Part three of our Washington Capitals end-of-season roundtable will focus on the players our panel thought were the biggest surprises and biggest disappointments this year.
Once again, our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis).
Dave: The single player that overachieved in my eyes was Jason Chimera. He’s always been a terrific skater, one of the fastest in the league. He’s energetic and ornery. But he’s never been known as a scorer until this season. He utilized his speed to open up scoring chances and unlike in year’s past, actually converted on a large portion of them. In the regular season, Chimera set personal bests in goals (20) and points (39), and registered five game-winning goals. He continued his net presences in the playoffs, notching four goals and three assists in 14 games.
On the other side of the ledger was Alexander Semin. He barely beat out Chimera in goals (21), suffering the lowest goal total since his rookie season and tying ’10-’11′s disappointing 54 points total, his third lowest point totals in his career. Some of the scoring problems might have to do with luck — his shooting percentage was just 11.5 percent, down from his career 14.1 percent and the lowest season mark since his rookie campaign. Or, Semin could just be aging no-so-gracefully. Each of the last three seasons we’ve seen his goal total drop precipitously, from a high of 40 in ’09-’10 to 28 in ’10-’11 to just 21 this past season. He’s an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Do the Caps invest, looking for a rebound? Should they? Does Sasha test out the NHL free agent waters? Or does he take up residence in the KHL next season? Fascinating question.
Dishonorable mention goes to Marcus Johansson. It’s clear he’s not the second line center the Caps though they might have had. He spent much of this season bouncing between lines, mostly playing on the wing. He was the team’s third leading scorer (14-32-46), which is probably an indictment of the team more than the second-year player. But he recorded just three points in 14 playoff games and his season faceoff percentage (43.2%) was atrocious. He’s young enough that this might have been a “transition” year, but he needs to get stronger on the puck, work on his faceoffs, and just plain shoot the puck more often. He ranked 341st in the NHL in total number of shots.
Abram: Braden Holtby exceeded the universe’s expectations, let’s get that out of the way off the top. Otherwise, it was mostly the players with low expectations that exceeded them. Jay Beagle showed that, far from a career AHL player, he’s a strong penalty-killer and faceoff specialist, a poor man’s Manny Malhotra. Matt Hendricks is a valuable 4th liner with speed and hustle and can keep the puck in the opponent’s zone while D.C.’s scorers take a rest. His brilliant shootout performance gives him great added value in the regular season.
John Carlson and Jason Chimera also impressed. Carlson’s newfound defensive prowess is a heartening sign for Washington’s future, and Chimera’s combination of grit, scoring ability, and blazing speed makes him a player the other 29 teams covet and an absolute steal at his current salary.
Erika: Exceeding expectations was Matt Hendricks. He’s always been the guy to do the dirty work, but he thrived so well under Hunter’s system. Especially in the postseason, he had a great game almost every game.
The player who disappointed me most, unfortunately, was Marcus Johansson. He was buzzing at the beginning of the season, but got progressively worse as the season went on. In the postseason, he was downright dreadful. If he wasn’t making glaring errors or poor decisions with the puck, he was completely invisible. I don’t know if maybe he didn’t take well to Hunter’s system or what it was, but something was definitely off with Johansson’s game this year.
Andrew: Karl Alzner has always been a guy I really liked as a defenseman and thought he was left in Hershey way to long. This year he grew to become one of the top five to ten best defenseman in the Eastern Conference. He has defensive smarts and often times makes the other member of his pairing play at a higher level.
It is hard to look past the Captain, Alex Ovechkin, as the biggest disappointment of the year. He turned it on late in the season, but the end to his season was sort of fitting, with a disappearing act in a crucial Game 7.
Ted: Jason Chimera had an excellent season, doubling his goal total of a year before, and was able to really help the team’s depth lines create some scoring. While not a lot of Caps saw their point total rise in the past season, Chimera set personal bests for both goals (20) and points (39) in his career, and registering his best season in a Washington sweater. One of the players who got a lot of work under Hunter’s system, Chimera used his speed down the wing to create scoring chances, and took advantage of the ones he got to put together a nice season for the Caps.
Chimera also had 4 goals and 3 assists in the postseason, including notching the game-winner in Game 6 of the Rangers series, knocking in a Backstrom feed past Henrik Lundqvist.
On the other side, during the regular season, John Carlson seemed to regress, only contributing 9 goals but dropping to a -15 in plus/minus, with some ill-advised give-aways and seemed to be losing confidence as the season progressed. Once envisioned as a puck mover who could compliment Mike Green, Carlson developed some bad habits on the ice, and seemed to not be having a whole lot of fun off the ice and it showed.
Good news for the Capitals that paired with Karl Alzner in the postseason, Carlson made a nice recovery, playing with a lot more confidence – and scoring 2 goals and 3 assists through two rounds.
Peter: Karl Alzner exceeded my expectations, perhaps in part because he’s so low-key he doesn’t attract much expectation to start with. He played tough minutes in all 82 games and had few exemplary bad nights.
I’d say Tomas Vokoun was a qualified disappointment. He did not start the season well and played a big role in the games leading to Boudreau’s firing. He recovered fantastically after the new year, but his season-ending injury sort of spoiled the redemption plotline. I wish he’d come back to the Caps for another chance next season.
Adam: Jason Chimera exceeded my expectations. He has always possessed some semblance of offensive skill (though constant remarks regarding his “stone hands” would prove otherwise), but this season, he actually became one of the Caps’ go-to scorers in the clutch. Chimera was tied for first on the team with five game-winners and he set career-highs in goals (20) and points (39). That carried over into the postseason, where he scored four goals and was third on the team with seven points. Complementing a newly found offensive game with his trademark speed and tenacity made Chimera one of Washington’s most dangerous players. Whether he can keep that up next season, however, remains to be seen.
In terms of disappointing, Dennis Wideman takes that “honor” in a landslide. Wideman never truly got to establish himself upon his arrival in February 2011 due to a debilitating leg injury, but when he returned this season, the idea of having Wideman, Mike Green and John Carlson in the lineup together had Caps fans frothing at the mouth.
For the first half of the season, Wideman impressed, earning 34 points while also leading the Caps in ice time. Yet, once he returned from his first-ever All-Star Game, Wideman disappeared. Between January 31 and May 12, Wideman scored twice. In the postseason, not only was he Washington’s worst defenseman, but he might have been the worst player overall. He finished at a minus-7, which is still the second-worst of any player who appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wideman was an All-Star defenseman by name only this season.
We’ll take the weekend off, then return Monday with Part IV: A withering look at the captain, Alex Ovechkin.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.