Getting Less With More
Last summer, the Capitals opened up their wallet and shelled out over $30 million to issue multi-year contracts to three unrestricted free agents: forwards Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov and defenseman Tom Poti. Nylander and Kozlov were signed to be top six forwards and Poti was inked to play on the team’s top defensive pairing and first power play group.
A third of the way through the 2007-08 season, all three are performing close to their previously established offensive performance levels. But as a team, Washington’s offense has been anemic. The Capitals are currently on pace to score just 191 goals, a figure that would rank as the third lowest of their 33 seasons in the NHL.
The Capitals have better offensive players this season than they’ve had in the previous two seasons. They’ve taken more shots and they’ve had more shots on goal. So far, the results just haven’t been there, and the lack of scoring has really hurt the Caps in the standings.
In 2005-06, the Caps were 9-16-2 after 27 games, the exact same record they have this season. Two years ago at this stage, the Caps had been outshot 951-739 and had been outscored 107-74. Leading scorer Alex Ovechkin had 17 goals, 30 points and 135 shots on goal.
In 2006-07, the Caps were 12-9-6 through 27 games. They had been outshot 974-740 and had been outscored 87-85. Ovechkin had 17 goals, 31 points and 143 shots on goal.
This season, the Capitals are again 9-16-2 after 27 games. They’ve outshot the opposition 822-772 (a remarkable swing of plus-284 from last season!), but they’ve been outscored 78-63. Ovechkin has 20 goals, 32 points and 154 shots on goal.
Coming into this season, the main concern of most Caps fans was the defense. How good would the team’s young defense be? How would 37-year-old goaltender Olie Kolzig hold up after missing a few weeks with a knee injury last season? So far, so good in those areas.
Washington has cut its goals against significantly over each of the last two seasons. The Caps have allowed 2.89 goals per game thus far in 2007-08. Every NHL team that allowed an average of 2.94 or fewer goals per game last season made the playoffs. The Caps’ defense and goaltending has given the team a chance to win on most nights this season.
Holding a team to three or fewer goals on a regular basis should mean winning on a regular basis. in 2005-06, the Capitals were 25-9-3 in games when they held the opposition to three or fewer goals. Washington was 4-30-9 in games in which it surrendered four or more goals.
Last season, the Caps were 27-8-8 when allowing three or fewer goals and were 1-32-6 when giving up four or more.
You’ll note that in each of the last two seasons, the Caps allowed four or more goals in nearly half the games on the schedule, an unacceptable amount. So it is heartening that the Caps have allowed four or more goals in just nine of the first 27 games this season. They’ve lost all nine of those games in regulation, but what’s worse, they’ve only managed a 9-7-2 mark in games in which they’ve allowed three or fewer tallies.
Washington is 3-7-2 in one-goal games, the second worst record in the league. Over the previous two seasons, the Caps were a combined 25-24-26 in one-goal games.
Ovechkin has accounted for 31.7% of Washington’s goals in 2007-08. Only Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk (32.3%) has accounted for a greater portion of his team’s offense among all NHL players.
Washington’s defense has cut the opposition’s scoring chances and shots on goal by a significant margin. Capitals goaltenders have shaved the team’s goals against. But the Caps’ marksmen — aside from Ovechkin — have not held up their end of the bargain. The Caps scored on 11.5% of their shots on goal in the first 27 games of last season. If they were clicking at the same rate in 2007-08, the Caps would have a league-leading total of 94 goals right now. Instead, the Caps are connecting on just 7.7% of their shots on goal, and they have just 63 goals.
That staggering difference between last year’s marksmanship and this year’s is all that prevents the Caps from prosperity in the NHL and Southeast Division standings. Among divisional foes, only Florida (2.82 goals against per game) has allowed fewer than Washington’s 2.89. Instead of being last in the entire NHL, a few more goals in the right spots would likely have the Caps in the thick of a hunt for a playoff berth.
Fifty-five games and 110 possible points remain on the schedule. If the Caps still hold out hope of earning a playoff berth, they’d likely need to claim 73-75 of those remaining points. They won’t do it by scoring 2.3 goals per game.