Capitals Month in Review

With the month of October (aka first month of the season) behind us, let’s take a look to see how the Washington Capitals performed during that time. Their record currently sits at 7-4-0, which is definitely a solid start. They are 2nd in the East behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who they haven’t faced yet and they have the third best GA/A in the league at 2.27. Huh? That’s definitely unexpected. Oh, and their penalty kill is 4th best in the league at 90.2%. What’s going on here? The strong penalty kill is definitely a nice surprise considering the injuries to Mike Green and Tom Poti. However, most of the defensive play has looked very shaky at times and that’s why a lot of credit goes to goaltender Michal Neuvirth for the Caps being in the position they’re in.

The offense is off to a bit of a slow start, so to say. Their GA/G is over 3 but it was likely inflated from that 7 goal game against Calgary on Saturday. The team has been struggling to score and the powerplay was teetering around 18% for most of the season. I’ve been saying all year that ‘the goals will come eventually” with the talent on this team and they did on Saturday but can they stay that way? I think they will but there were a lot of troubling signs from the offense. Mainly because I felt they were in “Montreal Mode” for a lot of games. The powerplay didn’t seem to have any unity and the first line looked out of sync until the last week.

However, as I said, the goals are going to come for this team and I think we’re seeing better defense from the forwards than we did last year. The defense in general has been shaky and we’ve been riding Neuvirth for a while to get wins and that could be a problem later on. That said, the amazing play from Neuvirth is very nice to see and has me excited for the goaltending for this team when (if…) Semyon Varlamov gets healthy. The good news with the defense is that Mike Green looks a lot more responsible in his own end than he did last year and I will gladly see that from him than 30+ goals if he’s going to be playing 25 minutes a night. Also, John Erskine has been outperforming nearly every expectation I’ve had for him this year.

Now, let’s look at who has shined this month and who hasn’t.

Top Performers

Michal Neuvirth – The team’s MVP so far. 7-3-0 2.15 GAA .926 save pct. That and he’s started all but one game for the Caps this season. Possible Calder candidate if he keeps it up but it might be trouble if we keep having to rely on our goaltender to steal games for us. A win is a win, though.

Alexander Semin – 6 goals, 5 assists and a hat trick against Atlanta to boot. Getting promoted to the first line seems to have given the offense a huge spark as evidenced in the game against Calgary.

Alex Ovechkin – 7 goals, 6 assists. If that’s a “slump” then I would be really scared to what happens if he goes into an elongated one. He did have a rough set of games a couple weeks ago but he has really picked it up in the last two. I think he will do better next month since well…he’s Alex Ovechkin.

John Carlson – He’s coming off a bad week but for the year he leads the Caps in blocked shots, is playing 20+ minutes a night, has been playing on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Only bad news is he leads the team in giveaways and has 22 PIM but I still say he had a good month.

John Erskine – I can’t believe I’m putting him here either but he’s been very good in the absence of Tom Poti and Mike Green. He’s been playing 20+ minutes a night on some occasions and did well in doing so. He’s second on the team in hits and outperformed almost every expectation I’ve had for him. I also loved what he did in sticking up for Neuvirth after Dustin Byfuglien took a cheap shot at him.

Mike Green – How the team looked without him was pretty scary. The powerplay clearly lacked his shot from the point and his puck movement but the defense in general was depleted without him (and Poti to an extent). Green’s been playing a lot more physical this year, too. A lot more hits and blocked shots from him before he got hurt.

Other good performances:

Nicklas Backstrom – 4 goals, 6 assists. Slow start but a strong finish to the month for Backstrom. Also leads the team in takeaways and is 58.6% on face-offs.

Jeff Schultz – Wasn’t on ice for a single goal for awhile but that ended after the Boston home and home series. Still, a solid month from Schultz and he’s been a key reason for our penalty kill’s success.

Matt Hendricks – Odd mention, but I think Hendricks has been a great addition to the 4th line. He’s shown a small offensive upside, can kill penalties, forechecks well and can fight if needed. Great signing by the Caps to get him.

Under acheivers

Mike Knuble: Only one goal this year and one point in his last nine games. That outing got him knocked off the top line and it’s not looking like he’ll return unless he picks up his game or if Boudreau wants to spread the offense around again. Knuble’s done good things by going to the net but it’s yet to pay off like it did last season.

Eric Fehr: His only two goals came in garbage time and he can’t seem to get himself beyond the third line. He also has a few really bad turnovers this year. I know Fehr is a lot better than this.

Tom Poti: Only played four games but man, did he look bad in those. He really needs to find his form last year.

Karl Alzner: He’s been better the last couple of weeks but he was off to a pretty rough start to start the year. Being paired with Poti and Sloan had to do with that though. He looked a lot more comfortable when he was paired with Carlson in the last three games. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Brian Fahey:  How about we call up someone else next time we need defensive help from Hershey. He is brutal.

DJ King: Has only played in a handful of games with 8 shifts. Not his fault but still, I want to see him have more of a place on this team because he’s been a scratch more nights than not.

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