The Washington Capitals were handed their first regulation loss on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Considering this loss came in November, that’s pretty good! That means that throughout the entire month of October, Washington earned a point in every game they played. While this is true, and it’s something to be genuinely excited about as a Caps fan that the team is consistently earning points, there is a sense of uneasiness that comes with how these points were earned. There were games they had to overcome multi-goal deficits, games where they blew multi-goal leads, and some overtime losses that probably should’ve been wins. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is that, for the most part, all of these points that the Capitals have earned have come on the backs of three players: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie.
Looking at the Numbers
Let me preface this by saying that I wouldn’t say that anyone is playing particularly poorly. A team doesn’t collect points in eight straight games by having players not play well. The issue is purely offensively, and that happens. Sometimes the pucks just aren’t bouncing your way and sometimes they just aren’t going in. That’s normal, especially in such a short sample size. However, as of right now, when goals are being scored by the Washington hockey team, there is a good chance you know who was involved in the goal that was scored and that it was either 8, 92, or 77. Let me provide some evidence.
The Washington Capitals have scored 32 goals in nine games played this season so far. Ovi has nine, which is ridiculous by the way, Kuzy has five, and Oshie has four. That accounts for 18 of the Capitals’ goals scored this season, or 56.25% of the team’s total goals scored. We obviously expect and want our top dogs to score as often as possible, but we shouldn’t want them to account for over half of the team’s goals like this. There needs to be guys lower down the lineup that are putting the puck in the back of the net to even out the workload. It can’t all fall on the top guys.
Last season, for example, the Capitals scored 188 goals in 56 games played. The top three scorers were Ovechkin with 24, Oshie with 22 and Backstrom with 15. That adds up to 61 of the team’s 188 goals, or 32.45% of the team’s total goals. Of course it’s worth noting that 56 games is a much larger sample size than the nine games the Capitals have played this season, but it’s still concerning as a fan that we’re one month in and only three players have found the back of the net more than twice so far for Washington.
The third and fourth lines, which were so successful last season for Washington, are struggling to score this year. Conor Sheary had 14 goals in a shortened season last year and only has one this season so far. Daniel Sprong, who had 13 goals in 42 games last season, also has only one this season and has been healthy scratched as a result. Not to mention, he has spent a lot of time playing second-line minutes and has been on the second power play unit. Lars Eller has zero goals and has played in all nine games thus far.
The fourth line, who, in all fairness, we don’t expect to generate a ton of goals, has two points combined. Nic Dowd has one goal and Carl Hagelin has one assist. Garnet Hathaway has yet to register a point. I know what these guys do together is spend time in the offensive zone and wear down opponents with their style of play, but it would just be nice if they could chip in with a couple of more goals here and there.
One of the more concerning stats is that Tom Wilson, who has had back-to-back 20-goal seasons and was on pace for another 20 last season, hasn’t scored a goal yet. Granted, he leads the team in assists with seven and is third on the team in points, but a guy who plays with the top two point leaders on the team and someone who makes over $5million needs to start scoring. We don’t need the Twitter army to tell us he’s the dirtiest player in the league and he hasn’t scored a goal yet.
A pleasant surprise is that Nick Jensen is seventh on the team in points with two goals and two assists, and that Trevor van Riemsdyk also has four assists for four points. The unpleasant part is that they both aren’t far off from the likes of Anthony Mantha (2G, 3A, 5Pts), who plays in the top six. However, I am not ragging on Ant Man, as for a second-line player on a second PP unit, two goals and five points in nine games isn’t too bad. But as someone who has the potential to score 30, you’d like to see the scoring totals increase a bit with some multi-goal games.
Like I’ve said, we are only nine games into a full 82-game season. There is absolutely no reason to over-exaggerate. It would just be unfortunate to see a rerun of a show we’ve seen too many times where, come postseason time, the stars of the show are doing their part and aren’t getting help from their supporting cast. When the Caps finally broke through and won the Cup in 2018, it was because everyone finally chipped in. The weight wasn’t all on Ovi and Backstrom. Andre Burakovsky scored twice in Game 7 to send Washington to the Cup Final, Lars Eller scored the 2OT winner in Game 3 of the first round against Columbus to get them rolling and then the Cup winner in Game 5 against Vegas, and Devante Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the playoffs — including three in the Cup Final — to match his scoring total from the entire regular season.
Depth scoring is vital to having success in the NHL, and while we shouldn’t hit any panic buttons anytime soon, this course does need to be corrected or the Capitals will find themselves headed home early for what would be a fourth-straight season, or not making it to the dance at all. Then it will be time to question whether this team still has what it takes to do some serious damage, or if they’re past their prime. If things don’t straighten out and the worst becomes reality then, and only then, it may be time to hit the panic button.