Friday, January 4, 2008

Capitals Midseason Report Card

With last night's loss to Boston the Capitals have played their first 41 games on the 2007-08 season, reaching the midpoint and finding themselves six points out of playoff spot and ten points out of first in the Southeast Division. So how has the team stacked up this season? How have individual players fared? I'll look at these questions two ways: by rating each group of players (forwards, defense, goaltenders) on an absolute A-F scale and also at the team as a whole, as well as individual players, based on how they have performed relative to their preseason expectations.

Team as a Whole: B-; meeting expectations
That might seem like a surprisingly high grade given how much distress Capitals fans have been forced to endure this year but I think it's appropriate. If you go back to the season's outset the most reasonable expectation for the Capitals was that they were a team that could contend for a playoff spot but could also easily fall just short. Thus being in playoff contention is, to me, meeting expectations.

But if you were to go back to the beginning of the season and wonder what would happen if, through the first 41 games, Alexander Semin was going to play only 23 (and be less than 100% much of the time when playing), Chris Clark only 17, Tom Poti only 34 and Boyd Gordon only 26, with two or more often overlapping and then assess what could expected of the Capitals performance I think you'd have to say they'd be lucky not to be dead in the water. And that's where the team is
now - at six points out of playoff spot and ten points out of the division lead they've performed quite well given the injuries they've had.

Forwards - B-
The forward corps hasn't been nearly as explosive as people hoped, as a number of players have underachieved in some facet (Fleischmann, Kozlov, Pettinger) and others have struggled w
ith injuries (Semin, Clark). They have played pretty well defensively however, and with scoring down around the NHL the difference between expected output and actual output can be chalked up (somewhat) to a league-wide drop in scoring.

Exceeding Expectations

Nicklas Backstrom - on the year maybe his numbers aren't any higher than expected (29 points in 41 games), but that's changing fast - Backstrom put up 14 points in 13 games in December and was named rookie of the month. Even if his numbers aren't to the point where just looking at them will
indicate he has surpassed what people expected him to do, he has shown far more poise and defensive acumen than could be expected of any player his age.

Brooks Laich - has been a versatile member of the team, competing hard in every game and is on pace for a career-high in points, despite not playing as important a role as in years past.

Quintin Laing
- the fact that he's in the NHL at all means he's exceeded expectations. The fact that he's been a solid contributer in his own end and on the penalty kill means he's exceeded them by far.

Alexander Ovechkin
- a little surprising maybe, given how high expectations were after his first two season. But The Great Eight is on pace for 60 goals and is tied for the team lead in plus/m
inus (after being the worst in that category last season). I don't think anyone expected him to be this good.

Meeting Expectations

Matt Bradley - Bradley is generally playing a tough, physical game and is avoiding making crucial mistakes. Just what you'd want from a fourth line grinder.

Donald Brashear - Brash is still one of the best fighters in the league, plays smart and knows his role. His lack of speed is an obvious and exploitable problem though.

Boyd Gordon - I had hopes Gordon would get his offensive game to click and provide some offensive in addition to his checking prowess but, truthfully, I didn't expect it. Has done a great job on faceoffs and in his own end.

Viktor Kozlov - some people have criticized Kozlov for having only four goals at this point and while he should be finishing more effectively, he is tied for second on the team in assists, tied for first in plus/minus and is second in shots.

Michael Nylander - Nylander in borderline between meeting expectations and falling short of them. He is producing fairly well (33 points in 37 games) and serving as a mentor to Backstrom, but he has also failed to click with Alexander Ovechkin and his -16 rating is not only worst on the team - it's one of the worst in the league.

Dave Steckel - in camp Caps fans heard a lot about how Steckel had been working at the craft of winning draws and was a solid defensive player but I don't think anyone expected him to be as useful as he has been shorthanded on in the faceoff circle. Still, for a guy who put up 30 goals and 61 points in Hershey last year, Steckel has shown little in the offensive end.

Playing Below Expectations

Matt Pettinger - put up 68 points in 135 games over the last two season, while shooting 14.69%. This season has 5 points in 39 games and is shooting 2.74%. His -11 is the second worst rating on the team.

Tomas Fleischmann - has put up big numbers in the AHL (
114 points in 102 games since 2005) but has only 12 points in 37 games this season, far too few for a skilled forward expected to play a top six role.


Chris Clark - has played in only 17 games due to injuries during which he's looked solid but unspectacular.

Alexander Semin - has missed 18 games due to injury and often not played when completely healthy. Has looked dominant at times and invisible at others, probably due to his ankle injury.

Defense - B+
Expected to be the weak point of the team, the Caps defense has been much better than expected, contributing quite a bit offensively (Green, Poti, Pothier) and being much better at limiting the kinds of growing pains in their own end that you'd expect from the league's youngest defense.

Exceeding Expectations

Mike Green (pictured) - Green flashed his talent at times last year but not too many people expected him to be competing for the lead in goals among NHL defensemen - or rushing the puck 175 feet on a regular basis.

Brian Pothier - on pace for the same number of points as last year but is also seeing much less ice time, especially on the powerplay. Tied for the team leader in plus/minus.

Jeff Schultz - already has five goals and eight points, more goals and the same number of points I expected for him on the season. While Schultz is still somewhat inconsistent in his own end his is doing a better job than I expected he would, and a very good job for his age.

Meeting Expectations

John Erskine - not playing every night, but he knew that would be the case. Is tough in front of his own net when he does play. Had a couple big defensive mistakes but his six points in 19 games are more than you'd expect.

Shaone Morrisonn
- started the season poorly in terms of plus/minus but seemed to get back on track once he was no longer paired with Jurcina, and is now back in the positive (+1). Playing good defense but not showing improvement in the offensive end.

Tom Poti - no goals, but playing the point well on the powerplay, leading the team in ice time and has been a solidifying presence on the back line.

Playing Below Expectations

Milan Jurcina - going into the season there was hope he could be a quality physical shut-down defender. Has looked like a borderline NHL'er.


Steve Eminger - he's only seen action in two games. What other category could he be in?

Goaltenders (there's only two, so I won't break them into categories)

Olaf Kolzig - below expectations. The numbers (3.02 GAA, .889 save percentage) have been painful; the abundance of soft goals even more so. Seems to be coming out of his funk right now, but most certainly has not been as good as expected.

Brent Johnson - met expectations. Been able to come in off the bench and give his team a chance to win most of the time.

Best in Class: Alex Ovechkin. C'mon, it's not even close

Most Improved: Mike Green. He's gone from being a talented kid with great skating stride to one of the best and most exciting offensive defenseman in the entire less than a year.

Most Studious: Dave Steckel, for his attention to detail in the faceoff circle and penalty kill and attention to his diet which requires him to take in 8,000 calories daily.

All photos AP/Getty

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