With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.
Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.
PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season?
DAVE: B-. Ovechkin led the league in goals and scored at a torrid pace as the Caps rebounded from their dismal, near-fatal start to capture the final Southeast Division title. Overall, the team tied for fourth in the league in goals per game at 3.04, fueled by their dominating power play. But in the playoffs, it was a different story. While the goal scoring was spread out between 11 players, only one (defenseman Mike Green) had more than one goal.
As Montreal and New York did in previous playoff series, the Rangers loaded the box with all five skaters on defense and dared the Caps to park bodies in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The few times they did, they found success, including Mike Ribeiro’s game-winner in Game 5. But those opportunities were few and far between. Usually, the Caps found themselves satisfied with heaving shots from the point (three 0f the four top shot-getters were defensemen) to be turned aside easily by Lundqvist or, more likely, knocked down by a shot-blocker well before it reached a dangerous area.
The Caps found an offensive rhythm in the regular season under head coach Adam Oates that had been missing the last couple of years, resurrecting a moribund power play and turning it into a main cog in their attack. But power play opportunities aren’t as common in the postseason — officiating conspiracy or not — and the Caps need to find a few bangers that aren’t afraid to park their keisters at the top of the crease and do the necessary dirty work in the playoffs.
ABRAM: Six out of ten. During the regular season they were on fire, finishing T-4th in the league with 3.04 goals/game and dominating on the power play with an absurd 26.8% success rate. Alex Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard trophy with 32 goals, and Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro finished third and fifth in the league in assists with 40 and 36, respectively. During the playoffs they stunk, getting shut out twice, only scoring 1.71 goals/game and converting the power play at an 18.8% clip. For the first time in Ovechkin’s career he failed to lead the Caps in playoff scoring, netting just one goal and one assist. No Capitals forward scored more than one goal in the seven-game series loss.
KATIE: The addition of Martin Erat to the top six was a bit of a gamble for George McPhee, but Erat, when he wasn’t injured, was a valuable part of the second line. Marcus Johansson, once healthy, adjusted easily to his top line role. Nicklas Backstrom, once he was back to centering Ovechkin, returned to his usual nifty-passing self. Ovechkin, scoring 32 goals and almost breaking Peter Bondra’s short-season record of 34, provided the spark the Capitals needed offensively. Troy Brouwer had a career-high 19 goals, then all but disappeared during the playoffs. Eric Fehr, playing healthy for the first time in several years, was probably one of the players who improved the most this season – he stepped up to the second line in Erat’s absence in the playoffs and was solid on the penalty kill. Fehr’s overtime game-winner against the Boston Bruins was not
only clutch, but was the icing on the cake for a great year for him. Mike Ribiero was producing at an insane clip while centering the first line during the beginning of the season, but once moved to the second line found his bread and butter setting up some great plays on the power play. The third and fourth lines also performed well, providing the grit and energy expected of them, as well as scoring a few goals when needed.
TED: B. The offense was much better when driven by Alex Ovechkin, although as was on display in the playoffs, when the captain wasn’t producing, it was difficult for the rest of the team to contribute. Nicklas Backstrom needed to be better when the playoffs arrived, and he wasn’t. The second line was nearly invisible against the Rangers.
HARRY: I give the offense an A-minus this season. Adam Oates came in and after an early rough patch, revitalized this club offensively, bumping them from 14th to 5th in the NHL in goals per game with an increase of nearly .4 goals per contest. The power play was terrific, leading the NHL, and Alex Ovechkin looked every bit the offensive dynamo he was at the start of his career during the second half of the season. After those early struggles, offense only became a problem in the last three games of the playoffs, when Henrik Lunqvist had a save percentage over .975.