July 31, 2014

Washington Capitals Postseason Roundtable Part I: Rate the offense

As we’ve done in year’s past, District Sports Page staff and a couple friends in the industry conducted a roundtable to rate the recently completed Washington Capitals season. Obviously, with the changing of the guard over the weekend, the season was in no was satisfying of satisfactory, and our grades this season really reflect where our contributors to the roundtable sit with regards to the changes necessary to make the Caps true contenders again.

We’ll rate the offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and administration throughout the week.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, beat writer for DSP; J.J. Regan, contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan; Harry Hawkings, RochTheRed.com.

Part I: Rate the offense (with a grade and explanation):

DAVE: C-. Alex Ovechkin had a 51-goal campaign. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward has career-highs in goals. Jason Chimera had a career-high 27 assists. You’d think by those numbers it was a banner year offensively for the Caps. While scoring goals, especially on the power play, wasn’t necessarily a problem, the Caps struggled all season at 5v5 and with puck possession — and got worse as the year went on.

How much was structure? How much was design? How much was players out of position? How much was on the players themselves? It’s hard to tell. As we go through this exercise, it’s hard to differentiate between struggles on the ice and the direction the players were given off the ice.

Offense starts on the back end, and the Caps defensemen were really handcuffed this season from playing to their individual strengths. John Carlson had some success on the power play and Mike Green had a decent season offensively, but nothing to compare with his back-to-back Norris Trophy finalist seasons — or his paycheck. Dmitry Orlov showed flashes of his puck-carrying talent. But those were the only offensive contributions from the blueline.

Brooks Laich, Martin Erat, Dustin Penner — all invisible. Eric Fehr was pretty good when allowed to contribute. And Marcus Johansson still remains a mystery.

The team shuttled players in and out of the top two lines all season, never finding any chemistry or consistency, while keeping the hard-working third line mostly intact to good results. But with everything else on this team, the sum was not as great at the individual parts.

KATIE: C+. Alex Ovechkin may have scored 51 goals, but Jason Chimera led the team in even strength points, with 36. Chimera also had a career-high 27 assists. That is a great accomplishment for him, and I don’t want to take away from that, but when you consider that the Capitals’ third line of Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward (who also had a career year) produced much of the team’s offense at even strength, you know something is off.

Secondary scoring is great, but you want that in addition to your top lines contributing to the offense. The Capitals simply weren’t able to consistently score at evens and relied too heavily on the power play (as efficient as it was, tied for first in the league with Pittsburgh at 23.4%), which wouldn’t have served them well even if they had made the playoffs anyway.

The Capitals were also a poor puck possession team, which tells you a lot about why they had trouble scoring at even strength — they simply did not have the puck enough. They were consistently outshot, which is one symptom of poor possession.

J.J.: C-.  The Caps were 13th in goals per game this season. That doesn’t sound that bad, but they were also 21st in five-on-five goals. The offense was completely reliant on Alex Ovechkin and the power play. Even if they had made it to the playoffs, they would have struggled to score.

While fans and analysts alike advocate trading Ovechkin, take a minute to think of where this offense would be without him. The Caps did not have a single player besides Ovechkin score 30 goals this season; Brouwer was the closest with 25. Ovechkin and Backstrom both had 79 points on the season. The next highest? Joel Ward with 49.

With all due respect to Brouwer and Ward, they’re not good enough to carry the offense when Ovechkin is on the bench.

SKY: C+.  They were amazing on the power play.  They ended tied for #1 in the NHL at 23.4%.  The problem is, besides the third line, they didn’t play well at even strength.  Alex Ovechkin had 51 goals, 24 came on the power play.  A year ago 16 of his 32 goals came on the power play.  Center depth continues to be an issue, will be interesting to see if Mikhail Grabovski comes back, and Marcus Johansson has been a bust for the most part.

This team needs to improve even strength, I think you move Ovechkin back to LW with the depth on the right side.  They need a 2nd line center if Grabovski leaves and they need to figure out what to do with Marcus Johansson.  Good defense breeds good offense and if the defense improves, the Caps will improve on their even strength play.  That’s where offense begins, it’s all about getting out of your own zone.

HARRY: C+.  The Capitals were sixth in the conference in goals for overall because of their excellent power play, but 12th in the conference in even strength goals for.  In addition, they placed 24th in the NHL in even strength shots for with the score close, at only 27.5 per 60 minutes.  This overreliance on the power play signals a generally poor offensive club.  The Capitals were unable to generate consistent even strength offense for long stretches in games themselves or in general, and a significant portion of their offense – about 43% their goals – came from three players: Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer.

That doesn’t scare anyone.  This team was poor at even strength on offense, and that is not going to cut it.  The power play is great, and it can be a weapon, but you cannot rely on it to win games.  It’s not a recipe for success over a full 82-game season – which is why we saw no playoffs this year despite the team making the postseason last year.

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