Blog On! An Analysis of the Caps first 9 Games

October 29, 2008 | Ed Frankovic

Blog On!

My apologies to those hockey fans out there for my recent blogging absence but we have just overcome some technical difficulties so I am finally back online here at WNST.NET to provide info on the Caps and hockey.

Caps Analysis Nine Games into the NHL Season

After nine games into this NHL season Caps owner Ted Leonsis, GM George McPhee, and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau have to be pleased with how this season has unfolded so far. Off the ice attendance is up at the Verizon Center and “Rocking the Red” is swinging into high gear. The atmosphere at Caps games is great and fans are coming out in big numbers through four games with Washington averaging 17,509 a game. I highly recommend you get to a game soon (see the WNST Puck Bus next Thursday, November 6th) because watching the Caps is exciting and fun these days.

On the ice things are looking good too despite some injuries and the fact that Alexander Ovechkin has only scored two goals in the eight games he’s played (Ovechkin missed the last game against Nashville and will likely miss Saturday’s game in Buffalo because he flew back to Russia to be with his ailing grandfather). Washington’s record is 5-3-1, good for first place in the Southeast Division. McPhee and Boudreau have had to deal with some injury situations and the one with the biggest impact is to defensemen Tom Poti, who sustained a groin injury in the fourth game against Pittsburgh, and has yet to return to the ice. Poti logs 20 to 22 minutes a game on the backline and is very good at moving the puck out of the zone and up the ice for the Caps. Poti’s absence and the fact that the Caps are up against the salary cap forced the team to move Sergei Fedorov back on defense in several games and fortunately #91 delivered with some outstanding play. Fedorov’s play and leadership has been great and the decision to bring him back at $4M this year looks like a very good one.

The Caps number one line of Ovechkin, Viktor Kozlov, and Nicklas Backstrom got off to a slow start scoring wise and when Kozlov went down with a leg injury in the Canucks game the Great #8 and Backstrom seemed to struggle. Fortunately for Boudreau and McPhee, Alexander Semin has been red hot and leads the NHL in scoring with 16 points. Semin picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs and has been a dominant force on the ice. His curl and drag moves and blistering shot make him a serious threat on every shift. Semin has easily been the best Cap so far this season and arguably the MVP of the league to this point.

On defense, the salary cap has played a minor role as 2007 1st round draft pick (5th overall) Karl Alzner was not able to be called up from Hershey when Poti was injured because his salary and bonuses would put this team over the limit right now. However, one positive to this situation is that Alzner can really develop down in the AHL and when he comes up he will likely be more polished than had he started the season in DC. Look for Alzner to be up in the second half of the season and contribute in a big way. Another positive has been the play of defensemen Tyler Sloan, who was called up from Hershey before the sixth game in Calgary, and has averaged around 10 minutes a game and done his job (heck, he even provided the Caps with a nine minute power play when he was jumped by Calgary forward Rene Bourque after a clean hit on the Flames Daymond Langkow). Sloan, who is 27, has been a journeyman in the minors and the Flames game was his first NHL appearance.

Another big positive on defense has been the play of Mike Green, who led the NHL in goals by defensemen last season with 18. Mike has four goals and four assists in the first nine games averaging 27 minutes of ice time. He is plus four and continues to take his game to elite level status. #52 is one of the best puck rushing defensemen in the NHL.

Up front, the lack of scoring from Ovechkin and the first line, has been overcome not only by Semin but by Fedorov (nine points), Michael Nylander (eight points), Brooks Laich (six points), and Tomas Fleischmann (five points). Nylander appears fully healed from last season’s shoulder surgery and is plus three overall. Fleischmann is a guy that needed to take his game to the next level to stay in the NHL and so far, so good.

One of the big question marks going into the season was goaltending with the loss of Olie Kolzig and Cristobal Huet to free agency. Jose Theodore was signed for two years at $4.5M a season and he is backed up by Brent Johnson. Theodore got off to a very rocky start giving up some soft goals early on but he has steadied himself and is 4-2 with a 3.20 goals against average (GAA). Johnson is 1-1 with a 2.71 GAA and has been solid, for the most part. The concern is the team save percentage which is just over 88.5% and needs to reach the 90% level for more team success. As Theodore learns the tendencies of his defense and becomes more comfortable as a Cap I believe you’ll see that number steadily climb.

So if you told me before the season started that Ovechkin would only have two goals and Backstrom none through nine games, add in the injury on defense to Poti, and then tell me that the goalies would be stopping less than 89% of the shots they faced so far, I would have predicted a disastrous start. Therefore, sitting at 5-3-1, and in first place, the Caps have to feel pretty good and think that things can only get even better going forward.