Saturday, June 30, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

“There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”
-- Salvador Dali

In our prognosto for Alex Ovechkin last September we wrote…
“…time plays no favorites, and Alex Ovechkin is no exception.  His constitution might push off that reckoning (he appears to be coming to training camp significantly leaner than last season), but it will come, and his production will diminish, if it has not started to already.  It makes George Bernard Shaw’s comment about time especially noteworthy.  Is there enough time for Ovechkin to realize the last of the great achievements available to an NHL player?”

The short answer to that last question is, obviously, “yes.”  After ten trips to the postseason and 120 games, Ovechkin finally got to accept the Stanley Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman after his 121st postseason game and skate it around the rink as a champion.

It was the exclamation point on quite a season for Ovechkin.  In his 13th NHL season he won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for the seventh time, falling just one goal short of what would have been his eighth season of 50 or more goals.  As it was, Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record at least 49 goals having reached the age of 32 and only the second since 1975.

It was a season that was part “hot start” and part “Mr. Consistency.”  The hot start was scoring seven goals in his first two games and recording three hat tricks 25 games into the season, a total that only two other players would match over the entire season (Connor McDavid and Alex DeBrincat).  The consistency part came mostly in the second half of the season.  In his last four ten-game segments, Ovechkin scored six goals three times and seven once (that coming in the last, 12-game segment).  As it was, he scored 26 goals in the first 41 games of the season, 23 in the last 41 games.

That consistency extended to his performances at home and on the road.  In 41 home games, Ovechkin had 26 goals, while he had 23 in 41 road games.  His point totals at home (44) and on the road (43) were almost identical.

Another number that stands out is his assist total.  He had 38 helpers in 2017, his highest assist total since he had 53 in 2010-2011.  He had four three-assist games, a total exceeded by only five other players in the league. And being a helper mattered.  The Caps were 20-5-2 in the 27 games in which Ovechkin recorded an assist.  They were 9-3-1 when Ovechkin recorded at least one assist without scoring a goal himself.

Ovechkin did all this while averaging 20:09 in ice time.  That was the third lowest of his career, although it was almost two minutes more than he averaged last season (18:22, the lowest of his career).  And, as it turned out, less Ovechkin was more Ovechkin.  In 30 games in which he skated less than 19:30, he was 24-17-41, plus-12, and the Caps were 22-6-2. 

Fearless’ Take… For being one of the most physical players in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin has demonstrated remarkable durability.  The 2017-2018 season was his fifth NHL season in which he dressed for every game (including the abbreviated 48-game season of 2012-2013), and the first time he dressed for every game in consecutive seasons since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons.  Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, only five players have appeared in more regular season games than the 1,003 in which Ovechkin appeared.  That Ovechkin has missed a total of 29 games over his 13-year career is among the most remarkable numbers in his career (14 to injury, eight to suspensions, three to personal reasons, four other). 

Then there is the matter of his being “selfish” as a product of taking all those shots.  He did lead the league with 355 shots on goal, but that was the third-lowest total for a full 82-game season in his career.  And, it isn’t as if his not shooting helped the club.  In the 22 games in which he recorded more than five shots on goal, the Caps were 22-6-0; they were 11-6-2 in the 19 games in which he recorded two or fewer shots.

Cheerless’ Take… Kinder and gentler Ovechkin.  He had 12 games with four or more credited hits, and the Caps were 7-4-1.  In 22 games he was not credited with a hit (22?...really??) the Caps were 15-5-2.  And the thing is, he was 18-17-35, plus-7 in those 22 games.  His 139 credited hits was the lowest of his career for a full 82-game season and was only 19 more than he had in the 48-game season in 2012-2013.  And, his 32 penalty minutes was the second-lowest total he had for a full season in his career (26 PIMs in 78 games in 2011-2012).  He even had more in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season (36 PIMs in 48 games).

Odd Ovechkin Fact… Ovechkin had 21 blocked shots in 16 games this season (the third-lowest blocked shots total of his career for a full 82-game season).  The Caps were 14-1-1 in those games. 

Game to Remember… October 7th vs Montreal

Coming into this season, no player in the NHL had more four-goal games since 2005-2006 than Alex Ovechkin.  Two of them came on home ice, one of those against the Montreal Canadiens in January 2008.  That was until the home opener of the 2017-2018 season.  Having recorded a hat trick in the season opener in Ottawa in a 5-4 Gimmick win against the Senators, Ovechkin already started the season as hot as a firecracker. 

Just 20 seconds into this game, he was a blowtorch.   With the puck squirting loose from a clot of players out of the high slot, it slid to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle.  He spun and fired a shot that goalie Carey Price looked as if he was not expecting, and his glove was late in stopping the shot, and the Caps were off and running.  He scored again just over two minutes later on a power play to give the Caps a 3-0 lead, and then he completed the hat trick in his second straight game with 1:50 left in the first period.  After the Habs got on the scoreboard in the fifth minute of the second period, Ovechkin restored the four-goal lead later in the period, finishing his scoring for the night with four goals in a span of 36:26 in what would be a 6-1 Capitals win. 

As it turns out, Ovechkin is the only player since the 2005-2006 season to score four goals against Montreal and has done it twice.  The last player to score four goals against the Canadiens not named “Ovechkin” was John LeClair, who scored four for the Philadelphia Flyers in a 6-2 win over Montreal in January 2002.

Game to Forget…  October 14th at Philadelphia

Alex Ovechkin has had generally good luck against the Philadelphia Flyers.  Coming into this season he was 31-21-52 in 45 career games against the Flyers.  The game on October 14th in Philadelphia did not add to the luster of his body of work against the Flyers.  He was on ice for the first Flyers’ goal that opened the scoring.  Then, after the Caps tied the game, he was on ice for the tie-breaking goal, a shorthanded strike with the Caps on a power play.  And it just didn’t stop.  The Flyers scored eight times on that night, and Ovechkin was on the ice for five of them in an 8-2 loss.  What made it more frustrating was his team-leading six shots on goal and ten shot attempts in less than 15 minutes of work.  He finished with no goals and no points to go along with his minus-4, a season-worst.


From 2008 through 2017, Alex Ovechkin appeared in the postseason nine times.  His 97 games played in that span was tied for 34th in the league in that period.  Nevertheless, he was tied for fourth in goals (46), tied for 19th in assists (44), eighth in points (90), tied for sixth in power play goals (15), tied for 13th in game-winning goals, second in goals-per-game (0.47), and tenth in points per game (0.93).  Back to those games.  In that span of years, the Caps played 97 times in the postseason.  Ovechkin did not miss a game. 

Shorter version – his numbers out-performed his games played in terms of ranking.  And yet, he was viewed widely, if not universally, as a postseason failure for not having advanced past the second round of the playoffs.  It was an exceptionally stark contrast to that of his nemesis, Sidney Crosby, who advanced out of the second round four times in the same span of years, reaching the Stanley Cup final in each of those instances and winning three times.

That was then, and 2018 was an entirely different story with an entirely different ending.  Ovechkin was a model of consistency in the postseason.  He had goals in 13 of the 24 games (only two players – Ovechkin and Mark Scheifele – had 13 or more goals in total), points in 19 of them.  He did not have consecutive games without a point, and only twice did he go more than one game without a goal (the last three games against Pittsburgh and Games 3 and 4 against Tampa).

What is more remarkable is Ovechkin’s consistency across series.  Here is how his scoring line breaks down across the four series:
  • Round 1 vs. Columbus: Six games, 5-3-8, minus-1
  • Round 2 vs. Pittsburgh: Six games, 4-4-7, plus-4
  • Round 3 vs. Tampa Bay: Seven games, 4-3-7, plus-2
  • Round 4 vs. Vegas: Five games, 3-2-5, plus-3

Seven of his 15 goals gave the Caps a lead in games, and three of those were the game’s first goal.  And there was an efficiency to the goal scoring.  Ovechkin scored a goal in each of the games in which he skated less than 18:30 in ice time, and the Caps won all eight games.  That ice time was something managed effectively for Ovechkin, whose 20:09 in average ice time for game was lower than all but two postseasons (19:48 in 2012 and 18:22 in 2017).

It was a winning formula.  Ovechkin led the league in goals scored in the postseason 15, the most in a single postseason since Crosby had 15 in 2009.  You would have to go back to 1996 to find a player who had more goals in a postseason (Joe Sakic had 18 goals in 26 games).  His six power play goals tied for the league lead and was the highest total since Evgeni Malkin had seven in 2009.

The numbers that mattered though were four, 16, and one.  Ovechkin and the Caps navigated through four rounds and 16 wins so he could carry what only one captain gets to accept from the Commissioner…

It would be one of several trophies Ovechkin earned or left a mark this season…

…but it is the Stanley Cup that one imagines it will never cease to be a source of satisfaction for Alex Ovechkin.

Photos: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America / Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
-- Frederick Douglass

If the NHL had an “effort-per-pound” statistic in the NHL, T.J. Oshie might be among the league leaders.  He is absolutely fearless in playing above his size (5’11”/195) in going to the hard areas of the ice and trying to impose his physical will on opponents.  It is a hard way to make a living.  That he missed only 24 games in his three seasons as a Washington Capital says something about his toughness, but 22 of those games came in the last two seasons, eight of them in 2017-2018.

The physical wear and tear as a result of his style of play might have contributed to a fall-off in goal production from a career high 33 in 2016-2017.  His 18 goals in 74 games this season were Oshie’s fewest in three years as a Capital and the lowest goal total posted in a full season since he had 12 in 49 games of the 2010-2011 season with the St. Louis Blues.

And it matters.  Oshie scored goals in 14 games this season, and the Caps were 11-1-2 in those games.  Points were weaker as an indicator of success, although the Caps did go 22-9-4 in the 35 games in which he recorded a point.

But back to the grittership.  Oshie tied Alex Ovechkin for third among the club’s forwards in hits-per-game (1.7).  His 124 credited hits made it four times in ten seasons in which he was credited with at least 100 hits.  He tied Tom Wilson for third among that group in blocked shots-per-game (0.7).  His total of 54 blocked shots made five seasons in ten in which he had at least 50.  And though he is nominally a right winger, he took 211 draws for the Caps (fifth on the team) and won 47.9 of them. 

There were numbers that might have raised some concerns about Oshie and whether he might be feeling some effects of his style of play.  He posted six goals in his first eight games this season.and ten in his first 21 games.  However, he followed up that start with just two goals in his next 42 games, perhaps affected by the apparent concussion he suffered against the San Jose Sharks on December 4th.

Then there was the Gimmick.  Oshie is one of the most effective practitioners of the dark arts of the trick shot phase of the game.  In his nine-year career before this season, no player among the 135 taking at least 25 shots in the freestyle phase had a better shooting percentage than Oshie (54.9 percent on 39-for-71 shooting).  It made his 1-for-4 performance this season a bit out of place.

Fearless’ Take… T.J. Oshie is counted on to be a goal-scorer for this club.  His injury-influenced 18-goal total might have been a bit disappointing, coming off his 33-goal season a year previously, but Oshie contributes in many ways.  For instance, he belongs to a select, if odd club this season.  Only five players in the league were credited with at least 100 hits, took at least 100 faceoffs, recorded at least 50 takeaways, and had at least 50 blocked shots.  Oshie was one of them (Blake Coleman, Gabriel Landeskog, Vincent Trocheck, and Jamie Benn were the others).

Cheerless’ Take… T.J. Oshie’s season had a strange quality to it if you think of him as being a rambunctious player (like the big word, cuz?).  In 21 games, Oshie had three or more shot on goal, but the Caps were just 11-6-4 in those games.  In 17 games he had three or more credited hits, but the Caps were just 7-8-2 in those games.  Washington was just 5-7-2 in 14 games in which he had two or more blocked shots.  Frisky Oshie was not necessarily Effective Oshie.  And, the Caps were just 7-6-2 in games in which Oshie skated more than 20 minutes; they were 6-2-0 in games in which he skated less than 16 minutes.

Odd Oshie Fact… Oshie wears number 77 on his jersey.  He has 77 goals as a Capital, and he has 77 assists with the club in his three seasons.

Game to Remember… Usually, it would be a regular season game we would describe here, but this image with his father after the Stanley Cup clinching game -- well, it’s what kids play for…

Game to Forget… December 4th vs. San Jose

Thirteen shifts, 10 minutes and change in ice time, one shot attempt (blocked), one hit, one takeaway.  And then there was this…

…he sat out the last 23:26 of the game and was out of the lineup for the six games that followed.  It was his lowest ice time of the season, one of 15 games without a shot on goal, one of only five games in which he did not take a faceoff.  The Caps won the game, 4-1, but Oshie might not remember much of it.  Nor might he want to.  Not for anything negative in his performance; it was just one of those nights when things go bad just before they get worse.

Postseason… The rap on Oshie when he was with the St. Louis Blues was that his postseason production was lacking.  In 30 playoff games over five seasons, he went just 5-4-9, minus-12.  This has not been a problem with the Caps.  In 49 postseason games with Washington, he is 18-25-43, plus-9.  And, he has improved his numbers in each of his three postseasons with the Caps, culminating in a 8-13-21, plus-5, scoring line this spring.  His six power play goals not only led the league in the postseason (tied with Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos), it eclipsed his total of five power play goals in 55 playoff games before this season.

Oshie had two game-winning goals, each of which came in pivotal games in their respective series.  He had the game-winner in a 4-1 Game 4 win in Columbus against the Blue Jackets to send that series back to Washington tied and with the Caps regaining a home-ice advantage after dropping Games 1 and 2 at home.  He also had a game-winner in the 3-0 win in Washington in Game 6 against the Lightning to force a seventh game in Tampa. Both game-winners came on power plays.

Oshie was especially lethal on home ice in the postseason, recording six of his eight goals at Capital One Arena and recording points in eight of the 11 games played on that ice sheet.  But the one very odd statistic that jumps off the page is that the Caps were 7-1 in games in which Oshie recorded one or no shots on goal.

In the end…

T.J. Oshie has had rather consistent numbers in St. Louis and Washington in the regular season – 310 points in 444 games with the Blues and 154 points in 222 games with the Caps.  But when Oshie signed an eight-year/$46 million deal with the Caps that started in the 2017-2018 season it was with bigger contributions in mind, and we don’t mean three-point games in January.

He delivered.  Third on the team in goals in the postseason, fourth in assists, fourth in points, tied for the top spot in power play goals, fourth in power play points, fourth in shots on goal, fifth in hits, sixth in blocked shots, second in takeaways, Oshie was all over the score sheets and the statistical tables.

That Oshie plays the game with such brio at his rather average size for an NHLer makes the game a struggle at times.  He has never appeared in more than 80 games in a season (he appeared in 80 games twice in ten seasons) and more at least 75 games only four times.  But those setbacks have not kept him from contributing when he is on the ice, and he finally found his postseason spark this year.  With the struggle did come progress.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Andre Burakovsky scored a goal in his first game, in his fourth shift as a Washington Capital in the home opener to the 2014-2014 season.  In retrospect, it was perhaps not the best thing that might have happened to him.  The 23rd overall pick of the 2013 entry draft, he bypassed the AHL and went from Canadian junior hockey to the NHL at the age of 19.  When he scored that goal in the 2014-2015 season opener, he became the fourth-youngest Capital to score a goal in the NHL in more than 25 years (only Connor Carrick, Tom Wilson, and Jan Bulis scored goals when younger than Burakovsky).

Since then, Burakovsky has been equal parts frustration and enigma.  The frustrating part is what has become a persistent propensity for injuries.  He missed 15 games of the 2016-2017 season to a hand injury, missed another 20 games to a broken thumb this past season, and then he missed ten games of the postseason this year to an upper body injury.

The enigma part is his not being immune from the healthy scratch due to inconsistent play.  This season was no exception to the inconsistent play issue.  He had one goal in his first 14 games. He had an eight-game streak without a point in games straddling the old and new year of the season.  He had one goal in a 14-game stretch over a month from late-February to late-March. 

What it meant for Burakovsky in the 2017-2018 season is another drop in his top end numbers over his last three seasons.  Two years ago, he had 17 goals in 79 games.  Last season it was 12 goals in 64 games.  This season it was 12 goals in only 56 games.  The points exhibited similar declines, from 38 two years ago to 35 last season to 25 this season.  This came despite increases in ice time.  He averaged 13:01 in 79 games two years ago, 13:16 in 64 games last season, and he averaged 13:50 in 56 games this season.

His injuries in in 2017-2018 season make it hard to evaluate his ten-game segments.  For example, he appeared in only one game in the second and third segments, combined (Game 30).  However, he did miss only one game in the last three segments, and he did show some improvement from segment to segment in points recorded.  The number that stands out, though, is that plus-10 in his last segment (covering 12 games).  That and his recording four of his five game-winning goals for the season. 

Fearless’ Take… Getting and keeping Burakovsky in the lineup matters.  He provided the kind of bridge scoring that supports success.  The Caps were 9-1-1 in games in which he recorded a goal and 14-2-2 in games in which he recorded a point.  It wasn’t much different from his 2016-2017 numbers – 7-1-3 when he scored a goal, 21-2-3 when he scored a point.  When he is on his game, he is a potent offensive weapon.

Cheerless’ Take… Yeah, well, about that.  He’d better be contributing offense, because if he isn’t then there doesn’t seem to be a lot there.  Oh, sure, the numbers folks love his possession numbers, but here’s the thing.  Of the 56 games he played this season, his on-ice shot attempts-for percentage at 5—on-5 was 50 percent or better in 37 games.  The Caps were 19-14-4 in those games.  Is he sacrificing outcomes (goals/points) for outputs (shot attempt numbers)?  That might not be the way to frame tine issue, but there does seem to be a disconnect there.

Odd Burakovsky Fact… Andre Burakovsky ranks third on the all-time list of Austrian-born players in career points.  He has a way to go to get to second place. 

Game to Remember… December 19th at Dallas

The Stars have never been especially hospitable to the Caps, whether in their first incarnation in Minnesota as the North Stars, or in Dallas in their current incarnation.  Going into this season the Caps had a lifetime record of 14-26, with eight ties, against the Stars.  This year, however, the Caps were on a run when they descended on Dallas, taking a record of 10-2-0 in their previous dozen games into the December 19 contest against the Stars.  Andre Burakovsky did not have a lot of experience against the Stars, but what he had was rather good: 1-4-5, plus-3, in five games.

Burakovsky opened the scoring, finishing a 3-on-2 rush, taking a cross-ice feed from Brett Connolly and beating goaltender Ben Bishop on the long side at the 10:55 mark.  Dallas would come back to take the lead and then take it again when the Caps tied the game on a second period goal from Dmitry Orlov.  Late in the third period, though, Burakovsky returned the favor to Connolly, sending a pass out from the corner to Connolly easing down the slot.  Connolly’s one-timer beat Bishop with just 3:26 left in regulation. 

That sent the teams to overtime.  With the teams playing 3-on-3, Burakovsky sent a pass from the right point to John Carlson on the left point.  Circling to the top of the zone, Carlson dropped the puck to Burakovsky circling behind him in the opposite direction.  He went wide of Jason Spezza trying to close off the middle, and before Esa Lindell could move across to get into his path, Burakovsky unleashed a shot that beat Bishop cleanly on the far side, and the Caps had a 4-3 overtime win to extend their winning streak to a season-tying high (to that point) of four games.  For Burakovsky, it was his only two-goal game of the season and his only three-point contest of the season, despite skating just 13:18 in ice time.

Game to Forget… December 27th at New York Rangers

The first game after Christmas was a frustrating one for the Caps, as a team and individually.  The Caps might have thought they were getting a night off, since they would face backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec instead of Henrik Lundqvist.  For Pavelec it was his first work in more than two weeks, but the time off did not seem to affect him.  He stopped all 30 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, through which the teams remained scoreless.  In the Gimmick he stopped T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin while Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad beat Philipp Grubauer to give the Rangers a 1-0 win.  For Burakovsky, it was a lost evening, more or less.  He skated a team-low 8:28 (also a team-low 39 seconds per shift) and had one shot on goal.

Postseason… Andre Burakovsky had yet to make a mark in the postseason in three tries, going 6-4-10, plus-6, in 36 games, and 2018 was little different, but for different reasons.  In Game 2 of the opening round series against Columbus, he took a check from Boone Jenner and suffered an upper body injury in the exchange.  He left having skated just five shifts and 2:12 in ice time.  He would not return to the ice until Game 1 of the conference final against Tampa Bay.  He did not record a point in the first four games of the series and sat for Game 5. Burakovsky returned for Game 6 but skated just nine shifts and 7:31 in ice time, both team lows. 

If Burakovsky was saving it up for something, he cashed it in for Game 7 against the Lightning.  With the Caps holding a 1-0 lead in the second period in Tampa, he scored goals less than eight minutes apart to turn a nail-biter into a more comfortable lead.  The Caps won, 4-0, to reach the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history.  The finals did not feature any Burakovsky goals, but he did have four assists in five games in the Caps’ Cup-clinching series against the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the end…

One gets the feeling that if Andre Burakovsky could remain healthy for a full season, he might eventually figure the rest of his game out and be a foundational component of this team.  It is also important to keep in mind that he will not turn 24 years of age until next February.  And, looking at his overall numbers in four years, he is averaging 16-23-39, plus-10 per 82 games, which is decent production for largely third line responsibilities and averaging 13 minutes and change in ice time.  This argues for patience.

On the other hand, his numbers, both in terms of games played and production, have dropped over the last three seasons, and he still seems prone to being largely invisible over chunks of the schedule.  In that sense, given that he has more than 250 regular season and 49 games of postseason experience, he needs to step up his game.  As he enters the last year on his current contract (he will be a restricted free agent after the 2018-2019 season) his career is coming up to a crossroads – does he take the next step to being a productive top-six quality forward, or will he continue to exhibit the injury tendencies and inconsistencies of the last three seasons?

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov

“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”
-- Bill Bradley

Evgeny Kuznetsov has spent a good part of his career a bit behind himself, trying to catch up with his considerable talent.  It started with the 2010 NHL entry draft.  Going into the draft, Kuznetsov was the third-ranked European skater according to Central Scouting, behind Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.  However, he slipped to 26th in the first round, taken by the Washington Capitals.  Then there was the matter of coming to North America after that draft.  Kuznetsov would play four more seasons with Chelyabinsk Traktor in the KHL before he came across to North America at the end of the 2013-2014 season as a 21-year old.  He appeared in 17 games at the end of that season, offering the occasional glimpse into his offensive repertoire, finishing 3-6-9.

His next three seasons were a jumble of inconsistencies.  He showed improvement in the regular season in the two full seasons following his brief first-taste of the NHL, increasing his goals to 11, and then to 20 the following year, and increasing his points to 37 in his first full season, and then to 77 the year after that.  His postseasons did not measure up, though.  He did have five goals in 14 games in his first postseason appearance in 2015, but he had only one goal and two points in 12 games in the 2016 postseason.  In 2016-2017, he took a step back in his regular season numbers, posting 19 goals and 57 points, a 20-point drop from the previous season.  But he did offer a look at coming attractions when he went 5-5-10 in 13 games of the 2017 playoffs.

In 2017-2018, it all came together for Kuznetsov.  It started with time on ice.  Kuznetsov averaged 18:49 per game, more than a minute more than his previous high (17:25 per game in 2016-2017).  He skated an average of 15:18 per game at even strength, a number topped only by Alex Ovechkin among forwards (15:55).  He assumed the top line center duties as the pivot on the Ovechkin line. 

And his performance numbers reflect the added responsibility.  His 27 goals were a career high and second-most on the team.  His 56 assists were one short of his career best (57 in 2015-2016) and were tied with Evgeni Malkin for 14th in the league.  He finished with 83 points, a career-best and 19th in the league, right between John Tavares (84) and Artemi Panarin (82).  Kuznetsov had a career-high seven power play goals, a career-best 23 power play assists (tied for 14th in the league), a career-best 30 power play points.

With respect to his “tens,” Kuznetsov started and ended strong.  He had an amazing 12 assists in his first ten games, corresponding to the fast goal-scoring start his linemate Alex Ovechkin had.  He eased off a bit over his next two segments, Points-wise, even as his goal totals ramped up.  The point totals dropped a bit in the mid-season portion of the schedule, but he closed with a rush.  Kuznetsov had 14 points in each of his last two segments, made even more amazing in that he missed three games in this last stretch of the season.  The 28 points in 19 games was a 121-point pace over a full season.

Fearless’ Take… It might not sound like much, but Kuznetsov is just the 14th player in Caps history to record two or more seasons with more than 75 points, and he is just one of four with two or more such seasons since the 2004-2005 lockout (Alex Ovechkin (9), Nicklas Backstrom (5), and Alexander Semin (2) being the others).  What makes Kuznetsov’s accomplishment stand out is his having done it in only four full seasons.  Already, he ranks 26th in franchise history in assists (185), and he needs just 27 more to jump into the top 20.  Among players appearing in at least 100 games for the franchise, he is 11th in assists per game (0.54), but it would not take a big jump in output next season to pass Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (0.57 per game) for sixth place.  Kuznetsov would still appear to have growing room in his career development arc.

Cheerless’ Take… Over the last four seasons, 217 players have taken at least 1,000 faceoffs.  Kuznetsov is 204th in winning percentage overall (44.2), 206th in even strength faceoff winning percentage (44.4 percent), 211th in power play faceoff winning percentage (41.4 percent).  And Kuznetsov slid some in his possession numbers.  His even strength Corsi-for at even strength of 48.6 percent was almost four points lower than in 2016-2017 (52.2 percent), and his Corsi-relative at evens dropped from plus-1.2 (itself a drop from plus-3.3 in 2015-2016) to plus-0.5 in 2017-2018.  His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio also slipped, from 0.73 in 2016-2017 to 0.67 this season.  Creativity seems to come with a measure of risk with Kuznetsov.

Odd Kuznetsov Fact… Blocking shots really isn’t Kuznetsov’s thing, but when he did get in the way of shots, it was generally part of a happy evening.  The Caps were 17-2-2 in the 21 games in which he blocked a shot.  As far as the grittership goes, there are limits, though.  Washington was just 6-6-1 in games in which he had at least two credited hits.

Game to Remember… October 7th vs. Montreal

There might have been no other game Evgeny Kuznetsov has played for the Capitals stranger than the one he played in the home opener of the 2017-2018 season.  It was a night largely remembered for the four goals Alex Ovechkin recorded against the Montreal Canadiens, coming on the heels of his hat trick in the season opener in Ottawa two days earlier against the Senators.  But for every goal, or for most of them, anyway, there is someone setting them up.  And there was Kuznetsov serving up pucks faster than a bartender schlepping drinks at happy hour.

It started just 20 seconds into the game.  Kuznetsov gathered a loose puck along the right wing wall and flung it to the middle, where Jakub Vrana redirected it to Ovechkin cutting across behind him.  Ovechkin spun and sent a shot that sailed over goalie Carey Price’s glove to give the Caps the early lead.  After T.J. Oshie scored just 26 seconds later, the Caps found themselves on a power play.  Kuznetsov found Ovechkin when he walked in at the right wing circle to lure the defense to him, and with a passing lane created found Ovechkin on a cross-ice pass for a one-timer to make it 3-0 just 2:51 into the game.

Late in the period, Kuznetsov took a pass from Aaron Ness at the top of the left wing circle and fired a shot ticketed for the short side of the net to Price’s right.  Ovechkin got the blade of his stick on the puck as it was heading through and redirected it under Price’s blocker to make it 4-0 with 1:50 left in the period.  Late in the second period, with Al Montoya in the Montreal net in relief of Price, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin worked a give-and-go.  Ovechkin left the puck for Kuznetsov curling into the right wing circle.  Kuznetsov returned it to Ovechkin cutting toward the net from the goal line extended to Montoya’s left.  Ovechkin stepped through the top of the crease and backhanded a shot that trickled under Montoya and in to make it a 5-1 game 16:46 into the period. 

In a game that the Caps went on to win, 6-1, Kuznetsov had his fifth four-point game as a Capital, his second four-assist game.  What made it strange wasn’t that he did it with just 17:28 in total ice time or that he had his four assists before the second period was over.  What made it strange was that he did it without recording so much as a single shot attempt.  Call it a "Kuznetstrick."

Game to Forget… October 14th at Philadelphia

No one who paid the price of a ticket got a better view of the carnage the Philadelphia Flyers rained on the Capitals in an 8-2 pasting on October 14th than Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps were in Philadelphia trying to improve on a 3-1-1 start to the season, but in doing so they had a bit of difficulty keeping pucks out of their own net, allowing three or more goals in three of the five games played to that point.

That problem expressed itself early for the Caps, who fell behind by a 2-1 margin in the first period.  Kuznetsov was on ice for both goals, one of them a shorthanded goal with 62 seconds left in the period.  He would be left stranded at the Philadelphia blue line as the other four Caps were running around in their own end trying to keep Scott Laughton from gathering a puck goalie Philpp Grubauer came out from his crease to poke away that Laughton deposited into the vacated net.

After Nicklas Backstrom scored a goal mid-way through the second period to get the Caps back to a 4-2 deficit, Kuznetsov looked on from up close when Valteri Filppula scored late in the period to make it a 5-2 game at the second intermission.  He was on the ice when Laughton got his second of the game eight minutes into the third period.  He was on the ice when Claude Giroux closed the scoring with under five minutes left, making it five goals for which Kuznetsov would have an on-ice view in what was an 8-2 Flyers win, the Caps’ worst of the season.  In addition to the five goals-against for which he was on ice, Kuznetsov did get an assist, on a goal by Jakub Vrana in the first period, but he had only one shot attempt (shot on goal), two giveaways, and lost eight of 12 draws.  Yeah, you can safely forget that one.


Evgeny Kuznetsov became the 21st player in NHL history to record 30 or more points in a postseason when he posted 32 in 24 games to lead the league in playoff scoring.  It was only the fifth instance since 2006 that a player finished a postseason with 30 or more points and only the second since 2010 (Logan Couture had 30 points in 2016 for San Jose).  Kuznetsov’s 12 goals was more than his career postseason total (11) in 39 playoff games before this season.  His 20 assists more than doubled his career postseason total before this year (eight).

What was noteworthy about his 2018 postseason performance was its consistency.  He had points in 19 of the 24 games in which he played, held off the score sheet only once in his last 15 games.  The consistency did not keep him from scoring points in bunches.  He had seven multi-point games in the postseason, tied for third (with Nicklas Backstrom and Sidney Crosby) for third-most in the league, behind Alex Ovechkin (eight) and Mark Scheifele (nine).  And, no player had more games with three or more points than Kuznetsov (four), including a pair of four-point games.

And of course, there was this, which put him in a special place in the hearts of Caps fans young and old…

All told, it was a body of work that earned Kuznetsov serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason.  He finished with five of 18 first-place votes and 13 of 18 second-place votes.

In the end…

This is the Evgeny Kuznetsov that Caps fans have been waiting for since he was drafted in 2010.  There are better playmakers, there are more prolific goal scorers, and there are faster and perhaps niftier skaters.  But there are not all that many in any of those categories.  He is as complete an offensive force as there is in the league, combining a creative playmaking touch with a growing assertiveness in putting pucks on net.  Kunzetsov was not just hot to end the season, he was scalding, third-degree burn hot.  Over his last 59 games, including the postseason, he was 26-49-75, plus-17.  That is a 36-68-104, plus-24 pace over 82 games.  Consider in that context that 43 of those 59 games were played against playoff teams.  He didn’t do it facing a bunch of palookas.

It took almost eight years.  Eight years of patience by the Caps organization and their fans, eight years of persistence by the player, but in 2018, Evgeny Kuznetsov arrived.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Lars Eller

Lars Eller

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”
-- Henry David Thoreau

If one looked at the career statistics of Lars Eller coming into this season with the Washington Capitals, one might conclude that he was a pretty good third line player, or even a serviceable second line player.  In eight seasons, he averaged 13-15-28 per 82 games and scored the gamut of special teams points, power play and shorthanded goals and assists.  But still, when one sees that he was the 13th overall pick of the 2007 draft, taken between defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk, one might have wondered if Eller had achieved all such a draft pick should have achieved.  He was a reliable low-teens goal scorer and upper 20’s point producer, but he never scored more than 16 goals in a season, never recorded more than 30 points.

And then there was the 2017-2018 season.  Eller’s first season in Washington, in 2016-2017, was productive to a point, his numbers scoring (12-13-25) being slightly under his career per-82 game pace.  But in his first 53 games, through February 9th, he was already 11-17-28 and matched his best season power play point production with two goals and three assists (he was 1-4-5 on the power play with Montreal in 2012-2013).  The date in important because on February 10th, he signed a five-year/$17.5 million extension with the Caps. 

The new contract could have been interpreted as a bargain in service to stability at the third line center position, since it compensates Eller at the same average annual value ($3.5 million) as the contract that expires with the end of the 2017-2018 season.  It looked like even more of a bargain when Eller posted seven goals and ten points in his last 28 games of the regular season.

Looking at his ten-game segments, the one thing that stands out is how his season cleaves into two halves as far as goal scoring goes.  He had just five goals in his first four ten-game segments, but he closed with 13 in his last four segments.  That second half of the season included ten even strength goals, doubling his first half total, and all three of his power play goals for the season.  He was significantly more efficient in his shooting as well, with a 15.1 percent shooting percentage over his last four segments, compared to the 6.7 percent he recorded in the first four segments.

Fearless’ Take… Eller shattered his career offensive numbers posting a career high in goals with 18 (he had 16 in 2011-2012 with Montreal) and points with 38 (he had 30 in 2012-2013 with the Canadiens).  His 15 even strength goals was a career best, as were his six power play points and 161 shots on goal.  And, buying into the two-way approach the Caps adopted as the season wore on, he had his best year blocking shots (69).

Cheerless’ Take… That minus-6 he had was only worse in two other seasons – 2015-2016 (minus-13) and 2013-2014 (minus-15), both with Montreal.  He was not an especially effective possession player, ranking seventh among Caps forwards appearing in at least 40 games in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.89 percent).  And, being a center on a third line, presumably a checking line trying to deny possession, one might have liked to see better faceoff numbers.  In 63 games in which he took at least ten draws, he was over 50 percent only 25 times.

Odd Eller Fact… “Shooting Eller” equaled Caps success.  Six times this season Eller recorded at least five shots on goal.  The Caps won all of them.  Eller had goals in four of those games.

Game to Remember… November 2nd vs New York Islanders

When the Capitals took the ice on November 2nd against the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena, they just returned from their three-game tour of western Canada, one in which they went 1-2-0 to extend a rough start to the season.  After the trip, the Caps were just 5-6-1 in their first dozen games.  Meanwhile, the Islanders were winners of seven of their first dozen games, and they gave Caps all they might have wanted.  Washington just could not put the visitors away.  Three times the Caps scored, and three times the Islanders tied the game, the last time coming with seven minutes gone in the third period on a goal by Anders Lee, his second of the game.

It looked as if the game might go to overtime and the time grew short in regulation, but the Caps had a chance late.  Brooks Orpik left the puck at his own goal line for John Carlson to circle around the net.  Coming out the other side, he banked a pass off the right wing boards to Tom Wilson in front of the players bench.  Wilson dropped the puck off for Eller cutting through the neutral zone, and Eller hauled it into the Islanders’ end.  With Chandler Stephenson cutting to the net down the middle and presenting a distraction, Eller curled in and snapped a shot that beat goalie Jaroslav Halak over his glove and under the crossbar with just 3:21 left for the game-winning goal in a 4-3 decision.  It was Eller’s second goal of the game and completed what would be his only three-point game of the season and his first as a Capital.  And, it was the last time the Caps were under .500 for the season.

Game to Forget… March 18th at Philadelphia

When the Caps headed up I-95 to Philadelphia on March 18th, they might have been feeling pretty good about themselves.  They were taking a four-game winning streak to Philadelphia, their longest winning streak since a five-game streak straddling the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018.  Eller was doing his part, recording goals in three of the four wins, including his 100th career goal, an empty-netter in a 2-0 win in San Jose against the Sharks. 

The Caps and Flyers fought to a scoreless draw in the first period, but they were clocked by the home team in the second, allowing a Shayne Gostisbehere goal just 2:15 into the period (Eller was on ice) and finding themselves on the short end of a 3-1 margin at the second intermission.  Philly added a fourth goal just 97 seconds into the third to end the competitive portion of the contest (Eller was on ice for that one, too).  Philly won, going away, 6-3, with Eller on the ice for four of the Flyer goals, his minus-4 for the contest being his worst of the season and only the second time he was that low on the plus-minus ledger for a single game with the Caps.


But for one shining season before this one, Lars Eller had his postseason challenges.  In 17 games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, Eller was 5-8-13, plus-6, had a shorthanded goal and his only postseason game winning goal (against Boston in Game 6 in the second round, setting up a Montreal series win in Game 7).  In his other four trips to the playoffs…yeesh.  In 33 games he was 1-9-10, minus-1, his only goal of the shorthanded variety.

Well, that was then, and boy, was this now.  Eller had a fabulous postseason.  Let’s start with the goals.  He set a career best in postseason goals with seven.  The first and last were of the game-winning variety, the first of them in double overtime to give the Caps a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.  With the Caps staring down the barrel of an 0-3 deficit in games if they lost, it is hardly hyperbole to say that Eller’s overtime winner saved the season.  His last was the game-deciding, series-clinching, Cup-winning goal, coming with just 7:37 left in Game 5 that the Caps won, 4-3.  Eller had a third game-winning goal to his credit, coming in Game 2 of the Caps’ conference final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Eller was one of three players in the postseason to record three game-winning goals (Paul Stastny and Nikita Kucherov were the others). 

There were the points.  Eller finished the postseason with a career-best 18, but it was his ability to score in bunches that stood out.  He had four multi-point games that, while tied for 18th in the postseason, was as many as Kucherov (third in the league in the regular season with 100 points) and Steven Stamkos. 

His time on ice was valuable.  The Caps were 11-4 in games in which Eller skated at least 16 minutes, 5-4 in games in which he did not.  He established career high for postseason shots on goal (52), hits (53), takeaways (10), and average time on ice (17:00).  He might not have had a “Conn Smythe” level of postseason, but if there was a “Most Important Player,” he might have been a finalist.

In the end…

Lars Eller’s postseason is a thread that connects many moments, most of them of the game-changing, series-swaying variety.  He displayed an assertiveness that seemed to be lacking in the past, especially when he came up without a goal in the 2017 postseason for the Caps (a common malady among bottom-six forwards last spring).  And his ability to fill in for Nicklas Backstrom on the second line when Backstrom was injured was the sort of “stepping up” that coaches talk about, but rarely occur.  He was a player fully immersed in the present.  For Eller, it might be hard to single out a moment that stands out among the rest.  You might say that he had more than he could count.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly

“Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.”
-- Plato

When Brett Connolly signed a one-year, $850,000 contract with the Washington Capitals In July 2016, he arrived as a player with things to prove.  A sixth-overall draft pick in 2010, he was not able to translate that high selection into impressive numbers on the ice.  He spent three and a half seasons with the team that drafted him – the Tampa Bay Lightning – before he was shipped to Boston for a couple of second round draft picks (you are forgiven if you do not remember the selections as Matthew Spencer and Boris Katchouk).  He spent a year and change in Boston but was unable to put up noteworthy numbers there.

And that brought him to Washington on a one-year “demonstration” deal.  Demonstrate, he did.  In 66 games he recorded a career high 15 goals, a second-best 23 points, and a career best plus-20.  His reward was a two-year deal for $3.0 million.  The next task, then, was to demonstrate that the 2016-2017 season was not a fluke.

It wasn’t.  Getting mostly third-line minutes, Connolly duplicated his 2016-2017 season in goals with 15 in 2017-2018.  He added 12 assists, the second highest total of his career, and chipped in a career best four power play goals.  What was perhaps most amazing about his performance in 2017-2018 is that he took an uncommonly efficient shooting percentage in 2016-2017 (18.5 percent) and improved on it, reaching 22.4 percent this season.  Over his two seasons in Washington, of 1,104 players recording at least 50 shots on goal, Connolly has the fifth-best shooting percentage (22.4 percent).

It made for a consistent season as one looks at his goal production through his ten-game segments.  He failed in only one segment to record at least one goal (the seventh segment, for Games 61-70, which made up the last part of a 15-game goalless streak that would eventually reach 16 games).  He was just as consistent in posting points, with a slight upward trend in his production as he worked his way through the segments.

Fearless’ Take… The Caps got a healthy dose of secondary scoring this season, and Brett Connolly was in the thick of it.  He had points in 25 of the 70 games in which he appeared, and the Caps were 17-5-3 in those games. 

Cheerless’ Take… It was better if Connolly got those points early, cuz, because he didn’t wear well the longer he skated in games.  In 21 games in which he logged at least 13:30 in ice time, the Caps were just 8-11-2.  And the flip side of that “secondary scoring” thing is actually, you know…shooting the puck.  Washington was 15-11-2 in 28 games in which Connolly did not record a shot.

Odd Connolly Fact… The Caps have never lost a game in regulation on home ice when Brett Connolly scores a goal.  They were 12-0-2 in such games.   

Game to Remember… December 14th at Boston

It is not often that a memorable game comes in one where a player fails to record a point, even rarer when that player doesn’t register a single shot attempt.  But sometimes a player contributes in other ways.  The Caps certainly have had the Boston Bruins’ number in recent years, and nothing in this game in mid-December would change that.  The Caps got a pair of goals from an unlikely source – Alex Chiasson – and multiple point nights from Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov.  Connolly’s contributions were of perhaps a more mundane sort, but they left an impression, no doubt.  Against a team for which he played in 76 games over two seasons, he registered four credited hits, tops among forwards for the game, and the Caps won, 5-3, in what was Connolly’s 300th game in the NHL.

Game to Forget… October 26th at Vancouver

Brett Connolly has never had much success against the Vancouver Canucks.  Fortunately, he had not had much opportunity to add to his misery.  Going into Vancouver for a game on October 26th, Connolly was 0-1-1 in six career games against the Canucks.  He had the same scoring line after this game.  In a game that might serve as a thoroughly forgettable experience for the whole squad (the Caps lost, 6-2, after digging themselves a hole by giving up the game’s first five goals), Connolly skated a team-low eight shifts and 5:19 in ice time (his shortest night of work for the season).  He skated one shift in the second period and did not see the ice again, courtesy of an upper-body injury he sustained from a hit by defenseman Erik Gudbranson.  Connolly would miss the next seven games.

Postseason… Connolly took a while to get started on offense in the postseason, recording a lone assist in the six-game first round series against Columbus and getting shut out in points in Game 1 against Pittsburgh in the second round.  But he was a solid contributor starting with an insurance goal in the second period to give the Caps a 3-0 lead in Game 2, a game they would win, 4-1.  Starting with that game, Connolly went 6-2-8, plus-4, in his last 17 postseason games and shot an amazing 28.6 percent.  This despite averaging only 10:49 per game.  It was a far cry from last year’s postseason in which he did not record a point in seven games.

In the end…

Brett Connolly has carved out a productive niche for himself as a third liner who can provide some offensive pop.  He was sixth on the team in goals scored, tied for fifth in power play goals.  He was not an especially effective possession player (he was 15 of 26 skaters appearing in at least 40 games in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5), but he did have a reasonably good takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (0.89) for a player getting third line minutes.  His performance, repeating in many respects his 2016-2017 effort, help the Caps weather the departure of fellow right winger Justin Williams last offseason.  But while his 2017-2018 regular season did look a lot like a repeat of his 2016-2017 regular season, it was his erasing the memory of his 2017 postseason with a much more productive 2018 postseason that will merit repeat viewings.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Washington Capitals: 2017-2018 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Chiasson

Alex Chiasson

“The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.”
-- Benjamin Disraeli

A “journeyman” in sports is that player who is reliable, who can fill in when needed, but rarely has the skill set to have a guaranteed spot in the lineup or is assured of a long tenure in one locale.  It speaks to the need for a certain opportunism needed for when chances present themselves.

Alex Chiasson is a “journeyman” with the noble underpinnings the term implies.  A second round draft pick of the Dallas Stars in 2009, when he signed with the Caps as a free agency just before the start of the 2017-2018 season, he was joining his fourth franchise in six NHL seasons (Ottawa and Calgary being stops on the way between Dallas and Washington).  He came to the Caps on his third one-year contract in three seasons with diminishing levels of compensation ($1.2 million with Ottawa in 2015-2016, $800,000 with Calgary in 2016-2017, and $660,000 with the Caps for this season after being brought in on a professional try-out in early September).  You could say he had incentive, a 27-year old looking for some stability in his career, especially after having a respectable 12-12-24 scoring line with the Calgary Flames in 2016-2017.

Chiasson’s season ended up having an odd quality to it, though.  He dressed for 35 of the team’s first 36 games and 47 of the first 51 games on the schedule.  But he got a sweater for only 14 of the last 31 games.  Not that game frequency seemed to matter; Chiasson still posted consistent, if modest numbers over the first seven of his ten-game segments.  He recorded points in all of them, and he recorded seven goals in his first five segments covering 46 games (a 12-goal pace for a player getting fourth line minutes – 12:17 a game over that span – is a pleasant number).

It is also worth mentioning that Chiasson closed with a rush, going 2-6-8 in his last 13 games.

Fearless’ Take… Alex Chiasson might be thought of as “Jay Beagle-lite” in one respect.  The Caps were 7-1-0 in games in which he scored a goal and 11-1-2 in games in which he registered a point.  The power of secondary scoring.  And, getting ice time was a good thing (do the “four-line roll”…cha-cha-cha).  Washington was 26-7-2 in games in which he skated at least 11:45 in ice time, 11-12-3 in games in which he did not.

Cheerless’ Take… Here’s a weird number for Chiasson.  Of 311 forwards taking at least 40 faceoffs this season, he was 306th in faceoff winning percentage (11-for-41/26.8 percent). Of 392 forwards appearing in at least 40 games, he was 360th in shots on goal per game (0.97).  In that same group he was 377th in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.79 percent).  He was not a “high event” player.

Odd Chiasson Fact… Alex Chiasson and Evgeny Kuznetsov were the only Capitals to record both a power play and a shorthanded goal this season.

Game to Remember… March 16th vs. New York Islanders

Before the Caps hosted the New York Islanders on March 16th, Alex Chiasson dressed in only one of the previous seven games for the Caps, a somewhat forgettable seven minutes and change without a point in a 3-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles.  That he would get a sweater against the New York Islanders was a bit odd.  To that point in his career, Chiasson was 1-4-5, even, in 11 career games against the Isles.  And, the Caps were on a three-game winning streak after that loss in Los Angeles without Chiasson in the lineup, one of those wins coming the previous night as the Caps pounded tine Isles, 7-3 in Brooklyn.

Well, it worked.  The teams spent the first 27 minutes exchanging power play goals, a pair of Washington scores wrapped around an Islander tally.  Late in the second period, though, the Caps scored on a broken play.  Matt Niskanen skated through the right wing circle and fired a sharp angle shot at goalie Jaroslav Halak.  The shot was cuffed out into the low slot where Chiasson could not quite separate it from the poke check of Jordan Eberle for a solid shot.  The puck skidded out to Halak’s right where Niskanen was emerging from his loop around the back of the net.  He gathered the puck, stepped out for a better shooting angle, and using Chiasson as a screen beat Halak on the near side to give the Caps a 3-1 lead with just over two minutes left in the period.

Less than two minutes into the third period, Chiasson got a goal of his own.  With the Caps in the dying seconds of a power play, Jakub Vrana grabbed the puck inside the offensive blue line and circled to the cage.  However, with Adam Pelech hounding him, Vrana lost the puck off the toe of his stick as he was getting to the paint.  Halak paddled the stick away, but Chiasson was following up the play and after the loose puck clicked of the skate of a defender, he flicked it into what was now an open net.  It would be his first and only power play goal of the season, and, as it turned out, one of two game winning goals he had for the season.  He added an assist on a Vrana goal later, giving him a three-point night, his only one of the season.

Game to Forget… April 5th vs. Nashville

April 5th was a night when “suck” was a team thing, but for Alex Chiasson, the matter was one of replacing a vowel, swapping out a “u” for an “i.”  The Caps blew a 3-2 third period lead when the Predators scored goals six minutes apart.  But by that time, Chiasson’s night was already over.  After skating just seven shifts and 4:10 over two periods, he finally came up sick on the bench.  He managed one shot, one hit, and one blocked shot in what would be his shortest stint in a game this season.

Postseason… Alex Chiasson did start regularly for the Caps as the playoffs began.  He was in the lineup for their first 15 games, in fact – all six against Columbus and Pittsburgh, and the first three games of the conference final against Tampa Bay.  What he did not get was ice time.  He averaged just 8:57 a game in those 15 contests before sitting out Game 4 against Tampa Bay.  He would dress for only one more game in the postseason, that in Game 6 against the Lightning.  He finished with a goal and an assist in his 16 games of action.

In the end…

Nine goals in 61 games is probably more than folks might have thought they would be getting from Alex Chiasson when he was signed last fall.  But by the same token, he is an unrestricted free agent again, and what with the Caps having a lot on their plate in terms of personnel management, he might be on the move again.  He showed himself to be a capable fourth-liner who could chip in a timely goal here and there.  It might not be enough to earn another deal in Washington, but after a season in which he made the most of his opportunity, having been a member of a Stanley Cup champion, he will no doubt have value to remain in the NHL.

Photo:  Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America