Alexander Ovechkin started off the Washington Capitals’ season with back-to-back hat tricks. Since then, the team has gone 2-4-1, including an embarrassing 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 14. Nine points in nine games puts the Capitals in sixth in the Metropolitan Division — not the start the team was looking for but not disastrous either.
Considering how early it is in the season, a flat start is nothing to be concerned about. But it should get the team looking at what is not working. To start off, is the split of Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin working? So far the answer is yes. The Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jakub Vrana line has been the most consistently productive line on the team. Both Ovechkin and Kuznetsov are over a point per game, and Vrana is fifth on the team in points.
The Andre Burakovsky – Backstrom – T.J. Oshie line has been almost as good. Backstrom is leading the team in points with 12 in nine games, and Oshie is third with nine. Burakovsky has been the weak point of the top six. He has four points, but his overall play has been lacking. This may be explained by an injury, as the team placed him on IR just this morning. Last game he was replaced on the line by Tom Wilson.
The bottom six has not added enough offensive impact so far. New addition Alex Chiasson has only one assist in eight games. Jay Beagle has only managed two points in nine games. Brett Connolly has only two points as well, in addition to being the worst forward on the ice all season. His possession stats put him tied for fifth worst in the league among those who have played at least five games. Nathan Walker, who has only played three games, has the third best possession stats in the league. Maybe Walker would be better suited in Connolly’s spot on the third line.
The Capitals are not the only top team from last year that have struggled in the beginning of the season. The New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers each have only two wins, and the Montreal Canadiens have only one. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a winning record of 5-3-1 but also sport the fourth worst goal differential in the league after their 7-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
It has certainly been an interesting start to the season. On top of the struggling teams expected to be dominant, there have been some surprising teams to start the season. While everyone expected a bounce back from the Lightning, no one expected the sheer dominance Tampa has posted so far this season. In the Pacific Division, the top three teams are the Los Angeles Kings, the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, all of whom were not expected to be in the playoff race.
Despite the few outliers, most teams this season hover around the .500 mark so far, so the Capitals are by no means concerned by this start. But it should give head coach Barry Trotz some insight about what does and does not work with his team. The Capitals are in the middle of a four-day break after a 4-1 loss on Saturday to the Florida Panthers. They next face the Vancouver Canucks this Thursday.