Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Forwards: Troy Brouwer

Troy Brouwer

“The way to have power is to take it.”
-- Boss Tweed

Pavel Datsyuk, John Tavares, James Neal, Anze Kopitar, Troy Brouwer.  What, pray tell, do these five forwards have in common?  All of them had 16 power play points in the regular season. Brouwer had as many power play goals as Zach Parise and Logan Couture.  He had as many power play assists as Patrick Kane, Daniel Sedin, and Patrik Elias.

It was a powerful year for Troy Brouwer.

Here is how powerful.  His 7-9-16 line on the power play in 47 games almost equaled his power play output over the last two seasons combined – 10-8-18 over 159 games.  He was 12th overall in 5-on-4 goals scored per 60 minutes (players with at least 100 5-on-4 minutes played), no mean feat when teammate Alex Ovechkin led the league in that statistic.  And his finishing 26th in 5-on-4 assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 was almost as impressive in that centers dominated the top-25 in that statistic, including teammates Mike Ribeiro (first) and Nicklas Backstrom (fifth).  He was 12th overall in 5-on-4 points per 60 minutes (all numbers from

The power play output was what made the 2013 season special for Brouwer.  His 11-5-16 at even strength was an 82-game pace of 19-9-28, the 28-point pace being in line with his output from the previous three seasons – 27 points in 2011-2012, 23 points in 2010-2011, and 28 points in 2009-2010.

In fact, Brouwer’s 5-on-5 numbers were rather ordinary in the context of the Capital forwards.  For instance, his total points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 were identical to that of Wojtek Wolski, who couldn’t get a sweater at a concession booth over the last half of the season.  Where he did shine, though, was in goal scoring at 5-on-5.  He finished second on the club to Alex Ovechkin, and his 0.884 goals-per-60 minutes at 5-on-5 was in the ball park with such wingers as Corey Perry (0.861) and Bobby Ryan (0.863) in Anaheim, Patrick Kane in Chicago (0.887), and Tyler Seguin in Boston (0.892).

Brouwer is a useful indicator of some second-line problems that hit the team from time to time.  Over the course of his 47 games the two players with whom he played the most at 5-on-5 were the two scoring line centers, Mike Ribeiro (301 minutes) and Nicklas Backstrom (259 minutes).  Looking at Brouwer’s production with Ribeiro and without, he finished with a GF20 (team goals for per 20 minutes) value of 0.532.  That number increased when Brouwer and Ribeiro were separated (0.645).  The opposite was true with Nicklas Backstrom.  When playing with Backstrom, Brouwer’s GF20 value was 0.619, when apart it was 0.568.

What the Caps might want to look at with Brouwer is his role as a penalty killer.  In 2011-2012 six Capital forwards recorded more than 50 minutes of 4-on-5 ice time, and Brouwer had the third best GA20 (opposition team goals scored per 20 minutes, as measure at with a value of 2.286 goals against per 20 minutes of ice time.  This year, that value ballooned to 2.858 goals against per 20 minutes of ice time, second worst on the team (Nicklas Backstrom was worst).  It is a comparatively new role for him, his having finished eighth among forwards in total shorthanded ice time in Chicago in 2010-2011.  The silver lining is, if he improves, the Caps penalty killing improves, and it sure could use improvement.

Odd Brouwer Stat… Brouwer scored goals at a 33-goal pace per 82 games this season, and you would think he did it by posting a career best in shooting percentage.  You would be wrong.  His 17.1 percent shooting percentage this season was his second best in his seven-year career, bested by his 19.0 percent in his 22-goal season in 78 games in 2009-2010 with Chicago.  The thing is, he hasn’t finished lower than 13.5 percent in any of the last four seasons.

Game to Remember… March 21/22 vs. Winnipeg.  The Caps needed a lift.  When they took to the road to Winnipeg for games on March 21st and 22nd, they sat in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of eighth place and nine points behind Winnipeg, then leading the Southeast Division.  Worse, the Caps were coming off a tough 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh before heading west.  In the first game of the back-to-back in Winnipeg, Brouwer got the Caps off on the right foot with a goal just 3:06 into the game. It would prove to be the game-winner in a 4-0 win.  The following night, Brouwer scored less than four minutes after Brooks Laich opened the scoring in the first period, and it, too, proved to be the game-winner in the Caps’ 6-1 pasting of the Jets.  For the series, Brouwer was 2-0-2, plus-3, five shots on goal, two hits, a blocked shot, and he was 5-for-6 on faceoffs.

Game to Forget… February 27th vs. Philadelphia.  The Caps were coming off back-to-back solid performances, a 5-1 win over New Jersey and a 3-0 win over Carolina at home.  Then they visited Philadelphia the night after the win over the Hurricanes.  They – and Brouwer – were flat.  With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead, Brouwer was a half-tick too late getting his stick in the way of a Scott Hartnell shot on a Flyer power play.  Goalie Braden Holtby made the first save, but Wayne Simmonds potted the rebound.  Then, with the Flyers up 3-0 late in the second period, the home team iced it when Max Talbot wired one in.  Brouwer might have been the unluckiest man on the play, for he had just stepped onto the ice to replace Alex Ovechkin when the goal was scored.  He was not within 50 feet of Talbot, but he got credit for being on ice for the score.

Post Season… There were times this season when Brouwer was either unlucky or unaware on defense, and it came to a head in Game 7 against the Rangers.  He was caught in no-man’s land in the slot covering no one in particular when Taylor Pyatt put the Rangers up, 2-0, less than four minutes into the second period.  Barely two minutes later, he went to bended knee to try to block a drive by Michael Del Zotto, but all he got was air as the puck sailed by and past goalie Braden Holtby for a 3-0 Ranger lead.  The third straight goal he found himself on the ice for, just 13 seconds into the third period, he had no fault in, Ryan Callahan stripping the puck from John Erskine at the red line and skating in on a break to end the competitive portion of Game 7.  But his minus-3 was his worst such finish of the season, and the three goals against for which he found himself on ice were more than his total for the first six games combined (two).  Six pretty good games and then, like the rest of the team, an egg laid on home ice.

In the end…

Brouwer had a fine year, made better by his performance on special teams.  But with the pleasure, there is the pain.  He did not have an exceptional year at even strength, rather one very much in line with his career norm.  And when the power play came up short in the playoffs – three goals scored in seven games – the lack of extraordinary production on Brouwer’s part at even strength, again like much of the team around him, took on more weight.  He was a capable secondary scorer who might have benefited more from Adam Oates' wizardry in drawing up the power play than any player not named “Ovechkin.”  But, in the end, it was not enough, either for him or for his teammates.

Grade: B

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Monday, May 27, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Forwards: Jay Beagle

Jay Beagle

“There is no way to success in art but to take off your coat, grind paint, and work like a digger on the railroad, all day and every day.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jay Beagle is never going to win a scoring championship.  Chances are that he will never record ten goals in a season, nor reach the 20-point threshold.  Beagle’s pay check in the NHL is a product of his being that class of hockey player called “grinder.”  He works third or fourth line minutes, makes life difficult for other teams’ scorers, kills penalties, and chips in the occasional point or two.  Well, occasional point.  Beagle has not yet had a two-point game in the NHL.

On the other hand, Beagle did make his contributions in penalty killing.  He led the team in total shorthanded ice time (101:49) and was in the top-25 in that statistic.  In doing so he was on ice for only eight power play goals against.  His 4.95 goals against/on ice per 60 minutes of 4-on-5 ice time was not in the same ball park as Selke Trophy finalists Jonathan Toews or Patrice Bergeron, but it was consistent with Mike Richards (5.07) or Dustin Brown (5.09) in Los Angeles, Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim (4.70), or Dan Paille in Boston (5.12; numbers from

Beagle had modest offensive numbers, but what he did post was almost entirely a product of games against Southeast Division teams.  He was 2-3-5, plus-3, in 18 games against the division rivals, 0-3-3, minus-4, in 30 games against the other teams in the Eastern Conference teams.  Those numbers were a reflection of a drop in scoring productivity.  In 79 games covering the previous three seasons he recorded seven goals on 86 shots, an 8.1 percent shooting percentage that is as much as one could ask for from that position.  But this year Beagle bumped up his shots per game slightly (from 1.09 over those 79 games to 1.17 in 48 games this season), but his shooting percentage dropped to 3.6 percent.  Only Jason Chimera (3.3 percent) and Aaron Volpatti (0.0 percent) has lower conversion rates among forwards.

Odd Beagle Stat… Beagle finished the season a minus-1.  That makes him five-for-five -- five seasons in the NHL, all of them finished in minus territory.

Game to Remember… Valentine’s Day vs. Tampa Bay.  Jay Beagle does not score a lot of goals, but he does have a certain knack with them.  A lot of them are game-winners.  So it was on this night when the Caps carried a 2-1 lead into the third period of their contest with the Lightning.  Eric Fehr extended the Caps’ lead to 3-1 in the third minute of the period, and a little over four minutes later the Caps had another opportunity.with the fourth line on the ice.  Joey Crabb came out of a scrum in the corner to the left of Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon.  Crabb fed the puck out to Tomas Kundratek at the right point, who sent it across to Jeff Schultz at the other point.  Schultz wristed the puck to the Tampa Bay net trying to create a rebound chance.  The puck died in the middle of a clot of bodies where Garon tried to cover it.  But Beagle, with two Lightning defenders draped on him, rooted after the puck like a pig after a truffle.  Knocked to the ice, Beagle found the puck lying under Garon’s arm, and while lying on his side swept if from underneath Garon and into the net to give the Caps a 4-1 lead.  The Caps would need them all, giving up a pair to the Lightning late in the period, making Beagle’s the game-winner in a 4-3 win.  It was Beagle’s third game-winner in seven goals scored dating back to the 2010-2011 season.

Game to Forget… February 3rd vs. Pittsburgh.  The Caps were coming off a win against Philadelphia that they hoped was righting the ship after a 1-5-1 start.  The Caps played the Penguins close, tying the game a two apiece early in the second period on a John Carlson goal.  But after the Penguins took a 3-2 lead less than three minutes after the Carlson goal, they blew it open when the big line of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz came to life, Kunitz getting a pair of goals.  The first came when Beagle was a split second late getting his stick in the path of Kunitz’ snap shot, and the second came on a Penguin power play when Beagle very nearly got his stick on a crossing pass through the slot that found its way onto Kuntiz’ stick for a one timer to make the score 5-2 and end the competitive portion of the afternoon.

Post Season… A fourth liner is not expected to put up a lot of points, but on the other hand they cannot be on the ice for a lot of goals in a short series and have his team advance.  Beagle did not score much (a goal in a 4-3 Game 3 loss was his only point of the series), and no Cap forward was on ice for more goals (six) in the seven-game series.  Five of the goals Beagle found himself on ice for either tied the game or gave the Rangers a lead. 

In the end…

Beagle made adequate contributions as a fourth liner in the regular season.  Getting scoring at a 14-point pace per 82 games and being on ice for only 14 goals against at even strength is nothing to be disappointed in.  However, one of the problems the Caps have had in the post season in recent years is that their third and fourth lines contributed next to nothing in offense and did not make up for it with stifling defense.  This was true when the players in question were David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley, and it was true this post season with Beagle, Matt Hendricks, or whoever it was that occupied the other wing. 

The fourth line contributed two points in the first-round series loss to the Rangers – Beagle’s goal and Joel Ward’s assist on that goal (Ward contributed two assists skating on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera, and scored a power play goal skating with the top line).  The Caps might have weathered the lack of offense, but they could not overcome the goals allowed when the bottom half of the forward lines were on ice.  Beagle, as the center of the fourth line, had to be just a bit better.  The Caps could have used a lot of players to be “just a bit better,” so in that respect Beagle has company.

Grade: B-

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom

Nicklas Backstrom

“Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.”

-- Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote those words in 1964, and they were interpreted as the conflict between what was once accepted as a youth and what was now subject to doubts having grown older.  The protest movement in the mid-1960’s and a hockey team in the twenty-teens do not have a lot in common, but Nicklas Backstrom is at that point in his career when we might ask, “was the certainty we had a few years ago that he would be an elite center misplaced?”

Not that Backstrom had a bad season.  He tied with Jonathan Toews among centers for seventh place in total points, he was one assist behind Sidney Crosby for second in the league among centers, and only two centers – teammate Mike Ribeiro and San Jose’s Joe Thornton – had more power play points than the 18 he recorded.

Still, something seemed “off” about Backxtrom’s game this season.  Maybe it was the five even-strength goals he recorded.  Maybe it was that he was 3-22-25, plus-7 in 18 games against the Southeast Division, but only 5-18-23, plus-1 in 30 games outside the “Southleast.”  Maybe it was his going 1-2-3, minus-2 in the first round playoff series against the Rangers, continuing a disturbing trend… 3-10-13, even, in his last 29 playoff games after going 12-18-30, plus-13 in his first 28 career playoff games.

But back to the regular season.  There was a curious – and unexpected – Backstrom effect at 5-on-5.  Backstrom spent more time skating with Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson at 5-on-5 than he did with any other Capital forwards.  When they were on ice together at 5-on-5, Ovechkin’s GF20 (goals scored by team per 20 minutes of ice time, as defined at was 1.002.  When apart, that value was 1.009.  For Johansson, the values were 1.11 when skating with Backstrom, 1.11 when they were apart.

The big difference here came on the defensive side of the ledger.  Ovechkin’s GA20 at 5-on-5 (goals scored against per 20 minutes of ice time) was 0.739 with Backstrom, 1.009 when separated from Backstrom.  For Johansson, the numbers were 0.863 with Backstrom and 1.269 when separated.

Another odd part about Backstrom’s season was how it was, in terms of his high end numbers, almost a reproduction of his 2011-2012 season.  He played in 42 games last season (40 games were missed due to a concussion), 48 games this season.  He had 44 points last season, 48 this season.  Three power play goals last season, three power play goals this season.  He had 16 power play assists last season, 15 this season.

What we saw this year, though, was a continuing trend of fewer shots on goal.  In 2009-2010, qwhen Backstrom set a career high with 33 goals, he averaged 2.71 shots per game.  That was followed up by 2.62 in 2010-2011, 2.26 in 2011-2012, and then 1.71 this season.  Part of that might have been a product of his role in an Adam Oates power play scheme.  He recorded only 13 power play shots on goal all season (0.27 per game).  Then again, it might not be a function of the new power play.  Backstrom had only 16 power play shots on goal in 42 games in 2011-2012 (0.38 per game).  The change in Backstrom’s shooting has come more at 5-on-5 where he averaged 1.29 shots per game this season versus 1.55 shots per game last season, and both might be compared to the 2.00 shots per game at 5-on-5 that he averaged in his 33-goal season in 2009-2010.

Odd Backstrom Stat… “Tuesday’s child is full of grace.”  For Backstrom, Tuesday certainly graced his statistics.  He was 2-17-19, plus-7 on games played on Tuesdays, 6-23-29, plus-1 on the other six days of the week combined.

Game to Remember… April 2nd vs. Carolina.  The Caps went into their contest against Carolina on April 2nd tied with the Hurricanes for tenth place in the Eastern Conference, three points out of the top-eight and four behind then-division leading Winnipeg.  Carolina got the jump on the visitors with two goals less than three minutes apart in the first period.  Then Backstrom went to work.  He had the primary assist on four straight goals for the Caps in the space of 11:45, allowing Washington to overtake Carolina, 4-3, barely 11 minutes into the second period.  The Caps added a shorthanded goal with 45 seconds left to seal the 5-3 win.  For Backstrom it was quite a night.  It was his first four-point game since February 4, 2001 (a 6-5 Caps win over the New York Rangers), and his 12th career four-point or better game.  It was the third game in what would be a nine-game points streak for Backstrom (1-14-15).

Game to Forget… April 18th vs. Ottawa.  Getting his lowest ice time of the season (15:41), Backstrom was on ice for each of the Senators’ first two goals, then was not on the ice when the Caps, trying to get the equalizer in a 2-1 game, allowed Ottawa an empty net goal with 1:27 left in a 3-1 Washington loss.  Backstrom skated only five shifts in the third period of that game before going out after being hit in the right arm by a Mike Green slap shot.

Post Season… Backstrom had one even-strength point in the first round series against the Rangers, the first goal of the game in what would be a 4-3 Rangers win in Game 3.  Other than that he was scarcely heard from despite getting more ice time among forwards than any Capital except Alex Ovechkin.  It was surprising in that over his last 21 regular season games he was 5-21-26, plus-10.  By the time the series was over, Backstrom found himself 3-for-64 shooting over his last 29 playoff games (4.7 percent) and, perhaps more distressingly, only ten assists in those 29 games, only five of them at even strength.

In the end…

Alex Ovechkin might be what gives the drink its kick, but Backstrom is the straw that stirs it.  And in terms of his post-season contributions, it has been a somewhat watered down cocktail in the last three years.  His position affords him more opportunities to contribute (scoring on his own, distributing the puck to more than just Alex Ovechkin), but by the same token, if he does not cash in on those opportunities the Caps are not likely to be successful.  In the last 14 post season games in which Backstrom did not register a point, the Caps are 3-11 dating back to the four-game sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay in 2011.

As much as is the case with Ovechkin, Backstrom is at the point in his career where he will be evaluated on his post-season performance more than what he accomplishes in the regular season.  The dropoff from his early career success in the post season (12-18-30 in his first 28 games covering three post-season appearances) is mystifying.  And until that mystery is solved, the disappointment that was Washington’s in the post-season in 2013 is not likely to change.

Grade: C+

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Defensemen: "Schulpotorlov"


No, that is not a hot young prospect out of Moscow, that is the trio of Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti, and Dmitry Orlov.  In another time, these three defensemen might have been stalwarts among the top-six blueliners for the Caps.  Schultz, the quiet, stay-at-home defenseman with the long reach and use of position and angles more than brawn to defend.  Poti, the veteran who developed a solid two-way aspect to his game after years of being primarily an offensive defenseman.  Orlov, the up-and-comer with a heavy shot and a heavier hip check.

The 2013 season was not “another time” for these three defensemen.  Combined they appeared in 47 games, going 0-6-6, minus-3.  In no game this season did all three dress for action.  Orlov and Schultz dressed for the March 19th contest against Pittsburgh – a 2-1 loss in which neither was on ice for any of the three goals in their combined 22:47 of ice time.  Schultz and Poti appeared in 11 games together, the Caps going 4-7-0 in those contests and allowing 41 goals in the process.  Poti’s season ended on March 17th, the game before Orlov would play in his first of the season on March 19th. 

None of the three appeared in the post season, all have question marks heading into the off-season.

Jeff Schultz is signed to the Capitals through next season at a $2.75 million salary cap hit.  Here is the thing, though.  Schultz appeared in 29 of the first 31 games of the 2011-2012 season (0-5-5, plus-1), but has appeared in only 51 of 99 regular season games since (1-3-4, minus-9). Forty seven of those 48 absences were healthy scratches (he was out due to illness for the February 1, 2012 game against Florida).  For all intents and purposes he has been passed on the depth chart by Orlov, Tomas Kundratek, and Steve Oleksy from within the organization, and Jack Hillen came in from Nashville to occupy a top-six spot that otherwise might have gone to Schultz…in another time.  Even prospect Cameron Schilling, who got a sweater along with Schultz for a March 12th contest with Carolina in Schilling's only appearance of the season, might be in a position to pass him on the depth chart shortly.

Schultz is almost to the point of being “dead money” laying in plain sight.  He would have a bulls-eye on his back as a compliance buyout, especially with the Caps having to find cap room to re-sign restricted free agent Karl Alzner.  But the Caps are not a team with a lot of depth on the blue line.  When John Erskine – a capable third-pair defenseman – is getting a lot of second-pair minutes, you have depth issues. 

The Caps have 20 players on the parent roster signed for next season (assuming Philipp Grubauer spends the season in Hershey and Dmitry Orlov rejoins the club), including Schultz, with a cap hit of $58.934 million (numbers from  That leaves the Caps with $5.526 million in cap room to fill up to three roster spots, including the re-signing of Alzner and either signing or replacing Mike Ribeiro at center.  If Schultz is bought out, that makes up to four roster spots to fill and $8.276 million in cap room.  Even if Schultz is bought out, resigning Alzner and Ribeiro could eat up the entire remaning cap room and still leave the team needing a seventh roster defenseman.  Ribeiro might or might not be in Washington in September.  It seems almost a betting certainty that Schultz will not. 

Tom Poti has 37 regular season games on his resume over the last three seasons, 16 of them this year before an injury to his ribs that ended his season.  The question for Poti is not whether he will return to the Capitals’ lineup – he will not -- but whether he has anything left in the tank to find a suitor for next season.  If a guy deserves such a shot, it is Tom Poti.  Fractured pelvis, multiple groin injuries, neck and back injuries.  That has been his recent history with the Caps.  Through it all, he was uncommonly dedicated to his craft, persevered when others would have called it a day and retired, and exemplified the highest level of sportsmanship and professionalism when after recovering from injuries found no playing time available.  He is a fine nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.  One hopes that it is not the capstone of his career and that there is more hockey from Poti to come.

Dmitry Orlov had an impressive rookie season in 2011-2012 – tied for eighth among rookie defensemen in goals, tied for second in assists, fourth in points, one of only 11 rookie defensemen with at least one game-winning goal, and he did this with only the 23rd highest average ice time among rookie blueliners.  And there were the thundering hip checks…

His sophomore season was jinxed from the start.  There was the lockout that affected everyone, and Orlov started his season in Hershey.  In his first 17 games with the Bears, Orlov was a respectable 1-8-9, plus-2, although the Bears were only 7-9-1 in those games.  Then the Bears came to Verizon Center to “visit” the Norfolk Admirals, the home team for purposes of the AHL Showcase on December 6th.  With the teams tied at a goal apiece late in the first period, Orlov sustained a double barreled hit that dropped him to the ice and might have been the one that left him with a concussion. 

That would be the last game Orlov would play until March 9th, when he returned to action for the Bears against, who else, Norfolk.  After a four-game get well tour, he was called up to the Caps for a game against Pittsburgh on March 19th.  Orlov lasted five games, going 0-1-1, plus-5, averaging a few ticks fewer than 15 minutes of ice time.  In the midst of a lot of personnel movement along the blue line at the end of the month and beginning of April, Orlov was returned to Hershey for the rest of the 2013 season, where he was 2-3-5, minus-2 in nine games to close the regular season and 1-2-3, even, in four playoff games in the Bears’ five-game loss to Providence in the first round.

The question going forward is whether Orlov suffers any lingering effects of his concussion.  Assuming Karl Alzner is re-signed, Orlov will likely be battling Steve Oleksy and Jack Hillen for ice time on the parent roster next fall.  The three constitute a bargain, salary cap-wise, consuming just over $2.1 million in combined cap room for the 2013-2014 season (more than half a million less than Jeff Schultz’ cap hit, by way of comparison).  But is there a reliable, healthy third-pair to be cobbled together out of that group?  Hillen and Orlov missed significant time to injuries this season.

In the end…

“Schulpotorlov” did not have the season wished for, not by a long shot. Jeff Schultz became a regular scratch, Tom Poti could never quite come all the way back from injury, and Dmitry Orlov would experience what amounted to a lost season.  None are guaranteed a sweater on a regular basis – with Washington or with another NHL team – for the 2013-2014 season.  All of them have a common goal in the season to come – “a comeback.”

Grade: incomplete

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Steve Oleksy

Steve Oleksy

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
-- Benjamin Franklin

He does not have a fancy hockey pedigree, having grown up north of Detroit, Michigan. He did not attend a hockey powerhouse, his Lake Superior State Lakers skating to a 42-59-18 record in his three years at LSSU.  He was not drafted, catching on with the Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL.  Then it was the Toledo Walleye, followed by the Port Huron Icehawks and the Idaho Steeheads, which was then followed up by stints in Lake Erie with the Monsters, back to Idaho with the Steelheads, and then to Bridgeport with the Sound Tigers.

Oleksy played 50 games in Bridgeport in the 2011-2012 AHL season, then was signed as a free agent by the Hershey Bears for the 2012-2013 season.  He made an impression.  In 55 games with the Bears he displayed a combination of the occasional offensive contribution (2-12-14, plus-5) and the frequent physical presence (151 penalty minutes, 52 of which were earned against the archrival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins).  When Mike Green went out of the lineup with a recurrence of groin problems, Oleksy was called up.    

He was never sent back down.  Playing the last 28 games of the regular season for the Caps, Oleksy tied for third among Caps defensemen in points (nine), tied for third in plus-minus, was second in penalty minutes (33), and was third in hits (58).  And, in the “announcing his presence with authority” file, he recorded an assist in his first NHL game, two more in his second game, then his first NHL goal in his fourth contest on his way to a 1-8-9, plus-9 finish.

There was something of a good luck charm quality to Oleksy’s play.  Most of Oleksy’s ice time at 5-on-5 was spent with Jack Hillen (30.7 percent) and Karl Alzner (24.9 percent).  Both of these players realized better GF20 (goals scored by team per 20 minutes of ice time) and GA20 (goals scored against per 20 minutes of ice time) when paired with Oleksy than when playing apart from him (numbers from

There was a certain “adrenaline rush” aspect to his game, too.  In his first 15 games he was 1-5-6, plus-4, 17 shots on goal, and 29 penalty minutes, 15 of them coming in three fights.  In his last 13 regular season games he was 0-3-3, plus-5, eight shots on goal, and four penalty minutes. More disciplined, or did the rush wear off?

Odd Oleksy Stat… The Caps were 11-3-0 in games in which Oleksy did not register a shot on goal, 8-5-1 in games in which he did (only six of those wins coming in regulation).

Game to Remember… March 14th vs. Carolina.  The Caps were in a tough spot on a mid-March night in Raleigh.  Mike Green was out with a groin injury.  Tom Poti was playing in just his third game after missing the better part of two seasons to injury.  Tomas Kundratek would play only 3:14 in this game before goingout with a leg injury.  Guys had to step up on the blue line.  Oleksy did.  He logged 27:55 in ice time (his high for the season, the game after getting just 11:50 in ice time against these same Hurricanes), and while he did not record a point, he had two shots on goal, two hits, a takeaway, and four blocked shots.  More important, Carolina did not score a goal when he was on the ice.  The Caps won, 3-2.

Game to Forget… March 16th vs. Boston.  Wouldn’t you know it, in his next game, Oleksy was the guy burned whenever he was on the ice.  The Caps were missing Mike Green and Tomas Kundratek on the blue line, so Oleksy got a ton of ice time again (24:01).  And he was more active in the offensive end than in his previous game – eight shot attempts, four of them on goal.  But he was on ice for Boston’s first three goals, and on each of them, he was the closest Capital defenseman to the goal scorer.  It was a 4-1 win for the Bruins.

Post Season… The Caps used only six defensemen in the post-season, and as one might expect, Oleksy had the lowest average ice time (15:09 per game).  Then again, only Karl Alzner was on ice for fewer even strength goals (two) than Oleksy (three).  But all of them came in Capital losses, two of them game-winners, one of them when he got lost at the top of the circle and could not get back into the play before Derek Stepan’s game-winner in Game 4, and again in Game 6 when Derick Brassard’s slap shot hit his arm on the way through, the puck angling under goalie Braden Holtby’s glove for the game’s only goal.

In the end…

There is a certain ambivalence that attaches to Oleksy’s season.  On the one hand, his is quite a story – an undrafted, unheralded player (he doesn’t have his own player page at, despite playing 28 games this season, and neither his page nor his page have any of his history other than with the Caps) who is not exactly a youngster (27 years old), getting his shot after years of hard work and performing admirably.  On the other hand, is he a top-six defenseman, not just on this team, but one that aspires to a championship?  That is the uncertainty that comes from a 28-game stint after four years split among three different minor leagues (IHL, ECHL, and AHL).  One is left to wonder if he has reached his upside.  But that is a matter to ponder in September’s training camp.  His 2013 season has to be considered a pleasant surprise, perhaps even lucky.  But that luck comes after a lot of hard, diligent work.

Grade: B

Photo: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Tomas Kundratek

Tomas Kundratek

"If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail."
-- Heraclitus

Raise your hand if you knew in January that Washington Capitals defenseman Tomas Kundratek would record points at an 82-game pace that would be among his best seasons at any level of hockey.  Here was a fellow who was the return package in a trade of “prospects” back in 2011.  We use the quotation marks for “prospects” advisedly, considering that a trade of a disappointing youngster (Francois Bouchard) for what Caps fans might have been forgiven for thinking was little more than a warm body was not among the most newsworthy deals on the NHL ticker in November of 2011.

But here was a player who methodically rose through the tiers of Czech hockey, was drafted by the New York Rangers in the third round of the 2008 entry draft, then came to North America in 2008 to skate for the Medicine Hat Tigers in Canadian juniors.  Kundratek dutifully spent two years in Medicine Hat, then joined the Connecticut Whale in the American Hockey League.  It was in his second year in Connecticut that he got the call – the trade to the Capitals’ organization – upon which he reported to Hershey to skate with the Bears for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season.  During that season he was brought up for a cup o’ coffee – five games – with the Caps.

Fans might not have seen the trail, but Kundratek was following it with diligence. 

The diligence was rewarded, even if it was the product of misfortune.  When Jack Hillen was injured in the Caps’ season opener, Kundratek was recalled from Hershey to replace him.  At the time of his recall Kundratek had already played in 41 games for the Bears, the product of the NHL’s late start to the 2013 season.  And those 41 games presented a mixed case for his promotion.  On the one hand he was 13-13-26 in those games.  On the other hand, he was a minus-13, including a minus-15 during a November in which the Bears went 6-7-0.

His elevation did not do much for his game.  In his first eight games as Hillen’s replacement he was 0-0-0, minus-5.  Then, against Toronto on February 5th, he recorded an assist – his first NHL point.  He recorded another assist in his next game against Pittsburgh.  It was the start of a stretch in which he would record four points (all assists) over five games.  He would go on to go 1-6-7, plus-3 over a 12-game stretch after his eight-game streak without a point to start his season. 

At that point, Kundratek went dormant, failing to record a point in any of his next four games.  The last of those, however, showed a spark that perhaps he was coming out of the slump.  Although he did not record a point in a 4-0 loss to Carolina on March 12th, he did post a team high in shot attempts (eight) and shots on goal (five) in a career high 24:13 of ice time. 

That might have been the high point.  In his next game, also against the Hurricanes, Kundratek got tangled up with Jeff Skinner on his fourth shift of the first period.  He left the contest with a leg injury, his last appearance with the Caps for the 2013 season.

It is hard to remember that Kundratek played in 25 games.  Part of that is the fact that he spent more 5-on-5 ice time with Jeff Schultz – another of the lost brigade of defensemen – than he did with any Caps defenseman except Karl Alzner.  And what a difference a partner makes.  Consider the goals against at 5-on-5.  With Alzner, the GA20 (from was 0.564.  When apart from Alzner, it jumped to 1.093.  A good part of that, no doubt, was his pairing with Schultz for large chunks of ice time.  Kundratek’s GA20 with Schultz was 1.715, while it was only 0.504 when not paired with Schultz.  Those are the numbers of an in-season rookie call up.

Odd Kundratek Stat… In nine games against Southeast Division teams, Kundratek was 0-2-2, minus-1, but the Caps went 7-2-0.  In 16 games against other Eastern Conference teams Kundratek was 1-4-5, minus-4, but the Caps were 4-11-1.

Game to Remember… March 5th vs. Boston.  Eric Fehr got the goal – a “play of the year” candidate, in fact.  But Kundratek got things started on that play, feeding Fehr skating out of the Caps’ zone, who then worked a give-and-go with Nicklas Backstrom before roofing the puck while falling to the ice for the game-winner.  Kundratek got a goal of his own in that game, one that got the Caps to within 3-2 heading into the second intermission.  He had six shot attempts (one on goal for a score), a hit, a takeaway, and a blocked shot to go with his plus-2 in 23 minutes of ice time.  It was his first and, to date, only two-point game in his brief career.

Game to Forget… March 14th vs. Carolina.  Live by the sword, die by it.  He came to the Caps as a result of an injury, and his season ended for the Caps to an injury he sustained just 7:49 into this game.

Post Season… Kundratek was 0-1-1, minus-1 in five games with Hershey.  He did not participate in Washington’s first round loss to the New York Rangers.

In the end… Tomas Kundratek had one of those seasons that fans will think of as being a stepping stone to bigger things, and it might be that.  But on the other hand, he benefited mightily from his pairing with Karl Alzner and had less success with other defensive partners.  There is also the fact that 30 games of NHL experience (25 of them this year) is not a lot to go on when making judgments about his potential for future production. 

Kundratek is a restricted free agent with the end of the 2013 season, and the Caps have a fair number of guys under contract for the next season or two who might be third-pair types at the moment – John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steve Oleksy, Cameron Schilling, Nate Schmidt, and Dmitry Orlov among them.  Is is hard to know where Kundratek falls out in this situation, but one thing he has done is followed a straight and true path to his opportunity in the NHL.  One might not expect him to break through, but then again…

Grade: B-

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Jack Hillen

Jack Hillen

"Each man delights in the work that suits him best."
-- Homer

If you stopped a Washington Capitals fan on the street and asked him or her, “name six Capitals defensemen,” you might hear the name “Jack Hillen,” but if you did, it would not be the first one…or the second…or perhaps even the third.

Those same Caps fans might not know that Hillen finished third among Caps defensemen in goals and points, finished third in plus-minus, was one of only two Capital defensemen with game-winning goals, and had the second best shooting percentage among defensemen.  He did it in only 23 games.  Seven Capital defensemen played in more games in the 2013 season.

What is perhaps more impressive about Hillen’s numbers is that he achieved them largely in the last ten games in which he appeared in the regular season.  His season got off to something less than an auspicious start when he lasted only 3:29 in the season opener, suffering a shoulder injury courtesy of a hit from Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier.  He missed the Caps’ next 25 games, then managed to record only one assist in 12 games after his return.

In his last ten games of the regular season, though, Hillen went 3-5-8, plus-8, while averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game.  Those last ten games reflected a change in pairings for Hillen.  Over the course of the season Hillen spent 90 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time split primarily between two players – John Carlson (53 percent) and Steve Oleksy (37 percent).  It was with Oleksy that Hillen scored all three of his goals and recorded half of his six assists for the season.

What is perhaps surprising is that among Capital defensemen having played in more than five games, Hillen had by far the best goals against/on ice per game, and only John Erskine had a better goals against/on ice per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.  He had more advantageous zone starts (only Tomas Kundratek had a higher percentage of offensive zone starts) and benefited from both better quality of teammates and lesser quality of competition (numbers from  These factors moderate the defensive statistics somewhat, but Hillen could be credited with having taking advantage of those situations.

The “Southeast Division” effect seemed less pronounced with Hillen than with many of his teammates.  That might be as much a function of his missing 25 of the season’s first 26 games, when the Caps struggled (11-14-1 overall, 4-11-1 outside the Southeast Division).  Nevertheless, Hillen was 1-3-4, plus-7, in nine games against the Southeast and 2-3-5, plus-2, in 14 games against other Eastern Conference teams.

Odd Hillen Stat… The Caps were 16-5-2 in games in which Hillen appeared in the 2013 season.  He averaged almost three more minutes of ice time per game in wins (18:31) than he did in losses (15:32).

Game to Remember… April 9th vs. Montreal.  In what amounted to a “statement” game for the Caps – the Caps had gone 22 straight games without winning a game against a playoff qualifier in regulation time – Hillen assisted on the go-ahead goal and scored the game-winner himself in the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Canadiens at Bell Centre.  The two points for Hillen gave him four over two games, the first time he accomplished that feat in his career.

Game to Forget… January 19th vs. Tampa Bay.  Sure, it was a modest contract by free agency standards – a one-year deal for $650,000 – but there is still the desire to impress one’s new employers that they are getting value for their dollar.  Hillen lasted six shifts in his first game.  His first shift ended after 13 seconds when the Lightning took a penalty, and the power play unit came on for the Caps.  His second shift ended after 44 seconds when Vincent Lecavalier scored for the Lightning to make the score 2-1, Tampa Bay.  His fifth shift lasted four seconds when the Lightning took another penalty, and his sixth – and last shift for the evening – lasted 30 seconds until Lecavalier deposited Hillen into the boards, ending his night and putting him out for the next 25 games.

Post Season… In a sense the Capitals were exposed through Hillen’s production in their seven-game series against the Rangers.  He is not a shutdown defenseman, but rather one who can chip in support minutes against lesser competition among his team’s opponents and who can contribute on the offensive end.  Against the Rangers, Hillen contributed little offense – one assist and only seven shots on goal.  In one of the stranger playoff facts, Hillen was on ice for five goals against in the series, all of them in losses and three of them being game-winning goals by the Rangers.  The depth that Hillen seemed to provide in the regular season was not as evident in the series against New York.

In the end…

It is hard to know what to make of Hillen’s year.  Losing more than the first half of the season to injury while trying to find a place on a new team with a new coach is not the easiest way to make a living, but Hillen produced in the second half, and especially down the stretch when his health returned.  The post-season is troubling, though.  It raises the question whether the Capitals have sufficient depth on defense.  Not the sort of depth that a 7/8 defenseman can provide in the event of injury, but whether the Caps have it on the three skating pairs.  Injury did affect the mix, primarily Dmitry Orlov losing almost the entire season to the effects of a concussion.  But while a third pair of Jack Hillen and Steve Oleksy makes a pretty good regular season story, in the merciless cauldron of playoff hockey, it can be – and was – exposed just enough to help send the Capitals packing after the first round.

Grade: B-

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Washington Capitals: 2012-2013 By the Tens -- Defensemen: Mike Green

Mike Green

"Happiness is brief. It will not stay. God batters at its sails."
-- Euripides

Over the last five years the NHL scheduled 376 regular season games per team.  Mike Green played in 259 of them – 69 percent.  That includes the 35 games he played of a 48-game season in 2013 – 73 percent.  Those 35 games played in 2013 did not prevent Green from leading all NHL defensemen in goals scored (12), his best goals-per-game pace since he recorded 31 goals in 68 games during his Norris Trophy-nomination season in 2008-2009.

But as much as the goals, it was the missed time – again – due to “lower body injury” issues. Green missed 13 games this season to those issues, likely an extension of the groin injury issues that have been the primary reason for his missing 55 of the last 116 regular season games played by the Washington Capitals.

One wonders what wonders a healthy Green could do for the Caps.  In the 13 games he missed, the team was 6-7-0 and averaged 2.69 goals scored per game.  In the 35 games in which Green appeared the team was 21-11-3 and averaged 3.17 goals per game.  13 games of a decent, but not extraordinary offensive production (2.69 goals per game would have finished 11th in the league in scoring offense), 35 games of superior production (3.17 goals per game would have finished second).

And nowhere was Green’s absence more keenly felt than on the power play.  In the 13 games Green missed the Caps were 10-for-44 with the man advantage, a 22.7 percent conversion rate.  That was actually quite good, a conversion rate that would have finished third in the league over a full season.  But with Green in the lineup for 35 games the Caps converted power plays at a 28.3 percent rate (34-for-120), and their 20-for-65 conversion rate for power plays after he returned to the lineup for good on March 21st was a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate.  He had a hand in ten of those 20 power play goals (3-7-10).  Green was on ice for 15 of those 20 power play goals including the last 14 power play goals scored by the Caps in the regular season.

That power play performance is one side of a coin, though.  Over the last three seasons, only 10 of Green’s 23 goals have come at 5-on-5.  His shooting percentage is 6.29 percent over that span, which is almost what it is over the last six years combined (6.36 percent).  What Green had been experiencing at 5-on-5 in recent years leading up to this season is a steadily dropping shooting percentage at 5-on-5 – 7.89 percent in 2008-2009, 6.80 percent in 2009-2010, 5.45 percent in 2010-2011, and 0.00 percent in 2011-2012 when he did not record a 5-on-5 goal on 45 shots.  The 2013 season was a nod from the gods in a sense, his seven 5-on-5 goals on 59 shots (11.86 percent) representing his career high in 5-on-5 shooting percentage, following his career low (0.00 percent).

Part of Green’s problem is that he appears to be the sort of offensive defenseman who flourishes with a dependable defensive anchor.  In 2011-2012 most of his 5-on-5 time was spent with Roman Hamrlik (53 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time).  Another 27 percent of his ice time was spent with Jeff Schultz, a partner with whom he did well in the past, but a player who struggled in the ice time that he received in 2011-2012. 

In 2013, 78 percent of Green’s 5-on-5 ice time was spent with Karl Alzner, the epitome of a stay-at-home defenseman.  It did not necessarily lead to a renaissance for Green at 5-on-5, but it was a substantial improvement over his 2011-2012 output.

Odd Green Stat… In his last 15 games of the regular season Green was 9-9-18, yet he was still minus-5.  Part of that is the fact that Green was 4-7-11 on the power play in those games.  On the other hand, he was on ice for 14 of the 26 even strength goals scored against Washington in those games.

Game to Remember… April 27th vs. Boston.  Mike Green had not recorded a three-point game since October 22, 2011, in a 7-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, a span of 59 games.  But on the last day of the regular season Green had a hand in all three goals in a 3-2 overtime win over the Boston Bruins.  With Boston holding a 2-0 lead in the third period Green got the Caps on the board with a power play goal.  Less than two minutes later he tied the contest when he started and then finished a play, skating out from behind his own net to start up ice, finding Mike Ribeiro with a long lead pass, then taking the return from Ribeiro to one-time the puck past gowlie Tuukka Rask.  Green then helped ice the game in overtime when, on a power play (of course), he fired a shot that handcuffed Rask.  Eric Fehr swooped in to backhand the puck past Rask for the win.

Game to Forget… April 18th vs. Ottawa.  The Caps went into Ottawa on April 18th riding an eight-game winning streak.  It would not reach nine.  Ottawa scored just 75 seconds into the game, Green getting a good view of Kyle Turris’ tally.  He got another good view of an Ottawa goal when Braden Holtby passed the puck right onto the stick of Cory Conacher who wasted no time converting.  Then he could only stand and watch as Turris scored an empty net goal with 27 seconds left.  Add to that a tripping penalty he took, and it was more a fishing trip – fishing pucks out of the Caps’ net – than it was a hockey game for Green.  He finished a season-worst minus-3, although he was more bystander than actively at fault for any of the three goals for the Senators.

Post Season… Mike Green’s post season was a microcosm of his – and the Caps’ – season.  In Game 1-4 he was 2-2-4, plus-3, and part of a ten-goal output.  Certainly not bad against a goalie with the stature of Henrik Lundqvist.  But in Games 5-7 Green was 0-0-0, minus-3 (all of that minus-3 coming in the disaster that was Game 7), part of a meager two-goal output for the team, both goals coming in Game 5, the Caps’ last win of the season.  And this illustrates a disturbing trend.  In the last five seven-game series in which the Caps have played, Green has played all 15 of the Games 5-7.  In those games he is 1-2-3, minus-5.  If he is the catalyst for much of what the Caps do offensively, the reaction has lacked a certain exothermic quality in those situations.

In the end…

The Caps are a better team with Mike Green in the lineup than they are in his absence.  Their power play hums, they pose a more consistent threat offensively.  He remains one of the best skaters, puck carriers, and offensive defensemen in the league (when he is healthy).  But the flip side of that is that when he is not on top of his game, the Caps sputter.  And this has become a bit of an issue late in seven-game series.  It was the case this spring when Green – and the Caps – went utterly silent in Games 6 and 7 against the Rangers.

Green is not asked to be a shut-down defenseman, although he was on ice for only two of the 11 even strength goals the Rangers scored in the first six games of the series.  Green’s role is to be the spark, the quarterback, the guy who can skate out of his own end or make a calm, well placed first pass to start play in the other direction.  He is the guy who can finish from the blue line.  But he has to do that in the most urgent of situations.  And it is not happening for him any more than it is for any of his teammates.  If that does not change, things will not change.

Grade: B

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America