The Washington Capitals (10-7-1) begin a two-game road trip Tuesday with a game against the Nashville Predators (9-5-2). It’s time for every Capital to get an ‘A’ grade.
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017
Time: 8.00 PM ET
Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee
TV: NBCSN, NBCSWA
By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
The Washington Capitals’ season so far has had its ups and its downs. Six of their 10 wins this term were one-goal victories, while five of their seven losses saw the Caps go down by at least two goals.
Good Spell Of Capitals Games
The team has won six out of its last 10 games including its last two outings. However, that stat exists because of one player: goaltender Braden Holtby – who tended the net in all of the Capitals’ wins so far this season, and was named the NHL’s third star of the week for the week that just concluded – in which he went 3-0-0, registered a 1.27 GAA and a .952 save percentage. Backup goalie Philipp Grubauer started the second game in all four of the Capitals’ back-to-back games this season – and lost them – but that’s another story in which Grubauer was completely let down by his team-mates.
“Holts is the best player every night for us,” said Capitals right wing Tom Wilson following Sunday’s game. “He made some huge saves, obviously. At this point, that’s the pleasure that we have, is him showing up every night. We’ve got to do our best to keep the shots to the perimeter, but he does a good job when they do have a scoring chance. As a team, I thought we did a good job. Holding that squad to one goal is pretty good.”
Capitals Top Six Still Under-Performing
Washington’s top-six forwards have under-performed during that reasonably good 10-game spell with T.J. Oshie registering only one goal and Nicklas Backstrom failing to score a single goal. Backstrom also endured the longest pointless streak of his career until breaking his voodoo against the Penguins on Friday by picking up an assist. Evgeny Kuznetsov hasn’t tallied in his last seven games.
In the Capitals’ scrape-through win at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, talisman captain Alex Ovechkin had zero shots through three periods and the overtime. That’s not to say he didn’t try – the Edmonton D-men’s ankles and calf muscles can attest to that – but, Ovechkin was left frustrated. He either explodes for goals or can’t get a shot on goal – it’s been that kind of season for him, so far.
Bottom Six And D-Men: Different Story
Meanwhile, the bottom-six forwards and the defensemen have played extremely well with goals and assists coming from Wilson, Lars Eller and John Carlson – the three of them combining for 21 points in the last 10 games. Carlson also has the highest average ice time of any NHL player (27:20). Also of note, the Capitals have allowed only 16 goals over their last eight games, which is a huge improvement over the early games in the season, and the penalty kill has registered a perfect 11-for-11 over the last four games. Good thing too, because without the excellent PK, the bottom-six, the defensemen and Holtby, the Capitals would have lost most of their last 10.
So, is it time to rattle a few lines? Probably not; the positives outweigh the negatives. However, it’s now time for the (highest-paid) top-six forwards to earn their keep, play consistently well and complement the tenacity of the their team-mates – because the other forwards on their top-two lines are outshining them at the moment. Chandler Stephenson and Devante Smith-Pelly have combined for nine points in nine games.
“He understands that there are certain moments where he has to make a wall play,” stated Capitals head coach Barry Trotz about Stephenson. “There are certain moments where he has to read and he has to be on the defensive side of pucks. He can get to spaces offensively. He’s got a mature game for a young player still. So he’s earning a lot more trust than maybe he did in training camp.”
Formidable Opponent In Nashville
The Nashville Predators are no easy foe, especially at home where they are 4-1-1 this season. The team is riding a four-game winning streak into Tuesday’s match-up.
Former Capitals prospect Filip Forsberg leads the Preds on points with 16 (including eight goals) with the incomparable defenseman P.K. Subban next down the list with 12 points.
In goal for the Predators will be either Pekka Rinne (8 wins, 2.23 GAA, .929 save percentage) or Juuse Saros (1 win, 3.93 GAA, .855 save percentage).
So, one of the two teams’ current winning streaks will fall Tuesday night inside Bridgestone Arena. The Capitals can extend their win streak to three games if the whole team shows up to play – like they did against Pittsburgh on Friday.