Draft. Now, that faith is being rewarded, and the left-handed forward is on pace for his best season yet.
Vrana is currently tied for 18th overall in the NHL with 11 goals scored, two of those being game-winners. He is also contributing to the power play with three points and is on pace for over 60 points this season. If he can maintain this level of execution, the Capitals’ future should be in good hands.
3. Ovechkin Continues to Defy
If Vrana represents the Capitals’ new guard, Alex Ovechkin has been the face of the franchise for years, and there is no indication he wants to relinquish that role anytime soon.
Through 25 games, Ovechkin has 15 goals and 10 assists for 25 points. As he has aged, he has adapted his game so successfully that those who once believed Wayne Gretzky’s career-goal record would never be eclipsed are having serious second thoughts.
4. Capitalizing on the Power Play
The Capitals’ offensive prowess continues to shine this season. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the power play. It is a high-octane machine that other teams marvel at, fear, and attempt to emulate.
With such a successful power play, opponents would be best-served not heading to the sin bin against the Capitals. But Washington has had other ideas. After 25 games, the team has generated 80 power play opportunities, for an average of more than three a game. With a 23.8% conversion rate, the Capitals have 19 power-play goals, and there is no reason to believe that pace won’t continue.
5. Holtby Still Number One
When the Capitals surprisingly sent Pheonix Copley down to their American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears at the beginning of the season, most analysts believed that the Capitals would rely on the tandem of Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov. Holtby’s play, however, has resulted in his taking the bulk of the workload once again.
Holtby is tied for the NHL lead with 11 wins, currently sports a 2.85 goals-against average (GAA), and has started 18 of the team’s 25 games. With the Stanley Cup-winning goalie in the final year of his contract with the Capitals, fans should be thankful he is leading the charge for the team once again.
As the Capitals enter the holiday season, their fans can be thankful for all of the team’s accomplishments over the last few seasons. They also hope the team’s excellent start points to more reasons to be grateful in the near future. Should the team be able to win it all again, is it possible fans could also have their team included in discussions about the best hockey dynasties? It’s a possibility fans would be thankful to entertain.
Reporting on Hockey at the speed of write. I am a former U.S. Men’s National Ball Hockey Team player, current G.M. of the Women’s National Ball Hockey Program and Head Coach of the First Ladies Hockey Club based in Washington, D.C.