Nic Dowd deserves a permanent spot on the Washington Capitals for the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately, he is surrounded by talents, and friction between various veterans and rookies competing to make themselves indispensable often elevates the game. However, while a plethora of options is nice, there comes a time when too many line combinations turns into distraction and detriment. That is why the decision to depend on Dowd for the long haul is a good bet.
Shaken, Not Stirred
Fellow centerman, Evgeny Kuznetsov, shook line combinations with his return to the ice on Oct. 8 after a three-game suspension to start the season. Capitals head coach Todd Reirden moved him down to the third line for that game. The move worked. Less than five minutes into his season debut, Kuznetsov became the first goalscorer of the night. The Russian center looked strong on the power play, clocking 5:49 of ice time on the man advantage. The reorganization and strong play were not enough. The Capitals did not score any power play goals, and they did not win the game. The team went 0-for-11 on the power play in the losses against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5 and the Dallas Stars on Oct. 8. They are 2-for-15 in the past three games.
That is where Dowd enters the equation.
Is it a coincidence that Dowd did not receive a jersey for two of the past three games? For the sake of this article, we are going to say that his absence had a negative impact on the little victories and the larger score. The Capitals entered the game on Oct. 10 against the Nashville Predators with a 2-0-2 record and without Dowd. The fourth-line forward missed his second-straight game, as Chandler Stephenson snagged the spot instead. For those who follow this team, his presence was missed.
The biggest area where Dowd can assist is faceoffs. His success over the dot eclipses the sorrows of Kuznetsov. While Kuznetsov kept a winning rate of 38.7% last season, Dowd held a 51.9% winning average. Those numbers are not flukes. He consistently exceeds 50% in most of his professional seasons.
The House Always Wins
While plus-minus is often overrated, faceoff numbers are often underappreciated. They can be momentum makers in all three zones. Tom Wilson won 54.7% of faceoffs, highest on the team for forwards. Dowd won 51.9%, highest on the Capitals for centers. The other three centermen – Nicklas Backstrom (48.6%), Evgeny Kuznetsov (38.7%) and Lars Eller (49%) – came up short of the halfway mark. That being said, the top three centers took double the number of faceoffs than Dowd.
Annoyingly, the perfect mark is ambiguous; the Capitals won 47.6% of draws during the season that they won the Stanley Cup. While it is hard to define the right formula, it is easier to articulate the wrong recipe. Regarding faceoffs last season, the Capitals finished in the 12th slot for five-on-four situations across the league. The team finished last in faceoffs for five-on-five play. Those woes are familiar for Washington, regularly losing in every section on the ice. The team won 48.3% of faceoffs in the offensive zone; 45.6% in the neutral zone; 47.8% in the defensive zone. Those numbers belonged in the bottom in league statistics. That clearly does not cut it. If the forward from Huntsville, Alabama, can boost those numbers, he can help his house advance its offensive game.
Nic Dowd, Difference Maker
We want Dowd to be the breakout player this season and he has proven his potential to be the difference maker. In the past, he has shown his contributions make significant headway for the team’s offensive achievements. He scored the playoff-clinching goal for the Capitals to send his team to the postseason. The redirection goal beat Curtis McElhinney with 5 minutes left in the 60-minute match against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 28, 2019. His teammate from St. Cloud State University, Nick Jensen, assisted. Dowd also scored the division-clinching goal for the Capitals to win the Metropolitan Division in 2019. In a fancy foot-to-stick move, his wrister from the slot bested Carey Price in the middle frame against the Montreal Canadiens on April 4, 2019.
The big goals continued into the summer. With no postseason play under his belt until last year, Dowd scored the first penalty-shot goal in Capitals’ playoff history against the Hurricanes on April 20, 2019. His first playoff point was an impressive act of finesse. After collecting a pass from Devante Smith-Pelly, further forward movement was impeded by defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The nice fake distracted goaltender Petr Mrazek long enough for Dowd to extend the Capitals’ lead to five goals for the night. It was the first time he successfully converted on a penalty shot in his NHL career after five previous attempts.
The standout strikes simply highlight the best season of Dowd’s career. In 2018-19, he finished with 22 points (8 goals, 14 assists), 3 game winners and a plus-10 rating in 64 games played. He recorded a career-high average of 0.34 points per game and a career-low average of 0.31 penalty minutes per game. For the past two seasons, he manufactured more takeaways than giveaways. If he can match last year’s numbers, he will be successful. If he can exceed last season’s figures, he will be Capitals fans’ new fourth-line favorite. Fans should place their bets on 26 red.