Theme: “Fire up the ovens, Muffin Man! We've got a big order to fill!”
OK, so the Gingerbread Man in "Shrek" wasn’t talking about hockey, but Boyd “Muffins” Gordon has a big order to fill nonetheless. It is just not one that Caps fans spend a lot of time thinking about, except in the broadest of terms.
It starts with two sets of three numbers: 80.5, 80.6, 78.8; and 25, 17, 25. Those happen to be: a) the penalty killing success rates in each of the three previous seasons, and b) the league rank the Capitals had in penalty killing over that time. You can talk all you want about the goaltender having to be the team’s best penalty killer, but a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the guys in front, too. And this is Boyd Gordon’s workshop. Gordon does not have the offensive punch to make many contributions at that end of the ice, so his ability to play defense, help kill penalties, and win faceoffs is where he is going to earn his salary.
The trouble is, Gordon lost 41 games last year spread across three different trips to the sideline due to injury (all of it back-related). He missed 16 games to injury the previous season and 16 games to injury in the season before that. Clearly, his durability is a question, and given the stress a defense-centric, penalty-killing focused kind of play places on a player, that is going to continue to be a question, especially given his repeated bouts with back trouble.
If the Caps are going to be better on the penalty kill this year, Gordon has to be in the lineup, and he has to be better in that role. Among the 176 forwards in the NHL last year who played in at least 30 games (Gordon played in 36 games) and skated at least one minute per game on the penalty kill, Gordon had the 27th highest goals against/on-ice per 60 minutes figure in the league. And here is the context in which that might be placed – Gordon had the 29th highest average 4-on-5 ice time (per 60 minutes) among those same 176 forwards. Gordon’s problem is not unique to him alone; the Caps, after all, finished 25th in the league in penalty killing efficiency last season. But defense and penalty killing is Gordon’s bread and butter. If the Caps are to improve on the penalty kill this season, Gordon is going to have to be a big part of that.
Fearless: Of all forwards taking at least 200 draws last season, Gordon finished third in winning percentage (61.0 percent), up from 18th the previous year (56.1 percent). And he played up to his competition in one respect. Three of the four goals he recorded came against teams from the Eastern Conference that made the playoffs last season (3-1-4, plus-1, in 13 games).
Cheerless: Hey cuz, you were on this kick for a while that Gordon was going to show some of that offense he had in juniors. He’s never had more than seven goals in any single season in six years. Don’t know if it’s going to happen, cuz.
In the end…
Boyd Gordon is now the Capital with the longest service on the club, dating back to October 2003, perhaps an odd thing for someone who is still only 26 years old. He was on a pace to set a personal best in goals last year (he had four in 36 games, a nine-goal pace for the season), but you’re right Cheerless. Gordon is not going to keep earning an NHL sweater with his offensive game. Not that the Caps need it, but as we’ve noted ad nauseam here, he’s going to have to earn his keep with defense, penalty killing, and faceoffs. The penalty killing we noted, but truth is that he was not much better at 5-on-5 defense, at least in term of the numbers. Among the 409 forwards who played in at least 30 games last season, Gordon was 330th in goals allowed/on ice per 60 minutes (behindthenet.ca), and he was 343rd in quality of competition faced.
Part of the problem last year might very well have been a product of that balky back that put Gordon on the shelf on three separate occasions. But durability is coming to an intersection with contract this year – Gordon is an unrestricted free agent after this season, and he is being pushed for a roster spot among the forwards by the likes of Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, and perhaps next season by Cody Eakin. He is not likely to have the eye-popping statistics that make fans swoon, but if the Caps improve dramatically on their 25th ranked penalty kill from last year or improve their defensive team statistics, it would be a safe bet that Gordon had a significant role in that result.
61 games, 5-13-18, +8