As you may have heard, the Washington Capitals are 7-0-0 and flying high as one of the NHL’s best teams so far in their 2011-12 regular season. The Caps are playing shutdown defense, explosive offense, and are getting dynamite goaltending to help fuel the streak. The usual suspects are up to old tricks, including Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alex Ovechkin, but you already know what those players bring to the table every night. With so many new faces on the roster because of George McPhee’s heralded offseason moves, I thought I would take a look at how each of Washington’s new players are faring in red. Have a look after the jump.
Jeff Halpern – Underrated by many when he was added to the Caps this past July, Halpern has done exactly what McPhee signed him to do (which is discussed in detail here). A reliable fourth-line presence, the former Washington captain has yet to play less than ten minutes in a game and has two assists and a plus-three rating. Halpern is also averaging 1:27 per game in shorthanded ice time, which is sixth overall among all skaters but is second among forwards. Lastly, the veteran has won an astounding 67.8% of his faceoffs, first on the team and near the top of the NHL leaderboard. Grade: A
Troy Brouwer – When McPhee brought Brouwer aboard on draft day, the move was immediately heralded by many because of the right winger’s grit, power, and net presence (detailed here). Many thought that the former Chicago Blackhawk would slot in on the second line, but after starting there, has worked his way up to the top line and has not looked out of place at all with two of the NHL’s best. Averaging 15:14 of ice per game, including 1:31 on the power play, the versatile Brouwer is just doing his thing. One goal and three points in seven games leave some to be desired, though. Grade: B+
Roman Hamrlik – By far McPhee’s most criticized acquisition at the time of its completion, the aging blueliner has not been at his best so far this year. Heralded as a power play producer (even though he shouldn’t have been) when he came over from Montreal, Hamrlik has zero man advantage points despite receiving the third most man advantage among defensemen on the team. Hamrlik also only has one point, a 70-foot fluke goal, to his name (Jeff Schultz has more points) and is tied for the lowest plus-minus rating on the team while leading all defensemen in penalty minutes. At $3.5 million per this season and next, we need to see more out of the Hammer (like this). Grade: C-
Tomas Vokoun - Dynamite. The veteran goalie has been all that and a bag of chips since the 55 minute mark of his first start in Washington, and is an incredible 6-0 on the year to go along with a 1.80 GAA and .944 save percentage. He’s won the Caps games they’ve had no business winning and kept them in games long enough to allow them to win when they should have. What an incredible start and an even more incredible signing from McPhee. Grade: A+
Joel Ward – Signed from the Nashville Predators after an explosive playoff performance, Ward has impressed so far as a key cog in Washington’s third line, which has been the teams’ best so far. Ward himself has two goals and two assists to go along with a plus four rating, even more impressive when you consider he is playing almost all of his even strength minutes against the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis…you get the picture. If Ward and his line can keep this up, it’s going to be tough for opposing teams to beat the Caps with their own best players. The best part? It’s exactly what we expected (more here). Grade: A
As you can see, I like pretty much everything about how these guys are playing. The evaluation can’t come full circle until the spring, but for now, they look very impressive.
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