DC Sports Day

A Look at the Capitals At the End of the First Quarter

Rangers

(Jim Leary/Sportsday)

Last night’s 1-0 victory over Edmonton marked not only the first shutout of the season for goaltender Braden Holtby, but also the one quarter point of the 2015-16 campaign. It was Holtby’s fourth win in a row and the Caps 14th win this season. With 29 points, Washington sits third in the Eastern Conference and second in the Metropolitan Division, solidly within the category of the best performers in the league.

In evaluating any team, it is important to start in net, and with the Capitals that is particularly true. Holtby is the team’s established number one and, at only 26, is moving toward elite status. Currently sporting a 1.88 GAA and 92.6% save percentage, he is getting better every year. More important than the numbers though is his ability to make the big save when the game is on the line. Like last night, when the Caps were not having their best game offensively and looked pretty anemic overall–Holtby made several big saves on the Oilers’ to get his first shutout of the year. He has been solid through the first quarter, and especially has looked good of late.

With confidence that the goaltender will make the stops, it gives the team’s defense a bit more leeway in taking chances to move forward. Both John Carlson and Matt Niskanen, the team’s more offensively minded blueliners, are moving up when the opportunity arises. Both have played quarterback on the power play (a PP that is seventh in the league thus far this season, with a 22.1% conversion rate). Both Carlson and Niskanen have good shots from the point and both are excellent puck movers. In addition to their offensive prowess, the Caps also block shots well this season–last night, Carlson and Karl Alzner alone blocked 12 Oilers’ shots.

Washington has allowed the fewest number of shots per game of any team in the league except Carolina, and has posted more than three goals per game on average (hard to believe watching them last night though). Everyone knows that team captain, Alex Ovechkin is an offensive superstar, and he is certainly contributing offensively this season. But the Caps are a more balanced team this year, with two lines that really can score. Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom are all scoring at a rate of approximately a point per game. Kuznetsov, who is only 23 years old, is one of the rising stars in the league and is a player who will be the number one center on the team in years to come. Kuznetsov really complements Alex Ovechkin’s style of play and their pair should be prolific scorers together in the future. TJ Oshie, who has not produced as much offensively since coming over from St. Louis this summer, has been solid, providing stability and defensive responsibility to the team’s forwards thus far this season.

Overall, this is a solid team, top to bottom. It is not a fluke that Washington is one of the best teams in the league–they are well built and well coached. Absent prolonged injuries, expect the Caps to finish in the middle of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. And to go further into the playoffs than in the recent past.