Thursday, May 26, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Alex Ovechkin


Alex Ovechkin

“I’m the straw that stirs the drink.”
-- Reggie Jackson


The 2015-2016 season was the first season of the rest of Alex Ovechkin’s career, his first as a 30-year old.  In ten seasons with the Washington Capitals coming into this season, he established himself as the pre-eminent goal scorer of his generation, and on a very short list of top all time goal scorers in NHL history.  On a personal level, he had little left to accomplish, and in that sense he entered a phase of his career in which he is no longer competing with the rest of the NHL.  He is now competing against history and the potential narrative that accompanies it. 

“Alex Ovechkin, the greatest hockey player never to win a Stanley Cup.”

It really is the only thing left in his NHL career worth accomplishing; he’s done the rest.  And the 2015-2016 season provided what might have been the best opportunity for him to sponge away any suggestion that the quote above would follow him into retirement.  He had a year of experience under head coach Barry Trotz, a coach of sufficient stature and accomplishment to bring out other aspects of Ovechkin’s game without suppressing others, of getting him to “buy in” to a philosophy that required more appreciation for the 200-foot game.

Ovechkin also had the benefit of the work of General Manager Brian MacLellan, who addressed specific needs in two offseasons of work, bringing in defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in 2014 to shore up the defense, and then bringing in T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams in 2015 to bolster the right wing.  The 2015-2016 team was arguably the deepest, most balanced, and best on which Ovechkin would play in his 11 seasons to date.  The captain had a squad that could compete with the best in the league.  And then…

…he slept in.

Ovechkin set his alarm clock incorrectly and missed a morning skate before Game 2 of the season against the San Jose Sharks.  He was not spared the sanction that team rules required and was a healthy scratch for the game, one that the Caps lost, 5-0. 

But in addition to gray hair, turning 30 means something else – the maturity to take your punishment and move on without sulking over it.  The suspension was not so much as a speed bump to Ovechkin at the start of the season.  He scored goals in each of the first five games in which he played and in eight of his first 12.  He was held without a point in just one of those first dozen games (8-8-16 overall), that game coming against (who else) the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It is worth noting that in those first dozen games, Ovechkin was 7-7-14 at even strength.  In his next 21 games he was 3-3-6 at evens.  It would not be an isolated instance of low scoring at even strength for Ovechkin.  From February 24th through April 2nd, a span of 20 games, he was 2-4-6 at even strength.  He had just 16 even strength assists for the season, and only nine of them came in his last 67 games.

These things are relative, though.  Ovechkin did lead the league in even strength goals.  In fact, his 31 even strength goals would have ranked 17th in total goals in the league.  As it was, his total of 50 goals led the league, again.  This season was the fourth straight time Ovechkin led the league in goals and sixth time in the last nine seasons.  It was the fourth straight time that Ovechkin led the league in power play goals (19), fifth time in the last nine years.  Since he came into the league, his 525 goals is 164 more than the second highest goal scorer, Jarome Iginla was 361. Put another way, Ovechkin could have sat out the last three seasons (over which he scored 154 goals), and he would still be the leading goal scorer of the post-2004-2005 lockout era.

Fearless’ Take… Ovechkin scoring matters.  The Caps won 39 of 49 games in which he recorded a point (39-7-3), they split 26 games in which he played and did not record a point (13-8-5).  Then there is the matter of his “playing the right way.”  A persistent narrative about Ovechkin is that he doesn’t care about defense.  This season might not have earned him a Selke nomination as the league’s best defensive forward, but his being on ice for 0.62 goals against per game tied his lowest such number in his career (set in 2010-2011).  Then there is the matter of “playing the right way” in terms of possession.  Since he came into the league in 2005-2006, he ranks 95th among 756 forwards with at least 1,000 even strength minutes in score-adjusted Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (53.29 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).  He out-performed that number this season, posting a 54.3 percent score-adjusted value, the fourth-highest of his career and best since 2009-2010 (58.5).  

Cheerless’ Take… I was looking at that table of tens up above.  It looks kind of strange.  The first and last segments look really nice as far as the shot attempts and scoring chances go.  But the six in the middle don't have the same shine to them.  The weird part is that it doesn't seem to bear much of a relation to his putting up goals and points, but there has at least a look of coasting there in the middle of the season.  With this team, maybe he and the Caps could afford it, or maybe it was something of a blessing, not having to bury the needle on the effort needle in January or February.  But it still looks sort of weird.

Odd Ovechkin Fact… Alex Ovechkin takes a lot of shots.  He led the league in shots on goal in ten of his 11 seasons, including the one just completed (Evgeni Malkin was the only interruption, that in 2011-2012).  He is the only player over the last 11 seasons with a total of more than 4,000 shots on goal (4,228).  No other player has as many as 3,000 (Eric Staal has 2,909).  Some would argue that is a bit greedy, evidence of being a puck hog.  However, the Caps were 21-3-3 in games in which Ovechkin recorded more than five shots, 4-1-0 in games in which he had more than ten shots on goal.

Game to Remember… January 10th versus Ottawa

The suspense about whether the Capitals would make the playoffs had pretty much worn off by the time the new year started.  They finished the 2015 portion of the season with a 28-7-2 record and had won three of four games in the new year as the Ottawa Senators came to town on January 10th.  What suspense there was stemmed from what happened in the Caps previous game, a 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers in which the game-winning goal was scored by Alex Ovechkin on an end-to-end rush after goalie Philipp Grubauer made a great save on Derek Stepan to keep play going…


The goal was Ovechkin’s 499th, putting him on the brink of becoming the 43rd player in NHL history to record 500 goals.  The Caps ended the competitive portion of the contest with the Senators early in the second period when Dmitry Orlov scored to put the Caps ahead, 4-1.  Late in the period, though, Ottawa’s Mark Stone was sent to the penalty box on a tripping call.  It was time to go to work and for Ovechkin to head to his office in the left wing circle…


Ovechkin added another goal in the Caps’ 7-1 win and finished the season with 525 career goals, 33rd in league history.  He and Mike Bossy are the only players in the 43-member 500-goal club who have more than 500 goals in fewer than 900 career games.

Game to Forget… November 19th versus Dallas

It was not so much a game to forget as it might have been one that could have ended in a happier memory.  A hot start by Alex Ovechkin had him 8-8-16 after 12 games, the eight goals lifting him into a tie with Sergei Federov as the top Russina-born goal scorer in NHL history at 483 goals.  He stalled at that point, going four games without a point, the Caps splitting the four decisions.  That brought the Caps and Ovechkin to Game 17 on the schedule, a home contest against the Dallas Stars, a team with the best record in the league at the time (15-4-0).  The team exchanged goals in the first period, but Cody Eakin put the Stars ahead early in the third.  With the period almost seven minutes old, Ovechkin secured the puck just inside the Stars’ blue line and tried to find T.J. Oshie for a deflection try.  Oshie could not tip the puck past goalie Kari Lehtonen, but he was able to recover it in the corner to Lehtonen’s right.  Oshie threw the puck in front where it was redirected to Nicklas Backstrom closing on the far post.  Backstrom slid a backhand pass to Ovechkin skating hard to the post on the other side, and Ovechkin had a tap-in to break the record and tie the game.  After having two goals disallowed in earlier games that would have enabled him to set the record sooner, there was no doubt about this one…


The Caps could not get that next goal to break on top, though.  With less than nine minutes left, Jason Spezza pilfered a pass from in front of the Caps’ net and converted the gift into the game-winning goal in a 3-2 Stars win.  Alex Ovechkin had the goal scoring record, but the Caps lost the only game they would lose at home in regulation in the regular season when Ovechkin recorded a goal.

Postseason… 12 games, 5-7-12, plus-3, 57.5 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, plus-8.4 CF%/Relative

Alex Ovechkin has not made a career saving his best for last in terms of individual seasons.  Since going 11-10-21, plus-10 in the 2009-2010 postseason, he never exceeded ten points in any single postseason, going 21-19-40, minus-3, in 51 games.  He was a “minus” player in his last four trips to the playoffs.  Not that he was the problem, but his performance was not enough to drag the rest of an underperforming roster out of the second round in the three instances in which the Caps reached that round in the last five years.  This year, he, T.J. Oshie, and John Carlson were arguably the best players on the ice on a consistent basis through the postseason. 

Ovechkin had points in seven of his last 11 games of the 2016 playoffs, but it was a reflection of just how little support he was getting below the first line and from among defensemen not named “John Carlson” that the Caps went 1-4 in the games in which he did not record a point in the playoffs.  He was certainly consistent enough in the two series as well, going 3-2-5, plus-1 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, then going 2-5-7, plus-2 in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But in the last four games against the Penguins, three of which the Caps lost, two of them in overtime, Ovechkin went 2-4-6.  There just were not enough contributions from elsewhere on the roster.

In the end…

When Ovechkin shot, the Caps won.  When he scored, the Caps won.  And the odd part of that was that such production bore no relation to ice time.  The Caps were 27-12-5 in games in which he had more than 20 minutes, 29-3-3 in games in which he skated less than 20 minutes.  You might explain that as the team not needing heavy ice time loads in wins. 

But once again, it was all for naught.  For the eighth time in his career, Ovechkin did not play a game in the conference finals in the postseason.  On one level, he is still performing at a level that is historic in its production, a gift to Caps fans that might not be appreciated as much as it should.  But on a deeper level, Alex Ovechkin really has little else to accomplish.  Sure, in good health he will continue to post goal totals no one in this era is likely to approach, and he will climb the all-time rankings.  But having passed the age of 30 he is playing against history, racing against it in fact.  There remains only one thing left to accomplish to cement his place among the very best ever to play in the National Hockey League.  He has been and remains the straw the stirs the drink in Washington.  Now, if only that drink could quench his – and Caps fans – thirst for the elusive Stanley Cup.

Grade: A-

Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”
-- Seneca


For 11 years, from the time he was drafted until the end of the 2014-2015 season, the St. Louis Blues was the only NHL organization that T.J. Oshie ever knew.  He played seven seasons with the Blues, appearing in 443 regular season and 30 postseason games.  Those 30 postseason games with the Blues apparently were an issue.  Five times Oshie went to the postseason with the Blues, and five times the Blues – and perhaps Oshie – underperformed.  He was 5-4-9, minus-12, in those 30 postseason games, and his Blues won just one playoff series, that in 2012.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Capitals had their own forward with iffy postseason success on a team that experienced too little of it.  Troy Brouwer went to the postseason three times with the Caps, and in 35 games he had just three goals and nine points.  His Caps won two postseason series but never advanced to a conference final.

Two players with similar lack of success in the spring.  It was a trade begging to be made, and so it was last July, Brouwer sent to the Blues along with goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round draft pick for Oshie.  It was something of a rejuvenation for Oshie.  In his first year with the Caps he set a career high in goals scored (26), scored more many power play goals (11) than he did in his previous three seasons combined, set a personal best in shooting percentage (14.1 percent), and he became something of a faceoff go-to guy (52.7 percent on 262 draws taken, tops in both for his career).

As you might expect for a first line winger, his scoring mattered.  In 23 games in which he scored a goal (he had three multi-goal games), the Caps were 18-2-3.  They were 27-4-4 in games in which he recorded a point.

Oshie’s ten-game segments were all over the place, lacking in consistency from segment to segment and in different categories moving in the same direction.  He started and finished well with a first and eighth ten-game segment characterized by high point totals (15 of his 51 points were recorded in those segments), and his Corsi numbers (plus-81 at 5-on-5) and scoring chance differential (plus-55) were recorded in those segments.  In between, though?  Take the fourth segment.  In it, he recorded eight points on four goals and four assists, one of his best ten-game segments of the season, but his Corsi-for at 5-on-5 was his worst of the season (minus-38), as was his scoring chance differential (minus-15).  It all seemed to “even out” in the end, so to speak – good goal and point totals, solid positives in the Corsi and scoring chance numbers at fives – but how he got there was an interesting journey.


Fearless’ Take… T.J. Oshie played bigger than his program information would suggest.  At 5’11, 189, you would not think him as a particularly physical player.  However, consider that Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, and Jason Chimera were the only Capitals to finish the regular season with 20 or more goals and at least 100 credited hits, and among forwards appearing in at least 20 games, Oshie finished third in hits per game overall (1.7), behind Alex Ovechkin (2.8) and Tom Wilson (3.1).  He didn’t seem bashful about going to the net, either.  He was third on the team in high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 (70), behind Justin Williams (84) and Alex Ovechkin (83; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

Cheerless’ Take… T.J. Oshie had fewer primary assists at 5-on-5 (9) than Tom Wilson (11), and Wilson had almost three fewer minutes of ice time per game at 5-on-5 than Oshie.  Now, I’m not the sharpest knife in the barn, but wouldn’t you think a top line forward would have more primary assists than a third/fourth line forward?  Even if he’s skating with Nicklas Backstrom a lot of the time?

Odd Oshie Fact… “Oshie After Dark.”  T.J. Oshie did not record a point in five regular season day games, which was perhaps a bit odd given that coming into this season he was 3-17-20 in 30 day games with St. Louis.

Game to Remember… December 18th versus Tampa Bay

The Caps were on a roll, 11-1-1 in 13 games leading up to their December 18th battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center.  Not that the Lightning were playing poorly; they were 5-2-0 in December leading up to that game.  As it turned out, the game was really two games in one.  Tampa Bay won the first 30 minutes, running out to a 3-0 lead and chasing starting goaltender Braden Holtby.  The Caps had the Lightning right where they wanted them.  Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal on a slick feed feed from T.J. Oshie, who collected a loose puck in front and spun a back pass to Ovechkin at the 13:49 mark of the second period to make it 3-1.  In the third period, Oshie collected a loose puck along the wall in his own end, sped up ice past Braydon Coburn, and snapped a shot past goalie Ben Bishop to make it 3-2 just 7:54 into the period.  After Ovechkin tied the game on a power play goal two minutes later, Oshie recorded another primary assist, taking a feed from Ovechkin and sliding the puck to Marcus Johansson on the right side for a one-timer to give the Caps a 4-3 lead with less than five minutes left in regulation.  Oshie potted an empty net goal with 25.0 seconds left to give the Caps a 5-3 win.  It was Oshie’s third four-point game of his career and first as a Capital.

Game to Forget… April 2nd versus Arizona

It was not a formula for getting up for a game.  Late in the season, the Caps’ regular season fate sealed, wrapping up a three-game road trip 2,500 miles away from home against an opponent against whom you have little by way of rivalry.  That was the Caps in Arizona to face the Coyotes in an utterly meaningless game.  It showed.  The Caps allowed three third period goals in what would be a 3-0 loss.  For his part, Oshie skated 14:50, had one shot on goal, won a faceoff, was a minus-1, had one scoring chance, and otherwise had as quiet a game, as did his teammates.

Postseason: 12 games, 6-4-10, plus-2, 54.7% Corsi-for at 5-on-5, plus-4.1 CF%/Relative

On a purely personal level, T.J. Oshie enjoyed his best postseason in six trips to the playoffs.  He played 12 games, most in any single postseason of his career, had six goals (another career best), four assists (another career high), 10 points (yes…a career best), was plus-2 (first time he was a plus player in six postseason tries), recorded 59 shots on goal (more than the total of his previous two postseasons combined – 50), and won 59 percent of 59 faceoffs he took.  His Corsi-for and Corsi/Releative numbers were good; he had as many shot attempts at 5-on-5 (44) as he had in his previous three postseasons combined.  It wasn’t even a case of his wilting in the second round as did a number of his teammates; he had five goals against the Penguins in six games, including a hat trick and the game-winning overtime goal in Game 1.  He even challenged an opponent to fight – a more accomplished pugilist in Brayden Schenn, too boot (15 career regular season and postseason fights) – to answer for a questionable hit in Game 5 of the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers…


He did just about everything but win.

In the end…

If you look at big off-season deals the Caps have made for forwards in the post 2004-2005 lockout era, whether a free agent signing or a trade, the deal to bring T.J. Oshie to Washington has to be considered a “win,” whatever one thinks of Troy Brouwer’s effect on the St. Louis Blues.  Sometimes trades really are “win-win.”  Oshie’s first year with the Caps (26-25-51, plus-16 in 80 games) resembles that of Mike Knuble in 2009-2010 (29-24-53, plus-23 in 69 games).  It was better than Brouwer’s first year with the Caps in 2011-2012 (18-15-33, minus-15 in 82 games). 

He became the fifth player to record a postseason of ten or more points in the post-2004-2005 lockout era with the Caps (Alex Ovechkin (four times), Nicklas Backstrom (twice), Alexander Semin, and John Carlson are the others).  Five games was his longest streak without a point, which is rather remarkable for a player who had just 51 points.  And, at least for one year, he shook off a series of disappointing playoff campaigns insofar as his own contributions are concerned.  It was a fine start to his stay in Washington, one that certainly has Caps fans hoping it extends beyond next year when his current contract runs its course.  His reliability and consistency made right wing a spot that was a plus for the team this season that it was not in recent years.

Grade: A

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Monday, May 23, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Michael Latta

Michael Latta

“The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best.”
-- Jean-Paul Sartre


Michael Latta has played in 113 regular season games for the Washington Capitals, 150th in all-time games played, nestled between Joel Kwiatkowski and Greg Smith on the all-time franchise list.  There are 215 players with more points in Caps history than the 17 he has over three seasons.  The task of his making a durable mark in the history of the franchise is a difficult one, but it is not unlike the majority of players who play in the NHL.  Not everyone is Alex Ovechkin or Peter Bondra or Olaf Kolzig.

Latta did appear in 43 games in the 2015-2016 season and set personal highs in goals scored (3) and points (7) despite playing in fewer games than he did in the 2014-2015 season (53).  In fact, he was scoring at what was, for him or a fourth-liner in general, a pretty good clip.  He had his three goals for the season by the time he finished playing in his 22nd game.  He had his seven points after he finished playing in 41 games.  Both were pretty good 82-game paces.  But he played those 41 games in the Caps’ first 58 games of the season.  Latta appeared only twice in the team’s last 24 games, those coming in Games 79 and 82 of the season.

In fact, it would appear entirely likely that Latta’s effective end to his season might have come sooner had not Jay Beagle been injured.  Mike Richards agreed to a one-year deal with the Caps on January 6th but did not appear in a game until ten days later.  Beagle was out with an injured hand and would not return until late February.  Richards might have taken Latta’s spot in the lineup, but the injury to Beagle ensured that Latta remained in the lineup, appearing in 13 of 17 games until Beagle was healthy enough to return to the lineup on February 28th.  

As it was, he did have respectable possession numbers in limited minutes.  His 51.29 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 overall was 10th among 15 forwards with at least 100 5-on-5 minutes (numbers from war-on-ice.com).  His CF%/Relative of plus-1.62 ranked seventh in that group.  His score adjusted numbers were better -- 52.62 percent Corsi-for (seventh) and CF%/Relative of plus-1.85 (fifth).


Fearless’ Take… There is primary scoring, there is secondary scoring, and there is tertiary scoring.  Or maybe quaternary scoring.  It’s sort of a scale of “have to have” to “nice to have.”  Getting points from Michael Latta was nice to have.  The Caps were 5-0-1 when he recorded a point this season.  In fact, the Caps are 11-2-2 whenever Latta scored a point in his career with them.  There was another odd aspect to his in-game performance and results this season.  The Caps were 5-1-2 in games in which he had a fighting major.  All-in-all, in games in which Latta had a point, a fight, or both, the Caps were 9-1-3 (he had a point and a fight in one game).  The Caps were 7-1-1 in games in which he had three or more credited hits, 15-0-2 when he was over 50 percent on faceoffs.  An active Michael Latta appears to have some relationship, if only coincidental, with winning.

Cheerless’ Take… The Caps were 2-3-2 in the seven games in which Latta had more than ten minutes of ice time, and he had only one point in those seven games (a goal against Calgary in an overtime loss in November).  They were 11-1-3 in games in which he had fewer than seven minutes of ice time.  Seems that there are limits to the benefits of his activity.

Odd Latta Fact… Coming into this season, the Caps had not lost a game in regulation when Michael Latta skated 15 or more shifts in a game (7-0-1, regular season and playoff games).  They were 1-3-1 this season when Latta had 15 or more shifts.

Game to Remember… December 16th versus Ottawa

Coming off consecutive road wins in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, the Caps returned home in mid-December to face the Ottawa Senators.  The visitors were in something of a rut, having lost five of nine games going into their appearance at Verizon Center.  The Caps added to the Senators’ woes, largely in part to Michael Latta.  The Caps broke on top late in the first period, taking advantage of a sloppy line change by the Senators.  While the Senators were slow to sort things out, Latta split the defense to gather up a loose puck, break in on goalie Andrew Hammond, and roof the puck over Hammond’s glove into the top of the net. 


In the sixth minute of the second period, Latta moved the puck from the center red line up to Justin Williams, who carried into the offensive zone and was hooked by Curtis Lazar.  With a delayed penalty coming, Williams slid the puck off to John Carlson for a one-timer that beat Hammond for what would be the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win.  For Latta, it was his only multi-point game of the season, the second multi-point game of his career.

Game to Forget… October 30th versus Columbus

The basic currency in which any professional athlete trades is playing time.  Getting it and keeping it is the first order of business.  A player cannot produce without it.  This is true for stars, and it is true for grinders.  For Michael Latta, the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 30th was one of those games of which it might be said they didn’t have to launder his jersey after the game.  He had already been out for the previous six games after getting a sweater for the first two games of the season.  He got his first shift against Columbus before the game was two minutes old, and it would end up being his longest shift of the game at 58 seconds.  When the final horn sounded he had only seven shifts and by far the least ice time of any Capital with 3:55 (Andre Burakovsky skated 7:09).  He did manage a shot on goal and a hit, and he won both faceoffs he took, but it was the quietest night of the season for Latta as far as ice time was concerned.

Postseason:  no games played

In the end…

It could not be called a good season for Michael Latta, but it was not a poor one, either.  If the season was a movie, his name would appear in the credit roll as a minor character than had a line or two early in the film.  But in a way, that is the point.  There are a variety of roles to be played on a 20-man roster over 82 games.  Some are starring roles, others are not.  Latta played a comparatively minor role in the 2015-2016 season, but that is one that he is equipped for.  It gives him an opportunity to display skills that others who get more ice time frankly are not paid to display – hitting, being an agitator, providing energy.  It is not necessarily a set of unique skills, but they still put him among the best there are that are employed to play professional hockey.  They should not be dismissed easily.

Grade: B-

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Evgeny Kuznetsov

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.“
-- Henry David Thoreau


It has taken a while, but Evgeny Kuznetsov has taken his place among the leaders in his 2010 draft class in a number of offensive categories.  Although he ranks just 23rd in that class in NHL regular season games, he ranks tied for 17th in goals (with Cam Fowler), ninth in assists, 13th in points, sixth in plus-minus, and fifth in points per game among those of the 2010 draft class with at least 150 games played.

And that is with Kuznetsov having completed just his second full season with the Washington Capitals.  In 2015-2016 he finished ninth in the league in points (77) and fourth in assists (57).  His plus-27 tied Nashville’s James Neal and Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta for sixth in the league.  Only three players (Patrick Kane, Artemi Parnarin, and John Gaudreau) had more games with three or more points than the eight recorded by Kuznetsov.

Things happened with Kuznetsov on the ice, although the results might not have been proportionate to the play at times.  In half of his ten-game splits, Kuznetsov finished with ten or more points.  Only twice did his on-ice Corsi-for (shot attempts) differential at 5-on-5 dip below plus-10, and that came early in the season (his second and third ten-game splits).  

However, if there was something ominous, something to portend difficulties in the playoffs, it came late in the season when his 5-on-5 goal differential went into negative territory in each of his last two ten-game splits (12 games in his last split).  There was also his plus-minus.  Only in the last ten-game split did Kuznetsov finish as a “minus” player after being at or near the top of the league rankings for much of the season.  And it was in that last ten-game split (12 games) that he recorded his only split without a goal.  In fact, Kuznetsov went his last 20 games of the regular season without a goal.

His scoring mattered.  The Caps were 14-2-1 in games in which he scored a goal, 37-5-5 in games in which he recorded a point.  And it was not just lighting the red light, it was activity, at least in terms of higher shot volumes.  In 19 games in which he recorded four or more shots, the Caps were 14-2-3.


Fearless’ Take… Even with the late-season problems, Kuznetsov managed to grind out points.  Until he had a five-game streak without a point late in the season (Games 71-75), he never went more than three games without a point.  And those 77 points are nothing to sneeze at.  He became the 11th player in Capitals history 24 years of age or younger to record a season of more than 75 points and the fifth since the 2004-2005 lockout (the others are the “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin).

Cheerless’ Take…  Among 14 Caps forwards with at least 200 even-strength minutes in the regular season, Kuznetsov had the third-best Corsi-for among Caps forwards at 5-on-5 (52.53 percent) and the third-best Corsi-for/Relative (plus-2.14).  Sounds good, but maybe those were inflated numbers.   His score-adjusted numbers were not bad – 53.51 percent Corsi-for (third) and plus-2.20 Corsi-for/Relative (third), but among 13 forwards with at least 100 even strength minutes when the score was tied, he had the second-worst Corsi-for (48.91 percent) and second-worst Corsi-for/Relative (minus-2.49 percent; numbers from war-on-ice.com).

Odd Kuznetsov Fact… Being an offensive player means having the puck with which to set up plays or score goals.  And having the puck is made easier by starting plays with it instead of having to chase it down, and the brings us to faceoffs.  In 31 games in which Kuznetsov had a faceoff winning percentage of better than 50 percent, the Caps were 25-4-2; they were 9-0-1 in games in which he had ten or more faceoff wins.

Game to Remember… October 23rd versus Edmonton

In late October the Caps were wrapping up their trip to western Canada with a visit to Edmonton to face the Oilers after winning in Calgary over the Flames and in Vancouver over the Canucks.  Evgeny Kuznetsov had four points in the two games, all on assists.  It was mere prelude to what would unfold in Edmonton.  It started when Kuznetsov finished a smart tic-tac-toe passing play with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie from the top of the Oiler crease past goalie Anders Nilsson.  The teams then engaged in a back and forth that left the teams tied 3-3 approaching the mid-way point of the second period.  John Carlson lifted the puck out of the defensive end into neutral ice where Kuznetsov settled it, broke in on the Edmonton goal, and slid the puck through the pads of Nilsson.  Three minutes later he recorded the primary assist on a goal by Andre Burakovsky, then recorded an assist two minutes after that, skating with the puck for ten full seconds around the Oiler net before setting up a play that Justin Williams finished.  Kuznetsov capped his evening when he ripped a shot over the left shoulder of relief goalie Cam Talbot on a Caps power play, finishing the night with a hat trick and five points in the Caps’ 7-4 win.  It was Kuznetsov’s first career hat trick and his first five-point game (one of eight five-point games in the league this season).

Game to Forget… March 20th versus Pittsburgh

The Caps’ last visit to Pittsburgh in the regular season did not start poorly, but it ended poorly for them and for Evgeny Kuznetsov.  The Penguins scored the game’s first goal 8:33 into the game and doubled their lead less than two minutes later.  The Caps tied the game in the second period, but the Pens grabbed the lead back less than a minutes after the Caps tied it.  Early in the third period Matt Cullen broke behind Kuznetsov and in on goalie Braden Holtby.  His snap shot was blocked, but not stopped by Holtby, the puck crawling up and over his shoulder before dropping into the net.  Chris Kunitz scored less than four minutes later, then Justin Schultz scored on a power play six minutes after that.  By the time the horn sounded, the Penguins had a 6-2 win, and Kuznetsov had his game to forget – on ice for four of the first five Penguin goals, one shot attempt, and a minus-4 in less than 14 minutes of ice time, his fourth lowest of the season.

Postseason: 12 games, 1-1-2, minus-4, 55.1 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, plus-4.7 CF%/Relative

What a difference a year made.  In 14 games in the 2015 postseason Kuznetsov had two goals (including the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the first round against the New York Islanders) and seven points in 14 games, with a plus-4 to go along with it.  Not bad for his first NHL postseason.  One might have been forgiven if that, plus being one of the top ten scorers in the league, would be a springboard to a fine 2016 postseason.   However, there was that late-seaosn swoon to consider, and that was a stronger indicator of postseason performance for Kuznetsov than his previous postseason or his regular season overall might have suggested.  He scored a goal in Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers, and he had an assist in Game 2 of the second round series against Pittsburgh, both points coming on power plays.  That was it.  No even strength points, one goal on 39 shots overall.  And the odd part of its was, the outcomes (points) diverged so much from the outputs (Corsi, Corsi/Relative), which looked so much better (numbers from war-on-ice.com).

In the end…

Evgeny Kuznetsov was – is, in fact – that productive second line center the Caps have been looking for since long before the Caps went back to red jerseys.  He is one of only ten centers in Caps history to record more than 75 points in a season and the only one other than Nicklas Backstrom in the post 2004-2005 lockout era.  He has a bright future ahead of him.  But that second line center problem – one that has haunted Caps’ postseason dreams for almost a decade – reared its ugly head once more. 
Playing well, at least insofar as the underlying numbers were concerned, just was not enough.  Maybe there wasn’t enough “battle” in Kuznetsov’s game when goals became harder to come by, maybe it was part of a longer slump, or maybe it was just bad luck.  But the fact is, Kuznetsov scored one goal in his last 32 games this season, regular season and playoffs.  It was like earning an “A” grade for the first half of the semester, then squandering the fine grade with poor performance on the final.  It is the kind of disappointment that can be a learning moment, that the postseason really is different, and that for a player with responsibilities as important as Kuznetsov’s it isn’t necessarily how you start, but how you finish. 

Grade: B-

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

“But all I'm askin', hey
Is a little respect when I get home.
Respect is what I want;
Respect is what I need.”
-- Otis Redding


In a draft class that includes John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Chris Kreider, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman, Nazem Kadri, and others of similar ilk, you rank seventh in NHL games played, eighth in goals, fifth in assists, fifth in points, yet there are questions whispered and murmured from time to time about whether this player (who has not yet reached his 26th birthday) should be traded.

Welcome to Marcus Johansson’s world.  Johnasson finished the 2015-2016 season with his fourth straight 40-plus point season (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season), his second-best goal scoring season (17, topped only by the 20 he had the previous season), and had his best plus-minus finish (plus-12).  His total shot attempts were down (from 253 last season to 213), but he had a higher percentage of them on goal (62.0 percent to 54.5 percent), and his shots per game were up (from 1.68 per game to 1.78 per game).

What his 2015-2016 season suggests is that a certain consistency is coming into his game.  His goals-per-game overall (0.8) was unchanged from last season.  His 5-on-5 points per game was unchanged as well (1.6).  Johansson’s overall Corsi-for of 57.8 percent was the third straight season he finished over 55 percent (although his 5-on-5 Corsi-for of 49.2 percent dipped back under 50 percent after finishing at 51.9 percent the previous season).  His on-ice 5-on-5 PDO was over 100 for the second straight year.  But here is one of the strangest nuggets of consistency in his career to date.  In five full seasons (again, not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season, his total Corsi events, for and against, have finished in a very tight band, between 111.7 and 114.9 events per 60 minutes (it was 112.0 this past season).

How Johansson got his points had an intriguing quality to it.  In 16 games in which he scored a goal, the Caps were 11-3-2, a nice record.  However, when he recorded an assist, the Caps had only one regulation loss (18-1-3).  Extending the personal performance notion, when he produced high shot volumes, the Caps were not especially successful, going 5-1-3 when he recorded four or more shots on goal (even though his shooting percentage in those games – 12.2 percent on five goals on 41 shots – was only marginally lower than his season shooting percentage of 12.9 percent).


Fearless’ Take… The subtle parts of Johansson’s game seemed to develop this year.  His on-ice goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was the lowest of his career (1.9).  His on-ice goal differential at fives was the best of his career (plus-8).  His penalty differential per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was the second highest of his career (plus 0.7).  The on-ice shots differential was tops in his career at 5-on-5 (plus-25).  And, the scoring chances at 5-on-5 he had personally was a career high (139; numbers from war-on-ice.com).  When one speaks of a player “developing,” it is not just the goal, assist, and point totals.

Cheerless’ Take… Let’s not throw a parade for him just yet, cuz.  Seems there is a difference between making other players better and being made better by other players.  I wonder if Johansson isn’t still too much of the latter.  For instance, among forwards he spent most of his 5-on-5 ice time with Justin Williams, and their Corsi-for when on ice together was 50.2 percent.  But Williams was at 54.6 percent when not skating with Johansson.  Next on the list was Evgeny Kuznetsov, with whom his Corsi-for was 46.2 percent.  When apart, Kuznetsov was 54.6 percent, too.  Jason Chimera…47.2 percent with Johansson, 48.1 when apart.  The difference was when he played with the big guns – Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.  With Backstrom and Johansson were 58.0 percent, but when Johansson was separated from Backstrom, he fell to 47.3 percent.  With Ovechkin, Johansson was at 58.5 percent, but apart, Johansson fell to 48.1 percent (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com).  They made him better, but Johansson might have come up short in making other forwards better when skating with them.

Odd Johansson Fact… In the six seasons in which he has been in the league, Marcus Johansson is one of two players in the NHL to appear in more than 400 games and record fewer than 60 penalty minutes.  His numbers are 419 games and 52 penalty minutes, those of Ryan O’Reilly are 417 games and 54 penalty minutes.

Game to Remember… December 8th versus Detroit

The Caps were on a roll in early December riding a six-game winning streak when they were beaten by the Winnipeg Jets in overtime, 2-1, in the last game of a three-game road trip, a game in which Marcus Johansson did not play due to a lower body injury.  Returning home to Verizon Center, the task was to start a new streak, but the opponent was the Detroit Red Wings, who were on a three-game winning streak of their own.  It took the Caps less than a minute to serve notice that the streak was in jeopardy.  The play started with Marcus Johansson keeping a sliding puck from exiting the offensive zone, then feeding it to Evgeny Kuznetsov on his right.  Kuznetsov circled in and tried to stuff the puck past goalie Jimmy Howard, but it squirted to Howard’s right.  From his knees, Justin Williams poked the puck past Howard’s right pad and under his stick to make it a 1-0 game just 43 seconds into the contest.  For Williams it was his 600th NHL point, and for Marcus Johansson it was his 200th point.  Johansson assisted on both Capital goals, the other a primary assist on a power play goal by Alex Ovechkin in the third period, in what would be a 3-2 Gimmick win for Washington.

Game to Forget... January 7th versus New York Islanders

It was just another game in the middle of January.  The Caps were visiting Brooklyn to face the New York Islanders, and they had taken a 1-0 lead on a Jason Chimera goal early in the contest.  Then, with the clock ticking down toward the 11-minute mark, the Islanders’ Thomas Hickey collected a loose puck at center ice.  Hickey flipped the puck back into the Caps’ end, but after doing so, Marcus Johansson came in high and hard, leveling Hickey with a late hit.


Johansson was charge with a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.  For his part, Hickey played on (he finished with more than 15 minutes of ice time).  That might have been the end of it, Johansson going on to record an assist in the Caps’ 4-1 win.  But it was not.  The league’s Department of Player Safety suspended Johansson for two games for the hit.  He missed the fun a couple of days later when Alex Ovechkin recorded his 500th goal in a 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Postseason: 12 games, 2-5-7, minus-2, 48.0 Corsi-for at 5-on-5, minus-5.3 CF%/Relative 5-on-5

It would not be fair to characterize Marcus Johansson’s postseason as bad, but it was representative of the team as a whole.  In the opening round series against the Philadelphia Flyers he was 1-5-6, plus-2, and he had a Corsi-for at 5-on-5 of 49.4 percent.  In the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins he, like much of the forward corps outside of the first line, saw his offensive production evaporate.  In six games he was 1-0-1 (the goal coming on a power play in Game 2), minus-4, and he had a Corsi-for of 45.7 percent at 5-on-5.  It was, as it was the case for a lot of Capitals, as if it was two different postseasons entirely, not just two different series.

In the end…

We are at the point of his career at which we can say that Marcus Johansson is young, but he is not inexperienced.  He will not turn 26 until the first week of October, but he will be going into the 2016-2017 season with 475 regular season and playoff games of experience.  He is tied with Dmitri Khristich for 38th place in franchise history in regular season games played (419), and his 56 playoff games played ranks 17th.

It is that body of experience that sees the “consistency” he is developing as a coin with two sides.  On one he is the dependable top-six or top-nine forward who plays productively and intelligently at both ends of the ice.  On the other side is a question, “is this the top end of his development?”  It is a question that takes on a bit more urgency with Johansson now a restricted free agent after winning a $3.75 million judgment in arbitration last off-season.  Does he have another level or more in his developmental arc to be a reliable and productive top-six or top-nine forward?  It is not the most pressing issue the Caps have, perhaps, but it will be one that bears watching after what was, for Johansson, a good, if typical year.

Grade: B

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Jason Chimera

Jason Chimera

“Speed provides the one genuinely modern pleasure.”
-- Aldous Huxley


It is widely accepted in the zoological community that the cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal.  Among its lesser known characteristics is that it is the only species in its genus.  It is described as a “gregarious” animal (at least among the males).  And, it is an animal given to binding with others in “coalitions.”

Five subspecies of the animal have been identified in habitats in Africa and west Asia.  Fans of the Washington Capitals might insist that there is a sixth – the “Ice Cheetah.”  The term is actually a nickname for Jason Chimera, who even though he was approaching his 37th birthday in the 2015-2016 season (his birthday was May 2nd), was still considered among the fastest skaters in the NHL.

However, while speed has been a constant in his career, production had an odd inconsistency about it, especially in his years in Washington.  Six seasons ago, one in which he was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Caps in mid-season, he finished the year with 15 goals in 78 games.  It was the first year in a “sawtooth” pattern of goal-scoring.  Here are the goals-per-game values for each of those seasons since 2009-2010:


For Chimera, 2015-2016 was an “up” year.  He had his second career 20-goal season (the first one coming in 2011-2012) and his second career 40-point season (2013-2014).  He had a career best four power play goals, added a pair of shorthanded goals to tie a career high and lead the team this season (the only two shorthanded goals recorded by the Caps), and he had a career high in power play assists (5).  He did it playing in all 82 games for the fourth time in his 15-season career.

What’s more, his contributions mattered.  “Secondary scoring” is something a lot of us point to as an important ingredient to success.  In 19 games in which Chimera recorded a goal, the Caps were 16-2-1, and they were 26-3-1 in the 30 games in which he recorded a point.

We noted in the season preview that his sawtooth pattern in goal-scoring was accompanied by a similar pattern in ice time per game.  Here is how that played out over the last seven seasons, including this one:


It is not as pronounced, but a similar pattern is apparent.  And we can extend this pattern to his plus-minus as well, but the point is, he has been a persistent up-and-down performer on a year-to-year basis, and this was an “up” year.

Where he had an odd look in his numbers (well, one place, and we will return to that theme) was in his Corsi numbers.  His Corsi-differential at 5-on-5 of minus-70 was second worst on the club (Tom Wilson was a minus-115), but it was a product of two really poor ten-game splits  He was a total of minus-62 in his third ten-game split (minus-35) and his seventh ten-game split (minus-27).  Even with the poor result, and frankly that of the on-ice scoring chance differential (minus-16), he was just a minus-2 in total goal differential at five-on-five for the year (numbers from war-on-ice.com).


Fearless’ Take…  Two things Chimera did well that do not get a lot of attention were road scoring and shooting efficiency.  He had one of those odd seasons in which his home and road performance numbers were almost mirror images of one another.  On the road he was 15-6-21, plus-9 in 41 games.  At Verizon Center he finished 5-14-19, minus-9 in 41 games.  This despite recording almost 15 percent more shots on goal at home (88 to 77 on the road).  Which brings us to the other thing – shooting efficiency.  Chimera had his best finish in that category in ten years at 12.1 percent (he was 13.4 percent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2005-2006), the first time he finished in double digits as a Capital.

Cheerless’ Take… Geez, that whole up-down-up-down-up-down thing will make you dizzy.  It even goes to his fancy numbers at home.  This year he was 48.8 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 on Verizon Center ice.  Last year, 50.0.  The year before that, 45.3.  Then 51.4.  And on the road, well…he hasn’t been over 50 percent, well, ever.  At least not since that 2004-2005 lockout.  He was 47.1 percent this year.  But God bless that PDO…it was 104.1 with him on this ice at 5-on-5 on the road, tied for highest as a Cap (104.1 in 2013-2014…more up-down-up-down…).  But that PDO was 96.0 this season at home at fives, second worst as a Cap (95.5 in 2010-2011).  He’s got one funky resume.

Odd Chimera Fact… Something about Wednesdays just did not agree with Chimera.  He had one point in ten games played on Wednesday’s this past season – February 24th, a goal against the Montreal Canadiens.  The Caps lost, 4-3.

Game to Remember… November 12th versus Philadelphia

The Caps headed to Philadelphia for a game against the Flyers after a tough 1-0 loss in Detroit two days earlier.  Things did not start out well for the Caps, who twice fell behind by a goal by the time the game was just over 21 minutes old.  Then Michael Raffl took a cross-checking penalty mid-way through the second period.  On the ensuing power play, Chimera caught the Flyers playing lackadaisical defense in their own end, cut between two players, took a pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov, and swatted the puck past goalie Steve Mason to tie the game.  After Justin Williams gave the Caps a lead less than a minute later (Chimera earning an assist), Chimera struck again late in the period, tipping a drive by Matt Niskanen past Mason on another power play.  Chimera finished with his only two-goal game of the season and one of his three three-point games as the Caps won going away, 5-2.

Game to Forget…  March 12th versus San Jose

The Caps were on their west coast trip, splitting the first two games of the journey with a Gimmick win over the Ducks in Anaheim and an overtime loss in Los Angeles against the Kings.  A win in San Jose would have made it a five-point trip, a nice way to see California.  It didn’t happen.  The Caps laid an egg, and Chimera had some of the mess staining his score sheet.  In just over 11 minutes of ice time (his second lowest total of the season), he had the misfortune of being on the ice for three of the first four Sharks goals – two at even strength and one when the Caps were on a power play.  He added a slashing penalty and managed just one shot attempt for the evening in a 5-2 Caps loss.

Postseason: 12 games, 1-1-2, minus-1, 46.0 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, minus-7.5 CF%/Relative 5-on-5

It would not be a stretch to say that 2016 was Jason Chimera’s worst postseason in six tries as a Capital.  He did not score a goal in his last ten postseason games, and he had just one point in that span (an assist in Game 1 against Pittsburgh).  It was, as seems a consistent feature of his time spent here, a bit odd.  He was held without a shot in five of the six games against Philadelphia in the first round, scoring his goal on two shots in Game 2.  Against Pittsburgh, he just couldn’t find the back of the net, failing on all 15 shots he recorded in six games, six of those shots on goal coming in the Game 6 series clincher for the Penguins.  The two points in a postseason were his fewest in six postseasons as a Capital, and his 1.42 shots per game was his lowest as well.  His performance was part of a team-wide problem of performance once you got past the top line of forwards.

In the end…

The Capitals are going to have an interesting and, perhaps, difficult decision to make in the offseason.  Jason Chimera has shown no obvious symptoms of slowing down at age 37, and it appears that he – an unrestricted free agent in this off-season – would like to return to the team.  However, there are a number of restricted free agents to deal with, and one wonders if his age and his propensity for alternating productive and unproductive seasons will weigh into the decisions being made in the front office.  His chief attribute – speed – is one that the Caps will being trying to maintain, if not upgrade, in the off-season.

The year he had in 2015-2016, on its own merits, argues for the club taking a deliberate look at re-signing him.  Twenty-goal scorers do not exactly grow on trees in the NHL, and Chimera does have two in his last four full seasons.  Add to that his durability (he played all 82 games this year and has missed seven games in six full seasons with the club), and it is reasonable that he would return, depending on what his own contract demands will be.  Unfortunately, that is a decision that will not be taken in as speedy a fashion as Chimera displays on the ice.  Whether the “Ice Cheetah” will be seen running down pucks at Verizon Center is something that will unfold at a slower pace.

Grade: B

Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Washington Capitals: 2015-2016 By the Tens -- Forwards: Andre Burakovsky

Andre Burakovsky

“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”
-- Bob Marley


Andre Burakovsky was largely free of expectations in his rookie season, an unexpected acceleration of his development curve when he impressed the brain trust enough to keep him on the parent roster to start the 2014-2015 season.  It was trust well placed, as Burakovsky finished in the top-20 among rookies in assists (13) and points (22), and was in the top-25 among rookies in goals scored (9), despite appearing in only 53 games (tied for 33rd in the rookie class).  When he finished the 2015 postseason with a more modest two goals and an assist in 11 games, it might have been chalked up to his first turn on the bigger stage of the playoffs.

His 2015-2016 regular season did not fall victim to the “sophomore slump.”  In 79 games he finished with 17 goals and 38 points, one of 20 forwards 21 years of age or younger to finish the season with at least 35 points.  He nearly doubled his shot total from his rookie season (from 65 to 126) without suffering an accompanying significant loss in efficiency (13.5 percent versus 13.8 percent in his rookie year).  He tied Nicklas Backstrom for third on the club in even-strength goals (17) and tied T.J. Oshie for fifth in even-strength points (34).

It was not all skittles and ambrosia for Burakovsky, who endured a mental time-out – a two-game absence – in late November after a stretch of 11 games in which he registered just one assist.  At the time, head coach Barry Trotz said of him:
“He’s just got to clear his mind.  He’s a young guy who’s thinking about a lot of things. I just talked to him about just worrying about his own game and not worrying about all the other stuff. He’s getting frustrated over things he doesn’t need to get frustrated over. He’s over-thinking things, and what he needs to do is just concentrate on his own game.”

Even after that short hiatus, though, he struggled to put up numbers, putting up just a pair of assists over a 14-game stretch.  However, starting with a goal in a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on December 30th, Burakovsky went on to go 15-15-30, plus-7 in his last 47 games.

As it was, he had some odd splits over the course of the season.  There was the disparity in home scoring (9-14-23, plus-10) versus road scoring (8-7-15, minus-6).  And, he seemed to have an affinity for playing teams from Pennsylvania.  The only two teams against which he scored two goals this season were the Philadelphia Flyers (two goals in four games) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (two goals in five games).  The odd thing about that was that the Caps lost every game, an overtime loss to the Flyers in which he recorded his only two-goal game of the season and a pair of losses to the Penguins (one in overtime).


Fearless’ Take… Burakovsky spent a lot of time on the second line this season, suggesting a certain scorer’s responsibility, but sometimes it is easy to overlook just how young he is.  He is just the 11th player in Capitals history to have played at least 100 games and recorded at least 50 points in his first two seasons without having reached his 22nd birthday.  Only four Capitals have done it since the 2004-2005 lockout – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson are the others.

Cheerless’ Take… Cuz mentioned that slow start Burakovsky had to this season.  He didn’t mention the slow finish, and that was before the playoffs.  He had a goal and an assist (both against Pittsburgh in a 4-3 overtime loss on April 7th) in his last 11 games.  The eight-game streak he had without a point from March 22nd through April 5th tied his longest of the year (in November, part of that slow start).  Oh, and the Caps lost four of five games in which he recorded more than 17 minutes of ice time.

Odd Burakovsky Fact… He was the only Capital other than Alex Ovechkin to record 10 or more shots in a game this season.  He had one goal on ten shots in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on February 2nd.  He is one of four Capitals in the Ovechkin era to record ten or more shots on goal in a game and the first to do it, other than Ovechkin, since Alexander Semin had ten shots on goal in a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on October 19, 2010.  For the record, Ovechkin has recorded ten or more shots in a game 45 times in his career, Alexander Semin did it three times over that same span of time, and Mike Green and Burakovsky did it once apiece.

Game to Remember… January 5th versus Boston.

Sure, there was the goal against the Bruins, the Caps’ first one of the contest at TD Garden in Boston, converting in one motion a nifty cross-ice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov…



…but Burakovsky also managed to hound Zdeno Chara into taking a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, the Caps scoring on the ensuing power play, and he finished the game with a season high three credited hits in just under 17 minutes of ice time in a 3-2 Caps win on January 5th.

Game to Forget… December 8th versus Detroit.

Late in the first period of a 1-0 game, there was a faceoff in the Caps’ end to the left of goalie Braden Holtby.  Henrik Zetterberg won it from Michael Latta and headed for the net.  He then took a return pass from Dylan Larkin to tie the game.  What was noteworthy about the play was what Andre Burakovsky was doing…



…not much of anything as it turned out, Zetterberg cutting underneath him in open ice to take the pass and score.  Burakovsky got six more shifts after that and finished with his lowest ice time number of the season (6:45), although the Caps did get the win in a Gimmick, 3-2.

Postseason: 12 games, 1-0-1, minus-1, 59.7 5-on-5 CF%; plus-10.7 CF%/Relative

Years from now…well, maybe months…ok, for now…folks will look at Andre Burakovsky’s performance numbers in the postseason (one goal in 12 games, a minus-1 overall) and look at his personal underlying numbers (59.7 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5, Corsi-for/Relative of plus-10.7) and scratch their heads in wonder, asking themselves, “how did THIS happen?”  In only two of the 12 games in which he played did opponents have more shot attempts than the Caps at 5-on-5 when he was on the ice (Games 2 and 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers).  Only once was he underwater in Corsi-for/Relative at fives (Game 4 against the Flyers; numbers from war-on-ice.com).  But there is was, one goal…one point…in the postseason.  Ain't no "Corsi" Smythe Trophy in the playoffs.

In the end…

Andre Burakovsky had what was a pretty nice second season in the NHL blow up in the postseason.  But then again, he’s a young guy.  Don’t forget that.  The Caps have had 26 forwards in their history play in at least 50 games over their first two seasons and not yet reach their 22nd birthday.  Burakovsky ranks smack in the middle of that (13th) on a points per game basis (0.45), roughly the same as what Marcus Johansson did in the same situation in his first two seasons before reaching his 22nd birthday (0.49 points per game). 

It is a bit early to draw any conclusions about Burakovsky’s destiny, even with the disappointing postseason.  He is, as he was at the start of the season, a promising player, perhaps one who is still slightly ahead of his expected development curve.  But this postseason did serve as something of a wake-up call, that regular season numbers are nice, and fancystats are all the rage.  But Cups are won with goals, assists, and wins, and Burakovsky will be evaluated in the postseason if not overall, as will the team, on the basis of how many of those they put together in the spring.

Grade: B

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America