Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
-- Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon Johnson uttered those words in his Thanksgiving address to the nation on November 29, 1963, one week after one of the worst days in American history. Hockey, on the other hand is a game. But in those two extremes and everywhere in between, in life’s events large and small, there is the idea that it is only what lies ahead that anyone can affect by their actions.

Yesterday, for the Washington Capitals and their captain, Alex Ovechkin, was another instance of six months of success and achievement undone in two weeks’ time by a franchise that has confounded them since before many of the Capitals who played this season were born.

Ovechkin’s season was different than many that preceded it, though. He became just the third player in NHL history to reach the 30-goal mark in each of his first 12 seasons in the league (Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky are the others), but for the first time in his career he did not lead the team outright in goals scored. His 33 goals this season tied him with T.J. Oshie for the club lead.

This might be viewed as a good thing, since the Caps finished with a more productive scoring offense in 2016-2017 (3.18 goals per game) than they did in 2015-2016 (3.02), when Ovechkin recorded 50 goals (his seventh such season). On the other hand, his shooting percentage fell significantly, from 12.6 percent last season (just above his career average of 12.4 percent going into last season) to 10.5 percent this season. It was his lowest shooting percentage for a season since 2010-2011, when he finished at 8.7 percent, the lowest of his career, and a full season career-low of 32 goals.

Something else was absent in Ovechkin’s goal scoring in 2016-2017 – the consistency. He scored many of those 33 goals in bunches… a four-game streak, three in two games, five in four games (including a hat trick), four in six games, three in two games, and so on. And that meant some lengthy (for him) droughts… a four game streak without a goal in November, a seven-game streak to end November and begin December, a four-game streak in January. And then there was the ominous finish to his season in which he recorded just six goals in his last 24 games, half of them in a hat trick performance against the Minnesota Wild on March 28th.

All three of those goals against the Wild on March 28th were of the power play variety, and it was not unusual. For the fifth consecutive season he led the NHL outright or shared the lead in power play goals (17, tied with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Schenn). The flip side of that fact is that power play goals accounted for a larger share of his goal total (51.5 percent) than in any other year of his career.

Ovechkin’s possession numbers were not particularly noteworthy. His individual 50.35 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was seventh-best in his last ten seasons (numbers from and his lowest since the 2013-2014 season (49.36 percent). And while he did enjoy an effective mating with Evgeny Kuznetrsov and T.J. Oshie (56.29 percent Corsi-for, fifth-best of 14 forward combinations skating at least 50 5-on-5 minutes), the nominal top line of Ovechkin, Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom was less efficient (50.25 percent, ninth-best combination on the club), and his mating with Andre Burakovsky and Kuznetsov was worst of those 14 combinations (43.24 percent, albeit in only 65 minutes together).

Fearless’ Take… If anything, Ovechkin’s scoring was better against teams that reached the postseason (18-20-38 in 41 games) than it was against teams failing to reach the playoffs (15-16-31 in 41 games). The goal-scoring difference between the groups was, of course, the power play (10 versus teams making the playoffs, seven against teams that didn’t). And, his scoring mattered, although there was a hint of how secondary scoring is important. The Caps were 21-6-0 in games in which Ovechkin scored a goal, 34-13-8 in games in which he did not. It was in more general scoring in which his contributions seemed to matter more. Washington was 37-9-1 in games in which Ovechkin recorded a point, 18-10-7 in games in which he did not record a point.

Cheerless’ Take… Alex Ovechkin is a big hitter. Since he came into the league, only three forwards have more credited hits than his 2,484 – Dustin Brown (2,977), Cal Clutterbuck (2,580), and Chris Neil (2,568). And Ovechkin has 138 more goals than those three players combined. That said, does it matter? The Caps were 5-4-2 in games in which he was credited with five or more hits this season, 9-1-0 in those games in which he was not credited with any. Ovechkin also showed signs of not traveling well this season. Coming into this season he recorded 263 of his career goals at home, 262 on the road. This season, that split was 20-13 in favor of home cooking. His hat trick in Minnesota was the only game out of his last 13 road contests in which he scored a goal.

Odd Ovechkin Fact… Ovechkin had just one even strength goal in his last 32 games, only one in his last 19 home games. Put another way, he went almost the entire second half of the home schedule with just one even strength goal.

Game to remember… January 11th vs. Pittsburgh

Alex Ovechkin has never been one to dawdle when on the brink of milestones. Think of the run-up to his 500th career goal in the 2015-2016 season. He was at 496 goals when he faced the New York Islanders on January 7, 2016, and scored a goal. In his next contest, against the New York Rangers, he scored a pair to get within one of his milestone. Then in the following game, against the Ottawa Senators, he scored a goal in the second period to hit the 500 mark (he added another in that game for good measure).

As the calendar rolled over into 2017, Ovechkin was on a rush to hit the 1,000-point mark in his career. Over a 16-game span from December 7th through January 9th, he was 7-8-15 and did not go consecutive games without a point. His goal and two assists against Montreal on January 9th got him to within a point of 1,000. That set up some high drama with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town for what would be a national telecast. That drama lasted about as long as a commercial break. Just 35 seconds into the contest, this happened…

He added a second period goal in the Caps’ 5-2 win over the Penguins.

Game to forget… March 6th vs. Dallas

Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, no player has recorded nine or more shots on goal in a game more often than Alex Ovechkin. His total of 76 such games is 57 more than Eric Staal, second on that list (19). In fact, his total is more than the next five players on that list.  One of those instances came late in the season against the Dallas Stars at Verizon Center. It was as frustrating as frustrating gets. First, the Caps had lost five straight games to the Stars on home ice dating back to 2010 (0-4-1), the last four of those losses in regulation. Ovechkin was coming into the game on a streak of six games without a goal, over which he had a combined 11 shots on goal and two of those games without any. When Dallas took a pair of penalties in the first period, it seemed Ovechkin and the Caps might break out on the power play, but the Caps went 0-for-2, Ovechkin failing to find the net on any of his three shots. It did not get better. Ovechkin went 0-for-2 in the second period and 0-for-4 in third period to go 0-for-9 in the game that the Caps lost, 4-2, their sixth straight loss at home to the Stars.

Postseason… 13 games, 5-3-8, minus-4, 57.29 CF% at 5-on-5

What a strange postseason Alex Ovechkin had. He scored goals in four of his first seven games of the playoffs (six games against Toronto and Game 1 against Pittsburgh), and the Caps lost three of them. The Caps lost three of the five games in which he recorded four or more shots on goal. They were 4-6 in the games in which he was credited with four or more hits. They were 2-3 in games in which he blocked at least one shot. They were 1-2 in games he recorded more than 20 minutes of ice time. The more, and more active, Ovechkin was on the ice, the worse the club seemed to do, even if his possession numbers were very good. One can call that coincidental, or one can think of it as not being able to pull his teammates along. It is hard to lay all the Caps’ ills at his feet; he did have five goals in 13 games (odd playoff fact…Ovechkin has had exactly five goals in six of his last seven postseasons), and he did play much of the postseason injured seriously enough to require “pain-numbing injections” to play.  But that Game 7, the third time in the last four instances the Caps lost a playoff series Game 7 on home ice, is going to be a disappointment that lingers.

In the end…

When Alex Ovechkin finished the 2010-2011 season with 32 goals in 79 games, and then followed it up with 38 goals in 78 games the following season, there were whispers that he might be in decline, that his hard style of play was catching up with him. But he was just 26 years old then, too. No one was whispering about his being in decline or being washed up when he scored 186 goals over the next four seasons (averaging 53.3 goals per 82 games played).

This year, at age 31, he had his fewest goals in a full season since that 2010-2011 season, he had his fewest shots on goal (313) since that 2011-2012 season (303). His even strength goal scoring was down for the year and almost non-existent in the last third of the season. But what seemed to underlie his play over large stretches of the season was an almost subdued effort, at least by his standards over his first 11 NHL seasons. In the postseason, he performed well over stretches but rarely seemed to dominate.

Ovechkin will be 32 years old when the curtain rises on the next NHL season. When you realize that since the 2005-2006 season, only one player of age 32 or older had a 50-goal season (33-year old Jaromir Jagr with 54 goals for the 2005-2006 New York Rangers), and only six players 32 or older have 40-plus goal seasons over that time, one wonders if we are starting to see the new normal for Ovechkin as he heads into what might be late middle age as a player. If it is true that “yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose,” one might start to wonder just how many tomorrows are left for Ovechkin to win the prize that has eluded him.

Grade: C

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“Observe due measure, for right timing is in all things the most important factor.”
-- Hesiod

If you are entering the walk year of a contract, with the likelihood that the next contract you sign could be the last big payday of your career, one could do worse than the year T.J. Oshie had for the Washington Capitals with respect to maximizing the potential for that payday.  Oshie topped the 30-goal mark for the first time in his nine-year career, set a career best in even strength goals (25, one short of his previous best for total goals scored in a season) recorded his best plus-minus (plus-28), and he led the league in shooting efficiency (minimum: 25 shots on goal) with a career best 23.1 percent.  Among players appearing in at least half of the season’s games, he finished seventh in goal scored per game, his 0.49 goals per game being an almost 50 percent improvement over his previous best (0.33 goals per game with the Caps last season).  He became the first Capital since the 2004-2005 lockout to average 0.49 or more goals per season whose first name was not “Alexander” – Ovechkin did it 10 times, Semin did it three times.

The season was a matter of Oshie starting well, with multiple goal splits in his first four ten-game segments (despite missing eight games), and building on that with at least five goals at ten points in three of his last four ten-game splits.  Mostly working the middle of the Caps’ 1-3-1 power play, he finished third on the team in power play goal (seven), but he was consistent enough to record at least one in five of his eight splits despite missing 14 games overall.

And, as one might expect from a first line winger, his scoring mattered.  The Caps were 23-2-1 in games in which he scored a goal, 27-2-2 in games in which he recorded a point.  But Oshie led by example in doing the dirty work, too.  In 32 games in which he recorded at least one blocked shot and one credited hit, the Caps were 23-5-4.  It was part of a pattern in which his presence in the lineup made a difference, the Caps going 47-14-7 in game he played, 8-5-1 in games he missed this season.

Oshie had the uncommon role of being a winger that took a lot of faceoffs.  Although he did not have quite the load he had in 2015-2016, when he won 52.7 percent of the 262 draws he took, he still took 190 faceoffs this season (winning 48.3 percent), fifth-most on the club and most by a non-center on the team, despite appearing in only 68 games.

Fearless’ Take… If there is a "T.J. Oshie hat trick," it might be a goal, a blocked shot, and a hit.  In games in which he recorded at least one of each, the Caps were 11-0-1, the only loss being that bizarre 8-7 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 16th. 

Cheerless’ Take… It is hard to find much fault with Oshie’s performance this season.  If one wanted to be picky, he didn’t shine in terms of possession, at least compared to his teammates.  His individual 51.71 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was eighth among 16 Caps forwards skating at least 50 5-on-5 minutes this season (numbers from

Odd Oshie Fact… Only one player in the league scored more goals than T.J. Oshie and had more credited hits.  Oshie had 33 goals and 95 hits; Anders Lee had 34 goals and 172 hits for the New York Islanders.  Alex Ovechkin had more hits (216), but had 33 goals, the same total as Oshie.  He is the only player in the league to score more than 30 goals, record more than 90 credited hits, post 50 or more blocked shots, and take 175 or more faceoffs.  He is one of only nine players since the 2004-2005 lockout to hit or pass those thresholds in each of those categories in a single season (source:

Game to remember… November 16th vs. Pittsburgh

After the Caps lost on Opening Night to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, they had to wait another 15 games before getting another shot at them.  And when they did, T.J. Oshie almost single-handedly ran them out of Verizon Center in the first period.  It was Oshie’s defense on the penalty kill that got things started for the Caps.  The game’s first scoring sequence started with Brett Connolly in the penalty box for the Caps and the Penguins getting a bit too cute in the offensive end.  Evgeni Malkin tried to ease the puck past Oshie to Kris Letang just inside the Caps’ blue line.  Oshie got his stick on the chip pass, and before Letang could get his stick on the puck, Oshie chipped at it again, nudging the puck out of the defensive zone.  Jay Beagle ran the puck down and broke in on goalie Matt Murray, who denied Beagle’s attempted backhand.  Oshie followed up, though, and with Murray still down on the ice flipped the puck over him at the 7:31 mark to make it 1-0.

Ten minutes later, Oshie assisted on a goal by Nicklas Backstrom that made it 2-0, and then with just 7.9 seconds left in the period he followed up a John Carlson shot, jumping on a rebound at the post to the left of Marc-Andre Fleury (Murray left with an injury earlier in the period) to make it 3-0.  After Dmitry Orlov gave the Caps a 4-0 lead in the second period, Oshie was on the score sheet a fourth time, centering a pass to Justin Williams for a power play goal 5:37 in the period to give the Caps a 5-0 lead on their way to a 7-1 win. 

Game to forget… November 18th vs. Detroit

Fresh off the four-point night against the Penguins, Oshie and the Caps hosted the Detroit Red Wings.  There would be no four-point night for Oshie, though.  There would not be as many as four shifts.  On his third shift, he caught Riley Sheahan with a hit at center ice, but while Sheahan was sent to the ice, it would be Oshie who would be sent to the locker room, one of three Caps forwards to leave the contests early with injuries, all of them in the first period (Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky were the others).   The upper body injury would keep Oshie out of the lineup for seven games.

Postseason:  13 games, 4-8-12, plus-2, 58.24 CF% at 5-on-5

It was a case of two distinct playoff series for T.J. Oshie in the spring.  In the first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Oshie was 3-4-7, plus-1, recording his three goals on 14 shots in six games.  In the second round, it was a case of the Penguins finding a way to shut him off from shooting positions, or Oshie not being able to find the openings.  He did not record a shot in either of the first two games of the series against Pittsburgh, and while he did manage to post 13 shots in the last five games, he found the back of the net only once.  It was an unfortunate end to his and the Caps’ season, especially given his performance against the Penguins in the last four games of the series.  Over those four games, Oshie did record three points, tied for the team lead with a plus-5 (with Andre Burakovsky), had one of the two power play goals the team had, and led the club in credited hits (23, compared to the 24 he had in the first nine games of the postseason).

In the end…

T.J. Oshie plays a heavy game, certainly a heavier game than one might expect for a player of his size.  It has, from time to time, taken a toll.  He missed 14 games this season and has missed 47 games over the last five seasons.  It seems to be the price to be paid for the services of a player who plays hard in all three zones, who contributes at the offensive end and works his way into those spaces in which it is very difficult to make a living.  His presence made a difference in the regular season, the Caps being a more successful team with him in the lineup than they were without him.  It would be hard to find a lot of fault in his postseason performance overall, given that he finished second on the club in points (a career best 12 points in the postseason), was third in credited hits, first among forwards in blocked shots, and led the scoring line forwards in possession numbers in the postseason (58.24 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5).  The effort was there, and for the most part so was the performance.  In Game 7 of the second round, that exquisite sense of timing Oshie had in the 2016-2017 season was, as it was for the team overall, missing.

Grade: B+

Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America

Monday, May 29, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov

"You don't know a ladder has splinters until you slide down it."
-- Bum Phillips

Three, eleven, twenty.  Six, twenty-six, fifty-seven.  Nine, thirty-seven, seventy-seven.  Minus-two, plus-ten, plus-twenty-seven.

Those were the first three seasons in the NHL for Evgeny Kuznetsov.  The progression suggested big things were in store for the 24-year old Russian who was firmly entrenched as the second line center for the Washington Capitals.  However, fate has a way of intervening, and the rungs on the ladder of success might give way from time to time.

It might have been a hangover from a disappointing 2016 postseason, or it might just have been a hiccup on the development path, but Kuznetsov had a slower than expected start to the 2016-2017 season.  He had a decent, if unremarkable, first ten-game split for the season, going 1-5-6, plus-4, in those ten games.  But rather than pulling himself up that ladder of performance, he found out it had those splinters, sliding down in his second ten games split (2-1-3, plus-1) and failing for the only time all season to record a goal in a ten-game split when he went without one in his third ten-game split (0-8-8, plus-1). 

That absence of goals in his third ten-game split was part of what became a 17-game streak without a goal (Games 20-36).  He did have a six-game points streak in there (eight assists), but he was dragging an 0-for-38 shooting mark along.  Then, he flipped the switch.  Over a two-month span covering 27 games starting on January 3rd, Kuznetsov went 12-20-32, plus-15, tied for second over that period in points.  What made that performance so noteworthy was that Kuznetsov did it while logging the fewest minutes of ice time per game (16:22) of any of the top-25 scorers during that span of games.

But it didn’t last.  Over his last 19 games, Kuznetsov was a relatively quiet 4-4-8, minus-2.  The odd part of that finishing kick was how weak it was against weak teams.  In those last 19 games, he and the Caps played eight games against teams that did not reach the postseason, and Kuznetsov was just 1-1-2, minus-3, both his goal and assist coming in one game, a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on March 29th.

Kuznetsov’s offensive contributions matter, as one would expect for a second-line center and part of the second power play unit.  Washington was 14-3-0 in games in which he recorded a goal, 33-7-1 in games in which he recorded a point.  Unsurprisingly, they were 15-1-0 in games in which he recorded multi-point games.  The Caps’ record when he produced shines a bright light on just how important the second line center position is for this club, especially given  that the Caps had such a time trying to fill that role before Kuznetsov claimed it.

Fearless’ Take… At times, one forgets how young Kuznetsov is still.  Over the last three seasons he is one of four centers 24 years of age or younger to record at least 170 cumulative points (Mark Scheifele, Ryan Johansen, and Sean Monahan are the others).  He is one of 11 players drafted by the club in the history of the franchise to record at least 180 cumulative points in his first four seasons with the Caps.  He finished the season as the third-youngest skater on the club among those 18 skaters appearing in at least 40 games.

Cheerless’ Take… Here is a number for you: “18.”  The Caps were 8-10-4 in games in which Kuznetsov skated more than 18 minutes last season.  On the other hand, the Caps were 24-1-1 in games in which he skated fewer than 16 minutes.  Sure, that might be that whole “roll four lines” thing, but it does stand out.

Odd Kuznetsov Fact… Faceoffs are more an “attention to detail” sort of thing than a factor that determines wins and losses (until you win or lose one late in a game that leads to a deciding goal), but in Kuznetsov’s case, that seemed to be the case in 2016-2017.  In games in which Kuznetsov was better than 50 percent on draws, the Caps were 12-4-1 (.735 points percentage).  In games in which he was under 40 percent, they were 18-6-3 (.722).  And, in those games win which he finished between 40 and 50 percent, inclusive, the Caps were 25-9-4 (.711).

Game to remember… January 3rd vs. Toronto

This was the contest that propelled Evgeny Kuznetsov to his mid-season run of individual success.  The game itself was a goal-fest, starting with a Justin Williams power play goal 74 seconds into the game, a play that started with a Kuznetsov feed to Dmitry Orlov, whose shot clicked off Williams and past goalie Frederik Andersen. The teams didn’t let up from there, exchanging goals at a brisk pace with Toronto taking a 3-2 lead to the first intermission.  The Leafs extended their lead to 4-2 going into the second intermission.  In the third period the Caps mounted a comeback, starting with a Kuznetsov goal 2:20 into the period, converting a feed from Marcus Johansson from the low slot into a one-timer past Andersen.  Dmitry Orlov got the Caps even just over a minute later, but Toronto grabbed back the lead mid-way through the period. 

Washington tied the game one last time when John Carlson collected a loose puck in his end and fed Kuznetsov heading down the middle.  Getting behind the Toronto defense, Kuznetsov tried a backhand from in close, but he couldn’t get a good swipe at it with Tyler Bozak backchecking.  Andersen couldn’t locate the puck, though, and Kuznetsov chipped it back in front where Marcus Johansson and John Carlson got chances at it, Carlson potting the goal with less than seven minutes left.  In overtime, the Caps made short work of things.  Jay Beagle won the draw to open overtime, then went off for Alex Ovechkin.  Kuznetsov fed the puck from the right wing wall to John Carlson, who fed it across to Ovechkin for a one-timer that beat Andersen just 22 seconds into the extra frame. Kuznetsov finished the game with a goal and three assists, his four points being his season best, his third career game with four or more points.

Game to forget… January 24th vs. Ottawa

Sometimes, things just seem that little bit out of sync in, well, everything.  Such was the case for Kuznetsov when the Caps visited the Ottawa Senators in late January.  For the Caps and Kuznetsov, it was the back half of a back-to-back set of games, the Caps having beaten Carolina, 6-1, the previous night.  They and Kuznetsov left their offense in Washington.  Ottawa got out to a 2-0 first period lead and never looked back in a 3-0 win.  For Kuznetsov it was an all-around “meh” game.  In 15:33 if ice time he had more minor penalties (two) than shots on goal (one), lost eight of 13 faceoffs, and was otherwise unheard from on the score sheet.  It was the only game in a nine-game span in which he failed to record a point.

Postseason: 13 games, 5-5-10, minus-1, 53.94 CF% at 5-on-5

Evgeny Kuznetsov had an odd postseason.  In one respect it mirrored his regular season.  It started slow (1-2-3, minus-1, in the first round series against Toronto), picked up markedly in the middle (4-3-7, even, in the first six games against Pittsburgh in the second round).  Then, it went silent at the end (two shots, no points in the deciding Game 7 against the Pens).  The odd part was that the shooting – at least shots on goal – didn’t seem to matter much.  The Caps were 3-3 in games in which Kuznetsov recorded four or more shots on goal, 4-3 when he was under four shots on goal.  Attention to detail seemed to track with results, at least as far as faceoffs were concerned.  Washington was 1-3 in games in which he was under 40 percent on draws. On balance, though, it was his best postseason in three tries.  He tied his career best in goals (five, set in 2015), and he more than doubled his points (ten, compared to nine over the 2015 and 2016 postseasons.  If not for that pesky Game 7 in the second round…

In the end…

Evgeny Kuznetsov had pieces of a fine season.  He also had pieces of an indifferent one.  The start and finish to both his regular and postseason dragged down what might have been another fine season overall.  Kuznetsov is an indispensable element to the Caps’ success going forward, but the first order of business in fulfilling that role will be to extract the splinters from his hands from sliding down a rung or two on the career ladder and being more consistently productive than he was at times in 2016-2017.

Grade: B-

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

“Next to excellence is the appreciation of it.”
-- William Makepeace Thackeray

Over the last five seasons for the Washington Capitals, Marcus Johansson was a model of quiet consistency.  In 340 games (he missed just 24 games over those five years) he averaged between 0.55 and 0.65 points per season.  It might not sound like an elite number, but Johansson is one of 63 players (among 973 forwards to dress over that period) to record at least 0.55 points per game five times in five seasons.  And, he might be the least recognized name on that list

All of that was prelude to a career season for Johansson in 2016-2017.  Playing in all 82 games for the second time in his seven-year career, he set career highs in goals (24), points (58), plus-minus (plus-25), even strength goals (19), and shooting percentage (18.6 percent).  And when he finished the season, he did so as one of the most accomplished players in the league in avoiding trips to the penalty box.  He and Ryan O’Reilly are the only two players in the league to finish the 2016-2017 season having appeared in more than 400 games over that span and record fewer than 60 penalty minutes.  O’Reilly has 48 minutes in 415 games, Johansson has 52 minutes in 432 games.  Johansson recorded just ten minutes in penalties this season.  In the five games in which he recorded a penalty, the Caps were 4-0-1.

Looping back to that shooting percentage for a moment, when Johansson recorded that 18.6 percent mark in 2016-2017, he became one of 10 players over the past six seasons to appear in at least 400 games and record a 14 percent cumulative shooting percentage or better.  Again, his might be the least recognized name on that list

Johansson put together his 2016-2017 season in a bit of an odd way, one that was characterized by a strong start and a strong finish with a bit of a drought in the middle.  In his first and last ten-game splits (the last one being 12 games), Johansson recorded more than ten points in each.  It was a case of putting together a fair number of multi-point games, four in his first ten games of the season, three in his last 12 contests.

In between, he still had 34 points in 60 games, at 0.57 points per game, right in that 0.55-0.60 points per game sweet spot he recorded in his five previous seasons.  What those six ten-game splits featured were goals in each of them, giving Johansson at least one goal in each of his ten ten-game splits this season, a goal-scoring season of the sort he had not displayed in any of his previous six years with the Caps.

Fearless’ Take… One other career high showed up on Marcus Johansson’s 2016-2017 resume.  His 53.19 Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was his best in seven seasons in the NHL.  Of 14 forward combinations skating at least 50 5-on-5 minutes for the Caps this season, Johansson was on the top two combinations, his skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky over 61 minutes posting a 62.75 Corsi-for percentage, and his skating with Backstrom and Justin Williams over 65 minutes posting a 59.26 Corsi-for percentage (numbers from

Cheerless’ Take… More ice time, worse results.  The Caps were 2-2-1 when Johansson skated at least 20 minutes, 8-3-4 when he skated at least 19 minutes.  Washington was 15-3-0 when Johansson skated fewer than 16 minutes.  Maybe that’s a product of getting less time as the club rolls four lines when holding a lead, but there it is.

Odd Johansson Fact… Five of Johansson’s first 11 goals this season were of the game-winning variety and were recorded in his first 24 games.  He did not record another game-winner over the remainder of the regular season (58 games).  He did score the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.

Game to remember… March 28th vs. Minnesota

Marcus Johansson was quite productive on the road this season (16-18-34, plus-14, in 41 road games), but March 28th was a special evening, even by Johansson’s road record standard.  It was a “powerful” night for Johansson. After T.J. Oshie and Jason Pominville exchanged goals in the first 23 minutes of the contest, the Caps scored a power play goal when Johansson took a feed from Nicklas Backstrom, showed shot for an instant, and then laid off a pass for Alex Ovechkin to one-time past goalie Devan Dubnyk to make it 2-1.  Five minutes later, the Caps were on another power play when Johansson held the puck at the Wild goal line, finding Kevin Shattenkirk att the top of the zone, whose turn it was now to lay off a pass for Ovechkin to one-time past Dubnyk to make it 3-1. After the Wild got back to within a goal, the Caps had another power play mid-way through the third period.  Off a faceoff, Nicklas Backstrom dug the puck off the right wing boards and fed Johansson.  From the goal line, Johansson returned the puck to Backstrom, who fed it across to Ovechkin.  At the top of the left wing circle, Ovechkin wristed a shot past Dubnyk to make it 4-2. 

The Caps could not hold the lead, the Wild getting a pair of late goals to force overtime.  Then, in the second minute of overtime, persistence paid off.  Oshie and Johansson exchanged passes, Johansson’s feed to Oshie giving him a chance for a lay-up game-winner, but it missed the mark.  Oshie retrieved the puck and handed it off to Johansson circling out from behind the net.  Johansson found Oshie for a one-timer from the left wing circle that sailed over Dubnyk’s left shoulder on the far side, and Johansson had his fourth assist of the game, his first four-point game in the NHL and only the fourth Capital since the 2004-2005 lockout to record four helpers in a single game (Backstrom (10 times), Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin are the others).

Game to forget… December 27th vs. New York Islanders

It is hard to find a truly bad Johansson game this season, but his first game after Christmas comes close.  Three of Johansson’s first 15 shifts ended in goals, none of them scored by the Capitals.  Not that any of them were a product of his play.  The first came off a ghastly turnover by Dmitry Orlov just inside the offensive zone that the Islanders took the other way for a score.  The second came when an Islander was left all alone at the far post to receive a pass that he had time to settle and swat past goalie Braden Holtby.  The third came when an Islander was left alone again at the post, free to redirect a pass behind Holtby.  The Islanders got another goal a minute later, for which Johansson was not on the ice, and it was enough for a 4-3 Islander win.  For Johansson it was a study on why plus-minus isn’t the best way to measure a player’s individual performance, at least on a game-by-game basis.  His minus-3 was his worst of the season.

Postseason: 13 games, 2-6-8, minus-1, 54.01 CF% at 5-on-5

Marcus Johansson occupied that sliver of space where a point here or there might have mattered.  Or not.  The odd part of his scoring in the postseason was not that he tied Alex Ovechkin for fifth on the team in points, or that he tied Justin Williams for third on the club in assists.  It was that the Caps were 4-3 in games in which he had a point, 3-3 in games in which he did not.  On paper, it was Johansson’s best postseason ever – eight points (most in six postseasons) and two goals (tied for best and included a series-clinching overtime goal). What he did not have was a goal in any of the seven games of the Penguin series in the second round, and he did not record a shot on goal in either Game 6 or Game 7.  His performance, as much or more than any Capital, was not a case of having a poor postseason as much as one that might be haunted by “what if he had one more point?”

In the end…

Marcus Johansson had his best regular season.  He is perhaps the least appreciated member of this club in terms of his offensive contributions.  And while he does not get a pass for his performance in the postseason, his was not as egregious an example of not showing up at key moments (yes, Game 7 against Pittsburgh – as it was for just about the whole squad – stands out as an exception).  Had he made a contribution in Game 7 to push the Caps forward to the conference finals, he might have been guaranteed a grade of “A.”  However, as things turned out…

Grade: B+

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Friday, May 26, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Lars Eller

Lars Eller

“Consistency is the foundation of virtue.”
-- Francis Bacon

If consistency can be spectacular, Lars Eller is a spectacular player.  Consider his scoring lines over the last six seasons coming into the 2016-2017 season:

If Caps fans there thinking “WYSIWYG” with Eller ("what you see is what you get"), the first half of the season might have left those same fans asking “WTF?”  Eller had the best individual shot attempt share of any forward on the club appearing in more than a dozen games (57.81 percent; numbers from  Among those 13 forwards he had the seventh highest average ice time, just over 14 minutes per game.  But Eller was stuck at three goals and seven points, and his minus-1 rating was tied for worst in the group.  In those first 40 games, of which Eller appeared in 39, his game was a case of “efficiency” without “effectiveness,” at least as far as his offensive numbers were concerned.

Then…there was an empty net goal.  Game 41 against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Eller’s 40th of the season) was dominated by Alex Ovechkin reaching the 1,000 point mark for his career with a goal 35 seconds into the contest.  Later, the Caps took a 4-2 lead into the final minute of play, and one of the oddest goals you will ever see was authored by Eller…

Off a stick, off a helmet, and into an empty net.  And with that, Eller started off on a run over his next two ten-game splits in which he was 7-7-14, plus-16.  He tied for the league lead in plus-minus over that period.  In fact, it was a teammate with which he was tied (Brett Connolly), and the other member of that third line – Andre Burakovsky – was third over that period with a plus-13.  Eller and his cohorts combined for 20 goals over those 20 games (it might have been more, but Burakovsky missed five games in that period), almost a quarter of the 86 goals the Caps scored over those 20 games in posting a 15-3-2 record.  It was, arguably, Eller’s, his line’s, and the Caps’ best stretch of hockey of the season.

It was a brief moment in the sunshine for Eller, who spent his last two ten-game splits as he did his first four, with one notable exception.  As he did in those first four ten-game splits, he struggled to put up points, going 2-2-4, the fewest points among the 12 forwards playing in at least ten games in that finishing run.  But he also struggled in his possession numbers, his 50.71 shot attempt percentage last among that same group of 12 forwards.

Fearless’ Take… Secondary scoring matters.  Folks keep pounding on this point, but Eller’s numbers reflect that.  The Caps were 8-1-2 in games in which he had a goal, 17-2-3 in games in which he had a point.  Eller was another one of those Caps who performed consistently at home or on the road, going 6-5-11, plus-8, in 41 games at Verizon Center and 6-8-14, plus-7, in 40 games on the road.  He and T.J. Oshie were the only Capitals this season to record at least one even strength, power play, and shorthanded point.

Cheerless’ Take… Eller had a couple of other odd splits.  In 23 games against the other seven teams in the East reaching the postseason, he was 5-5-10, plus-10.  That is an 18-18-36, plus-36 pace per 82 games.  Against the West, it was an entirely different matter.  In 16 games against the eight teams making the playoffs, Eller was 0-3-3, minus-1, an 0-15-15, minus-5 pace. 

Odd Eller Fact… 2016-2017 was the first season since his rookie year that he did not record a shootout attempt.  Coming into this season (and ending it), Eller was 6-for-17 (35.3 percent, tied for 88th among 242 players recording at least ten shots since 2010-2011) with three game-deciding goals in his career in the trick shot competition.

Game to remember… February 22nd vs. Philadelphia

Sometimes, the statistics don’t matter.  That might have been the case for Lars Eller on a night back in February, a “Wednesday Night Rivalry” game against the Philadelphia Flyers broadcast nationally.  The Caps were wrapping up a three-game road trip on which they lost their first two games, in Detroit (in a Gimmick) and at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.  For the Caps, it was a good night, their short losing streak coming to an end in a 4-1 win at Wells Fargo Center.  For Eller, it was a quiet night.  He was on the ice for a power play goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov, but otherwise he managed just two shots on goal and lost seven of 11 draws with no points in 14 minutes of ice time.  However, it was Eller’s 500th NHL game, and for the highest-drafted player ever born and trained in Denmark when he was taken 13th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2007 (Mikkel Boedker was taken eighth-overall the following season), it was still a night to remember.

Game to forget… March 28th vs. Minnesota

And sometimes the statistics don’t matter in an entirely different way.  When the Caps took to the road to head to Minnesota in late March, they were carrying with them a four-game winning streak.  Lars Eller was lugging a lot more baggage – a 12-game streak without a point.  Getting on the road seemed as if it might be just the tonic to break that streak.  Fortunately for the Caps, they broke out to an early lead, took it into the third period, then posted a goal to make it 4-2 with less than eight minutes left in the contest.  The Wild scored a pair of goals in the last five minutes to tie the game and threatened to snatch victory from the Caps’ hands.  However, T.J. Oshie scored less than two minutes into overtime to give the Caps the win.  For Eller, it was a thoroughly forgettable game.  He was on the ice for all four Wild goals, took a delay of game penalty, and skated just 10 even strength minutes without a point.  It was the sort of game to forget, put behind you, and move on to the next one (which, apparently, he did, since he scored a goal in Colorado in the next contest to break a 21-game streak without one). 

Postseason: 13 games, 0-5-5, minus-2, 59.56 CF% at 5-on-5

Lars Eller scored a goal against the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of Montreal’s playoff series against the Senators in 2015.  Since then, he went 12 straight games without a postseason goal coming into this postseason with the Caps.  Then, he went and more than doubled that unfortunate streak by going without a goal in the 13 games in which he played. It wasn’t for lack of trying; Eller did record 22 shots on goal in 13 games, a respectable total for a player getting 14 minutes a game.  And Eller did have excellent possession numbers in the postseason – 59.56 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, fourth-best on the team (numbers from  But that pesky biscuit just wouldn’t go in the net, a malady that afflicted the bottom six forwards throughout the postseason.

In the end…

Lars Eller completed his regular season with a scoring line of 12-13-25, almost identical to that five-year average with which he entered the season 13-15-28, and he appeared in 81 of 82 games, consistent with the durability he displayed over the previous five years.  In that sense, in the overall scheme of things, it was an “Eller-like” season.  Unfortunately, the same can be said for his postseason.  Except for a fine 2014 postseason with Montreal (5-8-13 in 17 games), he has not been an especially noteworthy performer in the spring (1-4-5 in 20 games in three other playoff years).  Going 0-5-5 for the Caps this spring did nothing to improve his grading for the season.  Like too many Caps, especially among the bottom six, he just didn’t demonstrate a mastery of the subject in the final exam.  If he could have extended his consistency into the postseason, he could have earned the virtue of a higher grade.

Grade: C+

Photo:  Getty Images North America

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Washington Capitals: 2016-2017 By the Tens -- Forwards: Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

“Ask not what the role can do for you; ask what you can do for the role.”

-- Ricardo Montalban

It is hard to think of a 24-year old at a career crossroads, but last summer Brett Connolly might have found himself standing in one. A sixth-overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, he steamrolled through his last year of Canadian juniors, scoring 46 goals for the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. Then, he made the leap to the big club the following year, getting the call in 68 games for the Lightning in which he was 4-11-15.

It seemed to be a decent foundation on which to build a solid career in Tampa, but his progress came to a crashing halt the following year when he appeared in just five games for the Lightning and spending the bulk of his time with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. It was only marginally better the following season – 11 games with the Lightning and 66 with the Crunch.

In 2014-2015 he did seem to retrieve a bit of his scoring touch at the NHL level, scoring a dozen goals for the Lightning in 50 games, but he was a trading deadline casualty, sent to the Boston Bruins for a pair of second round draft picks. In a season and change with the Bruins, Connolly scored nine goals in 76 games, his career scoring line amounting to 27 goals and 59 points in 210 NHL games with two clubs. It was not the profile of a sixth-overall draft pick, and at the end of the 2015-2016 season he became a free agent, Boston declining to extend a qualifying offer to the player.

And that journey brought Connolly to Washington on July 1, 2016, signing a one-year/$850,000 contract. It was perhaps the move that head coach Barry Trotz alluded to before the unrestricted free-agent signing period began, ““We want to give some opportunity to our kids. They’ve made great progress, and I think they’ve earned that right to challenge for spots, and I think we’re not going to block them. I think if we do anything, we might add maybe one forward. I think we’ll be pretty quiet.”

With the Caps more or less set among their top six forwards, and perhaps even their top three forward lines, it was not immediately evident just what role an offense-oriented former top prospect fallen on hard times would play. And it did not help Connolly that he played only intermittently over the first month, appearing in just seven of the Caps’ first 15 games, recording just one point in the process (a goal against Calgary on October 30th), and just 17 of the Caps’ first 31 games (3-1-4, minus-1).

Starting on December 23rd, though, Connolly appeared in 49 consecutive games and going 12-7-19, plus-21, while averaging just 10:41 per game in ice time, for the most part on what was a solid third line for much of the season.

Still, Connolly’s ten-game splits were a bit odd.  His first four splits were light on production, a reflection of his intermittent play early on and settling into a role once he stuck in the lineup.  His pace picked up measurably in his fifth, sixth, and seventh splits over which he was 10-5-15, plus-17, over 30 games.  But he went almost silent in his last split of the season in which he dressed for 10 of the last 12 games (0-2-2, minus-1).

He still had good possession numbers overall, finishing third among Caps forwards playing in at least 25 games with a 53.92 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (numbers from  When teamed with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky on the third line, he and his cohorts had the third-best Corsi-for at fives on the club (58.57 percent).

Fearless’ Take… That secondary scoring certainly comes in handy. Washington was 12-1-2 in the 15 games in which Connolly scored a goal this season, 16-1-2 in games in which he recorded a point. He was also consistent at home and on the road. At Verizon Center he was 7-5-12, plus-10, in 32 games, while on the road he was 8-3-11, plus-10, in 34 games.

Cheerless’ Take… Connolly seems to suffer from that weird Jason Chimera Syndrome thing. You know, the one where he’s hot one year, cold the next, then hot, then cold. With Chimera it was his goal totals. With Connolly it’s his shooting percentages… 4.3, 10.0 (ok, in only five games), 8.3 (alright, in only 11 games), 14.5, 9.5, and then 18.5 percent with the Caps this year. And more Connolly wasn’t necessarily a better thing. The Caps were 16-4-1 when he skated less than ten minutes; they were 16-3-1 in games in which he didn’t record a shot on goal (and he didn’t so much as record an assist in any of those games, either).

Odd Connolly Fact… Brett Connolly was the only player in the league to average less than 11 minutes of ice time per game and record 15 or more goals. And that isn’t even the odd part. Among players with at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, Connolly was 13th among 351 forwards in goals-per-60 minutes (1.28; numbers from

Game to remember… February 1st vs. Boston

Brett Connolly had one shot against his former team this season, figuratively (the only game against the Bruins for which he dressed) and literally (he recorded one shot on goal).  The Caps took a 2-0 lead at Verizon Center before the game was 15 minutes old, but Boston tied the contest on a pair of goals by Brad Marchand wrapped around the first intermission.  Alex Ovechkin broke the tie in the last minute of the second period, but the outcome was still in doubt as the third period started.  In the fourth minute, Evgeny Kuznetsov skated the puck through the neutral zone and gained the offensive zone.  Pushing the Bruin defense back, he fed the puck across to Dmitry Orlov in the middle.  Orlov sent the puck ahead to Connolly darting in from the right wing, and Connolly lifted a backhander past goalie Tuukka Rask as he was cutting across the top of the crease.  It was the game-winning goal – his only such goal on home ice this season – in the Caps’ 5-3 win.

Game to forget… March 4th vs. Philadelphia

If you are not a penalty killer, and your teammates are taking a lot of penalties, you are going to spend a lot of time watching a game, not playing it.  Such was the case on March 4th when the Philadelphia Flyers visited Verizon Center.  Brett Connolly skated five shifts in the first period for 3:01 in ice time.  But when the Caps took two penalties in each of the last two periods tow give the Flyers four power plays after giving the Flyers a pair of man advantages in the first period.  Philadelphia did not convert any of the power play chances, but Connolly skated just five shifts combined over the last two period and finished the game with just 6:04 in ice time, a season low.  The only mark on his score sheet line was a shot attempt that was blocked.

Postseason: 7 games, 0-0-0, minus-2

Before the 2017 postseason, Brett Connolly had no games of playoff experience in his career.  His first experience was odd and disappointing.  Dressing for all six games of the opening round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had what amounted to two distinct series, neither of which were productive.  In the first three games he averaged about 12 and a half minutes of ice time.  He did not record a point, and he had just four shots on goal.  In the back half of the series his ice time was cut significantly, averaging less than five and a half minutes per game and recording only one shot on goal without a point.  He dressed for Game 1 in the second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he skated barely six minutes with just one shot on goal.  He did not dress again in the series.

In the end…

Brett Connolly did what a player in his position had to do, to a point.  He came in on what amounted to a low-risk, high-reward contract with the Caps that, if he performed well enough, he could parlay into a better deal with longer term when his contract with the Caps was up.  After shaking off the inconsistency and intermittent appearances early, he performed quite well, displaying a high level of efficiency in the minutes he got.  But it dried up late in the season, and he (along with a lot of his bottom six forward cohort) underperformed in the postseason.  What had been a strength where it was a weakness the previous year – the bottom six forwards – once more became a weakness when it mattered.  Brett Connolly was a part of that, and it cost him what might have been a very high grade.

Grade: B

Photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America