Re-evaluating Capital Concerns

Early in the Washington Capitals 2010-11 season, Rock the Red took a look at how the team performed over their first three games dividing our observations into two categories based on whether the team should, or shouldn’t, be concerned. 47 games into the season, it’s time to re-evaluate our notes and see if the items outlined are still prevalent, magnified, or non-existent.

Possible reasons for concern:
- The Caps’ power play: Although starting the season slow, DC managed to convert on 23.9% of their attempts in October and November before falling to 11.5% in December and January for a total of 18.1% on the season. As Brooks Laich mentioned on The Junkies just this morning “the power play… is the kick start to our 5-on-5 offense,” so hopefully facing the Islanders’ and Leafs’ PK (19th and 25th in the league, respectively) will allow Washington’s offense to get back on track. I’m still a bit concerned here, but I’m confident the goals will land (eventually).

- Marcus Johansson’s face-off percentage: He hadn’t been lighting it up early on in the season, leading to him being named the team’s midseason goat and the worst NHL player on faceoffs in 2010-11, and he still seems to be finding his niche winning only 37.8% over his last 10 games. I understand a transition period of getting acquainted with the speed of the NHL game, the size of the rink, and other odds and ends in your rookie season, but taking faceoffs has been the same since pee-wee. Granted, MoJo is on the dot with higher caliber players than he’s faced in the past, but I’d still like to see an increase from his current 37.5% (and topping 50% only 5 times so far this season). Heck, Backstrom was winning 46.3% his rookie year. Still concerned.

- John Erskine’s early-season play: Since the beginning of the season Big John stepped up his game significantly: He’s been gritty when he’s played, reliable on the PK, and even chipped in offensively with 9 points to his credit. With his penalty kill on-ice GA/60 second lowest on the team, he’s definitely upped his game since the acquisition of Scott Hannan. As long as Erskine keeps being the nondescript d-man he is, I am no longer concerned.

- Mike Green’s TOI: Greener’s TOI/G has him in the top-5 of the league but his minutes have been reserved as of late skating 24:07 a contest. John Carlson’s elevated play has allowed Boudreau to share some of Green’s minutes, allowing Mikey to get back on track offensively (when paired with Hannan), contribute on the power play and penalty kill, and play an overall more sound defensive game.  #52′s minutes are highly influenced by his special teams play, but if BB manages him appropriately I am no longer concerned.

- Defensive parings of John Carlson-Erskine, Karl Alzner-Tyler Sloan: I still have nightmares about these parings. Thank goodness the Carlzner duo has been reunited and is now back to kicking ass and taking names. As long as BB doesn’t try any funny business around these two, I am no longer concerned.

Slow your roll, panic-mongers:
- Nick Backstrom’s goose-egg in the score book: Nicky now has 11 goals and 31 assists to his credit, and has the lowest per-game average in each since his rookie season. While he is chugging along in faceoff percentage and starting to add assists, he still has a goal-less drought of 21 games.  Lars is currently on pace for 18 goals and 54 assists on the season (career lows), which leaves me only slightly concerned – there’s part of me still hoping he will pull it through. Because, as Japers’ Rink’s David Getz stated: “He’s still Nicklas Backstrom.”

- Eric Fehr’s lack of ice time: Before a Dave Steckel-induced injury, Fehr notched 3 goals and 1 assist in 2011- which lead me to believe his early season lack of production was slowly turning around. Since the new year, F16 had three 14 minute games (above his season average of 12:54), as well as averaging 2:19 PP TOI over his last 5 games. Once healthy, I don’t believe he’s going to get Ovechkin-like time on the ice, but it’s good to see Fehr as an example of reward for success.

- The dizzying highs and nauseating lows of John Carlson’s rookie season: For me, Carlson is having a Calder-worthy season. He seems to have gotten over his early season jitters, and is cruising right along offensively, defensively, and contributing on special teams. The Real American Hero has been getting some quality ice time as the season progresses, and is right at home alongside King Karl. I can say I’m no longer concerned, but there is one note that is nagging at me: Johnny leads the team in on-ice goals against, even if he is facing the toughest competition of the Caps’ D. (H/T to JP for the stats)

- Varlamov’s injury-filled past: Funny this should come up on the day that both Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are day-to-day with injuries. Yes, he’s played great as of late, but it’s hard to be between the pipes when you have an ice bag on your “lower body injury.” I’d equate a young goalie with leg/groin issues to a young phenom pitcher with arm issues. Not good. Color me still concerned.