October 8, 2015

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Left Wing

Of all the positions on the Washington Capitals, perhaps the one with the least transition or confusion is left wing. It’s a mostly veteran unit, led by the game’s greatest goal scorer of his generation. It also includes a budding young star, a young veteran coming off a career year, and a grizzled vet trying to hang on for one more year.

Who’s In/Who’s Out
In: None
Out: Aaron Volpatti, Curtis Glencross
Depth Chart: Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera
On the farm: Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker

Alex Ovechkin (30, 6’3″, 239, shoots left. 81 games, 53-28-81, +10, 58 PIMs. 25 PPP)

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

If moving Ovechkin back to left wing wasn’t the very first thing Barry Trotz did after he was hired last summer as coach of the Caps, it couldn’t have been very far down on the list. Worries that Trotz’ systems would hinder Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace and creativity turned out to be unfounded. One of the brightest highlights of last season was Trotz finding freedom for Ovi to be Ovi, while coaxing his big left winger to participate in defensive responsibility and “buying in” to the team approach.

Try this one out — Alex Ovechkin has scored 136 goals in the past three seasons. Second on the list is Joe Pavelski… with 94. In fact, there are only five other players with more than 80 goals, and eight total with more than 70 goals over that time period. Simply put, he’s the finest goal scorer of this generation, and so far he isn’t slowing down with age.

However, GM Brian McLellen realized that if the team is going to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin and running mate Nicklas Backstrom, he needed to surround them with more talent. Last year, he seriously upgraded the defense. This offseason, he added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. While “now or never” might be drastic, the next two or three years might be Ovechkin’s best opportunity to hoist a Cup.

Andre Burakovsky (20, 6’3″, 198, shoots left. 53 games, 9-13-22, +12, 10 PIMs, 2 PPP)

Andre Burakovsky Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Burakovsky had a somewhat up-and-down season last year, but that’s not to be unexpected for a 19-year-old. He showed extreme skill at times, and at others seemed to get lost on defense. He has decent size and doesn’t seem to shirk from contact, and his showing in the playoffs for the Caps (once given an opportunity) showed promise that he can be a reliable Top-6 option for the team this season. He can play wing or center, but Trotz seems to like him on the outside. Burakovsky seemed to drive play when he was given the opportunity last season and his development is integral to the Caps success. A 20-25-goal season isn’t outside the realm of possibility from the 20-year-old.

Marcus Johansson (24, 6’1″, 209, shoots left. 82 games, 20-27-47, +6, 10 PIMs, 3 PPP)

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Johansson picked a great time to have a career season. Entering an RFA season, Johansson was a relatively consistent source of offense as his goals and shots on goal totals eclipsed his previous career highs. In fact, he was second on the team in even strength goals at 5×5. The good news is that his shooting percentage wasn’t an aberration, so Johansson was just a living embodiment of Gretzky’s first axiom of goal scoring: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. Getting him off the top line — where he rightly deferred to his more talented linemates — did Johansson a world of good. Who he lines up with this season will be fascinating, especially with the development of Burakovsky. You could do worse with Johansson as your third line left winger.

Jason Chimera (36, 6’3″, 216, shoots left. 77 games, 7-12-19, -1, 51 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Jason Chimera Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Old Stone Hands’ offensive production continues to dwindle. While his speed is still world class, he limits his usefulness by increasingly taking bad selfish penalties. Chimera’s utility should exclusively be limited to killing penalties and a checking line at this point in his career, and it’s hard to see Trotz using him in any other role — except for the “gritty veteran” factor. Chimera was second on the team in goals-against-per-60 minutes, so he’s still hard to play against, but he contributes next-to-nothing on the other end.

On the farm: Jakub Vrana was the Caps’ 2014 first round draft pick out of Czech Republic. He played for Linkopings in the Swedish league last season netting 12 goals and 12 assists in 44 games before joining Hershey for three regular season games, registering five assists, and 10 playoff games, where he scored two goals and four assists. Nathan Walker is a diminutive (5’8″) 2014 third round pick, born in England and raised in Australia. He’s the first Aussie drafted by the NHL and a great story, but two seasons at Hershey has netted six goals in 71 games.

Washington Capitals Game 5 Review: Washington moves to brink of second round with 5-1 drubbing of Islanders

With an iron will and tenacity that no opponent could counter, the Washington Capitals strode onto the ice Thursday night with a grand opportunity. A good performance with a result to match would put them on the verge of their first Eastern Conference Semifinal appearance in three seasons.

Down a goal early, they weren’t fazed. Rising to the occasion, five unanswered goals, two from Evgeny Kuznetsov, lit a fire under the Verizon Center faithful and made for a 5-1 win over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 2 Recap: Caps score twice in third, shock Islanders

Down 3-1, and having given up a critical goal shortly after tallying their much-needed first, the Washington Capitals were in very dire straits and at risk of falling behind the New York Islanders two games to none in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Spurred on by their fans as well as improved puck control, they ensured that talk of a potential sweep would be just that – talk.

A spirited final 30 minutes of hockey, in which Washington scored three unanswered goals in a space of 11 minutes and 28 seconds (spanning two periods), lifted Washington to a 4-3 win in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series against the Islanders in front of a raucous crowd Friday night at Verizon Center.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 76 Recap: Caps find big road win in New York


Jason Chimera had scored two goals in his past 23 games. On Sunday against the New York Rangers, he scored on two consecutive shifts in the third period to lift the Washington Capitals to a much-needed 5-2 road win over a team they could very well see in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.

Chimera would not have been able to play the hero on Sunday without the contributions of the team’s best player, Alex Ovechkin. The Great Eight scored goals in the first and second periods to almost single-handedly keep the Caps in the game through the first 40 minutes. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 65 Recap: Caps win penalty-filled game in Columbus

In an absolute mess of a game, the Washington Capitals proved –yet again — that the best way to counter a team trying to thug it up is to score on them on the resulting power play.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice — including a power play goal in the third period that eventually became the game-winner — and the Caps knocked off the also-ran Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Tuesday night in Columbus. [Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

FIRST STAR: Alex Ovechkin. Fully engaged Ovi in this one. A goal, which gave the Caps late life, five shots on goal, three blocked, five more missed and eight hits.

SECOND STAR: Jason Chimera. Two assists, though took a bad penalty during a string of bad penalties in the second period.

THIRD STAR: Troy Brouwer. Goal and an assist. 7 of 11 in the dot.

Goat of the game: Tom Wilson. Hate to kick a guy when he’s down, but there’s no place in the game for instigating contact during warmups. Total bush league move by a guy whose luster is starting to come off.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 2, Philadelphia Flyers 3

FIRST STAR: Braden Holtby. Hard to fault him for the generally lousy play in front of him in this one.

SECOND STAR: I’m struggling here. Cam Schilling? One shot, another attempt blocked, two hits. Cam Schilling it is.



Washington Capitals Game 53 Recap: Kuznetsov’s resurgence key to the second line’s success

Evgeny Kuznetsov has struggled to find his niche in the lineup this season, but he seems to have found some chemistry with linemates Jason Chimera and Troy Brouwer. Their line accounted for both of the Washington Capitals’ regulation goals in their 3-2 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

Kuznetzov earned two assists, Chimera scored a goal and collected an assist, and Brouwer had an assist, which came off a diving keep-in play at the blue line, which led to Chimera’s tying goal.

“I’m sure that we’ll get a couple more games together, and hopefully we can utilize that,” said Brouwer. “We were real good as line tonight, and not just because we created two goals, but we were sustaining some pressure. When we were in our d-zone, we were being able to get out of our zone fairly quickly.”

Kuznetsov’s linemates had nothing but praise for the rookie during their postgame scrums.

“He’s making plays out there,” said Chimera. “Our line probably could have had three or four more. It was fun playing with those guys tonight. Kuzy’s playing at the top of his game right now, so pretty fun for him.”

“We kinda let Kuzy just control the play like he needs to, and he made a lot of good plays….head up, seeing the ice real well,” said Brouwer. “And he was able to find guys in good areas.”

Chimera has faced his own adversity this season, too. He was a healthy scratch in Ottawa Friday night, so coming back with a strong, two-point performance against a top NHL team speaks volumes for his resiliency.

Trotz took a chance with putting these three players together, as a coach does any time he composes a lineup, and his faith was rewarded handsomely.

“At the beginning of the year, that was partly the reason he [Kuznetsov] was bouncing around up and down the lineup. Lately, he’s been able to get Trotz’s trust, and we got put out for important d-zone faceoffs against some pretty good players sometimes,” said Brouwer. “Whenever you can have the coach’s confidence to put you out in all situations, it just makes it easier for him to run the bench, and it makes it easier for us to play.”

Kuznetzov’s two assists marked his third multi-point game this season. He has seven points in his last seven games, and points in three consecutive games.  He has 22 points on the season.

“With Kuzy, he’s really starting to come through with his offensive ability and get himself on the score sheet. It’s only going to be good things for our line, which means we’re going to play more,” said Brouwer. ”We’re going to be utilized a little bit more. Me and Kuzy have been pretty comfortable with each other lately. We’ve just been trying to find a spark in the last 10 or 15 games or so, and I think tonight was a real good one for us. “



Washington Capitals Game 43 Recap: Holtby keeps hot hand, blanks Flyers


Braden Holtby made 21 saves to shutout the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 Wednesday night at Verizon Center. His 20th consecutive start was his fourth shutout of the season, third since his consecutive games streak started.

The Capitals are 14-2-4 in their past 20 games, just there points shy of the Islanders for first in the Metro. Holtby has a 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in that span.

Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle have found a strange sort of chemistry. On their line’s first shift of Wednesday’s game, Chimera scored the game’s lone goal. [Read more…]

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 1, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Braden Holtby’s fourth shutout of the season, and Jason Chimera’s sweet deflection goal, lifted the Washington Capitals over arch-rival Philadelphia Flyers 1-0.

First Star: Braden Holtby. In his 20th consecutive start, he made 21 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, third since his consecutive games streak started.

Second Star: Braden Holtby. The Capitals are 14-2-4 in their past 20 games, just there points shy of the Islanders for first in the Metro. Holtby has a 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage in that span.

Third Star: Braden Holtby. I don’t really have a third blurb, I just wanted to mention Holtby again.

Honorable Mention: Jason Chimera. I guess the guy that scored the only goal of the game should get some mention.

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