Monday, November 16, 2009

Second and Tens -- The Second Ten-Game Segment: The Forwards

Twenty games in, it’s time to take a look at how the forwards fared in their second ten games compared to their first ten…

Alex Ovechkin

The amazing part about Ovechkin’s first twenty games is that despite missing six of them he is still only two points out of second place in the league scoring race. He bolted out of the gate with a 9-8-17 start, then followed it up with a 5-1-6 effort in five games (those five goals coming in the three games prior to his getting injured against Columbus) to finish up the 20 games prematurely at 14-9-23.

His goal scoring has been streaky thus far – five in three games to start the year, four in two games in mid-October, those five in three games before getting hurt. Missing six games (assuming he returns against the Ranger on Tuesday) perhaps prevents him from setting career highs in goals and points this year, but consider this. In 2007-2008, he was 13-9-22 after 20 games (all of which he played) and finished with 65 goals and 112 points. Perhaps the thing to watch is his plus-minus (yes, we know, it’s a useless statistic). At plus-10 for 14 games he was on a pace to surpass his career best (plus-28). It isn’t a signal that he is an emerging Selke candidate, but there seem to be fewer whispers this year about Ovechkin not hustling in his own end.

Brendan Morrison

Morrison has been as consistent in his way as the club has been in its. Two ten-game segments, both of which he finished 3-5-8, one power play goal, one game-winning goal for 6-10-16 after 20 games.

Add in that he has chipped in a pair of power play goals and a pair of game-winners (tied with Ovechkin for the team lead), and he has been a solid number two center. What he does is, as you might expect from a veteran, pick his spots. Among Caps’ forwards having taken at least ten shots this year, he is second in shooting percentage. He averages only 1.4 shots per game, but he makes them count, popping them in at a 21.4 percent clip. And here is another reflection of his consistency. Only once so far this season has he gone consecutive games without a point (he is on a five-game points streak). And, as you might expect from a veteran, he does the little things well – second on the team in faceoff winning percentage (ten games minimum) and he leads all forwards for the Caps in takeaways.

Matt Bradley

“The Professor” is on a pace to top his career best in scoring (9-13-22 in 54 games with the Sharks in 2001-2002) – 12-21-33. He cooled off some in goal scoring in the second 10 games (none, compared to three in his first ten games), but he had three assists – one better than what he posted in the first ten. This might not be a big deal in the larger scoring standings, but for a 3rd-4th liner, Bradley has been about as productive as you could ask for.

He is shooting the puck a bit more – a pace of 106 shots, which would be just short of his career high of 111 in 2007-2008 – but he is another Cap who has found the net with more frequency among the shots he has taken (an 11.5 percent shooting percentage would be his best since the 2001-2002 season with the Sharks). What he has done perhaps less frequently is get into scraps. He has two fights so far this year, while he had nine last year. Then again, he had only two in the first 20 games last year, too. Maybe he’s just getting warmed up. One thing to watch with Bradley; good things seem to happen when he’s down in what we call ‘The Bradley Corner” (at the bottom of Section 103, in the end where the Caps shoot twice). Whether he throws the puck at the net or finds a teammate, something is bound to happen when he is down in that corner with the puck.

Tomas Fleischmann

At the rate he is scoring since his return from illness, Tomas Flesichmann will match his career high in points in Game 44 of the season, against Atlanta on January 9th. Did we mention he’s only played in nine games so far?

In those nine games Fleischmann has points in eight of them (those would be his last eight) and has goals in three of his last four games. He has three power play goals and a game winner on his 2009-2010 season resume. But before we get too carried away, he is minus-6 in his last three games. He has been on the ice for six of the last eight even strength goals scored against the Caps over those three games. Yes, Fleischmann has lit up the scoreboard since his return. He’s been an impact player on just about every shift he takes lately. He is giving indications that he can be a consistent contributor at this level, justifying the faith that Coach Bruce Boudreau has had in him. But there is still work to be done.

Boyd Gordon

There is really nothing to see here, at least in the context of 10-game segments. He has 5:55 of ice time since Columbus Day, all of it in last Saturday’s 5-2 loss to New Jersey in which he was reinjured (back). It is turning out to be a lost season – so far – for Gordon, who has played in seven games and has one assist to show for it.

Eric Fehr

In an odd way, Fehr is a bookend to Gordon in terms of injuries. He missed the first four games of the first ten-game segment – still recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery – and he missed the first six of the second segment with a rib injury. It has depressed his numbers:

But while Gordon languishes in a sort of limbo as to his availability, Fehr has come back to show a glimmer of light. In the four games since he returned from the rib injury to post a goal, two assists, and a plus-2. Fehr had been something of an intermittent tease in his all-too-brief stretches of games with the Caps. He puts forth an honest effort in a third or fourth line role that requires him to forecheck. He has become stronger in fights along the boards, and he has from time to time offered a hint of the goal-scoring prowess he had in juniors and the AHL. But for Fehr, the issue is staying upright. If he can do that for more than a few games at a time, the Caps might have someone to provide reliable secondary scoring.

Chris Clark

In the first ten games, one might have wondered if Clark was going to come as far back as he needed to come from injuries suffered over the previous two years. One goal, one assist, a minus-4. It wasn’t the way the Captain would have wanted to come back. But in the second ten, there has been progress:

Five assists in ten games, doubling his shots on goal, bumping up his hits total. That bad start found him with his ice time being cut, playing less than ten minutes in four of the first five games in this second ten-game stretch. But his performance (not to mention injuries elsewhere on the roster) has led to his ice time being bumped up to more than 14 minutes in each of the last two games.

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom has centered just about everyone on the team, it seems, and the effect this has had on his scoring is something of an odd departure from his norm.

He is putting up points, but he’s doing it in bunches – 10 in his first four games, six games with one point, seven points in his next four. He seems to be settling back into a more consistent pattern, though. Those seven points in the first four games of this second ten-game segment is part of a 11 points in eight games run. He is without a point in his last two, but that came against teams that have played very good defense lately (Minnesota and New Jersey). The one thing that still needs work is faceoffs. Only twice in his first ten games did Backstrom win a majority of his draws. That improved to five games in the second ten-game segment, but he remains a work in progress. Yeah, we’re being picky with Nicky.

Keith Aucoin

Aucoin managed to get in four games in his second ten-game segment before being returned to Hershey, during which he doubled his point total and had a couple of power play points for his trouble – his getting time on that squad a reward for a hard working style that provided needed energy.

Brooks Laich

Here is another example of consistent performance.

4-5-9, even, in the first ten; 4-6-10, even, in the second ten. Two power play goals in the first ten; two in the second ten. What he’s done in the second ten is get more shots on goal, perhaps a product of more ice time (three times over 20 minutes in the first ten; six times in the second ten). When Laich imporved from 18 to 37 to 53 points over the past three seasons, one might have thought that being a 50-60 points scorer was where Laich would settle on this club. However, he is on a pace to go 33-45-78, which would be a pretty consistent rate of improvement with that of the last three years. If Laich is that player – a 70-80 point player – he really would merit the Chuck Norris comparisons.

Mike Knuble

How do we know there is an injury epidemic in the NHL? Knuble is out. This is a guy who played 82 games in four of the previous five years. Now, he’s out 3-4 weeks with a broken finger (four weeks from the Minnesota game in which he was hurt will have him out for 12 games and a return on December 11th against Carolina). Until that injury, he had the look of another consistent performer.

Consider that he played in all ten games of the first segment and eight (plus 4:47 against Minnesota) in the second segment, the point totals are pretty consistent. What fell off, though, were the shots on goal, which were almost halved in the second segment (even though he scored more goals). It seemed to be a reflection of Knuble settling into the role for which he was signed. Of the three goals he had in this segment, one was from 12 feet, another was a tip in. Even his injury was a reflection of that, coming as it did when he crashed the Minnesota net, tumbled in over goalie Niklas Backstrom, and broke his finger.

Alexander Semin

What Jeff Schultz has been for the defensemen, Semin is becoming for the forwards – the vessel into which is poured all of Caps fans’ displeasure. Semin did see his offensive production drop off a bit in the second ten game segment…

…but he is still on a pace for a 37-33-70 season. However, the problem might be hinted at in the plus-minus numbers. Semin was plus-25 in 62 games last year. He is plus-1 in 18 games this year and is on a pace to be plus-4. It is not that he is a poor defensive player. When given the opportunity and responsibility – on penalty killing, for example – he is adept and focused. It isn’t his propensity for turnovers – his 15 giveaways in 18 games is a lower giveaway rate than he had last year (66 in 62 games). It isn’t penalties – he has eight minor infractions in 18 games compared to 31 in 62 games last year. It just seems that every time Semin does make a mistake, it is of the head-snapping, eye-rolling variety that leads to either a scoring chance at the other end or a particularly ill-timed penalty. Part of it is that the light is shining more brightly on him after the injury to Alex Ovechkin and the fact that this is a contract year for Semin. He hasn’t done the most with the opportunity presented.

Alexandre Giroux

Giroux played in only one game in the second ten-game segment before returning to Hershey. In his case the relevant comparison – the one that get one scratching their head – is that while he was 1-0-1, plus-1 in three games with the Caps, he is currently 8-13-21, plus-11 in 13 games with Hershey.

David Steckel

Steckel has been consistent, but from an offensive perspective not the sort of consistency that was hoped for…

No goals, one assist in each segment. True, offense is not how he earns his paycheck, but he has one goal in his last 44 regular season games. That qualifies as a slump, even for a “checking” forward. Of course, that goal would be against Tampa Bay, a team he has six of his 13 career goals against. The Caps haven’t played the Lightning yet this year. What Steckel does well – arguably as well as anyone in the league – is take faceoffs. The standard for him isn’t 50 percent, but rather 60 percent. In his first ten games, he won at least 60 percent of his draws seven times; in his second ten games he did so six times. With Boyd Gordon on the shelf, it’s hard to see how anyone else takes an important defensive zone draw other than Steckel.

Quintin Laing

A monument to perseverance, Laing gets a sweater every night as a product of effort. On a team that has more than its share of skill, what he brings should be inspiring. Laing has already matched his career high in goals in the NHL, both of them scored in this ten-game segment.

Perhaps oddly, Laing has not put up large totals in that area in which he is most renowned – blocked shots. His 11 in 17 games has him ranked in a tie for 56th among forwards, but for a guy who suffered a lacerated spleen in his only game with the Caps last year, we’ll not complain. We just like watching him putting forth that effort on every shift to keep other teams from scoring.

Mathieu Perreault

Sixth round draft pick makes good. Perreault has played in only six games, and he is already 12th on the team in scoring (2-3-5). That shouldn’t be too surprising for a kid who had seasons of 119 and 114 points in Canadian juniors, but his ability to survive in what is listed generously as a 5’10”, 174 pound body among the redwoods of the NHL is something to behold. He hasn’t been shy about sticking his nose into situations that call for fighting for the puck, and he has been adept in keeping his nose out of trouble when he has the puck and defenders are trying (and failing) to splatter him into the glass. His has been, so far, the classic example of a player who takes advantage of the opportunity created when other players get injured. It’s called “stepping up,” and Perreault has certainly done that.


Jimmy said...

Excellent post. It's interesting how many of our forwards have extremely consistent numbers, despite the lack of consistent effort.

exwhaler said...

On Fleischmann's +/- numbers--I'd hestitate using any statistic over such a small sample size, especially with a flawed statistic like that one. While Flash was on the ice for those goals, the stat does not tell you if he was responsible for them.

His -6 is due to two games: -2 against the Islanders and -4 against the Devils. I didn't see the Devils game (thank god), but against the Islanders, he was on the ice, I believe, for the first and second goals. On the first, he had his man covered and lifting the guy's stick when Thedore's hard rebound shot past both of them, while the second was a long slapshot off the faceoff with Theodore having a clear view.

Honestly, one of the improvements to Fleischmann's game since his return has been his defense. He's pursuing the puck into the corners, cutting off lanes, and harrassing opposing players before they even leave the zone. At least in the Islanders game, his -2 wasn't his fault, just like Jurcina's -4 a couple of games before wasn't his fault. Which leaves the Devils game, and one bad game does not describe overall performance for a single player.

The Peerless said...

I agree -- Fleischmann has been a much more asertive player in the corners and along the boards, and he has improved his defense. I'd just maintain that he has those occasions when he reminds us that he remains a work in progress.