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Washington Capitals

Caps Offense Not Firing Properly

Washington CapitalsYou would think that with my team 4th in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the South East Division leaders – Tampa Bay – and 5 wins in 8 games, I would be happy. Think again.

The past few games have highlighted the problems the Caps have had the start of the season – and it doesn’t look like improving. Back-to-back games against Boston showed the Caps up, as the ‘Big Red Machine’ managed just one goal in each game against Tim Thomas and the Bruins, losing 3-1 and 4-1, in two games which seemed worryingly similar to last season’s playoff encounters with the Montreal Canadiens – Washington failing to create against an on-form goalie and well-organised defense. Most worrying of all is the lack of production from the top line. After a typically good start to the season, Ovechkin, Backstrom and Knuble have completely fallen away in the last few games, failing to record a single point between them in the past three contests. As I say, Boston marshalled Ovie and co. excellently; getting the right matchups out there at all times and Thomas was almost solid in net throughout. But even against the Thrashers, who weren’t at their best and were cut apart at times by the great play of Mathieu Perreault and Alex Semin, the top line looked uninventive and still very rusty. By now, though, the rust should have been scraped off and they should be banging in the goals. The power play has taken a hit as a result currently 21st in the league at 12.1% and looking nowhere near as good as it did last season. This sums up the anxiety I feel at the moment about the Caps. Whilst the roster, the offense in particular, is very similar to last year’s, the way it’s performing, and its production, is much worse than last year.

There is only really one reason the Caps have managed to win games this year: Michal Neuvirth.

Neuvirth has performed incredibly well, leaving the Caps with the chance to get back into games, which they have just about managed to do in games against the Senators, Islanders, Predators and Thrashers. And against the Isles and Sens, the Capitals’ top line got their act together late on in the games to get the wins, Backstrom and Ovechkin notching the game-winning goals in those two games. But they’ve taken a while to get going in the games where they have actually turned up at all, usually only showing signs of life in the third period.

Fortunately, in the last game, against the Thrashers, where Ovechkin failed, Semin succeeded. The other Alex hit a hat trick to lead the Caps to a 4-3 overtime victory; but much of that was thanks to the fantastic Mathieu Perreault. Whilst Marcus Johansson, who beat Perreault to the roster at the start of the season, has been impressive of late, before suffering injury resulting in Perreault’s call-up, he hadn’t been producing many scoring chances on the third line. Bumped up to the second line with Semin and Laich for the second game against the Bruins, MJ90 was possibly the Caps’ best player, and the second line on a whole, in that game and the next against the Thrashers, has been the team’s best. But with so much reliance on the top line, the goal-production from the team as a whole has declined and it may have disheartened the rest of the lineup to see their captain and his linemates struggling to find chances.

On the whole, the Caps could just be a step or two away from finding themselves in a slump, unless the offense gets going some time soon. If the rest of the offense falls further into un-creativity, as the top line has, or Neuvirth has a bad spell, this team could find themselves falling down the standings. Of course I expect Ovechkin to prove his sheer class and notch ten goals in this week’s three-game road trip and propel the Caps to the top of the league. That’s the beauty of this team. If they can go 5-3-0 playing poorly, then if they turn it around they can be an incredible force; and they most likely will be in the near future.

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