- Brooks Laich, like most of the Capitals forwards, is struggling to match his performance from last season. (Photo: Associated Press)
We'll return to Wizards Road Watch momentarily, but first let's revisit the Washington Capitals. The Caps wrapped up the unofficial first half of their season Wednesday night with a 1-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. Washington enters the All-Star break, which lasts through this Monday, with 63 points from 51 games. Though the Caps are still on pace for a 101-point season, they currently sit four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for the Southeast Division lead and if the season ended today, Washington would be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and face a grueling first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sounds slightly disconcerting, doesn't it? But it hasn't all been bad for the Capitals, as we'll see in my midterm grades, which are coming after the jump.
Whatever other issues you might have with the way Capitals general manager George McPhee's put together this team, you can't fault him for deciding to go with a tandem of 22-year-old goalkeepers to start the season. McPhee's gamble has paid off admirably, as Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been the most consistent performers in Washington's squad. Over his 17 starts Varlamov ranks fourth in the NHL among all goalies in save percentage (.927, 40 goals allowed in 548 shots) and in goals against average (2.16). Neuvirth, who was named NHL Rookie of the Month in October and has made 10 more starts in net than Varlamov, has a slightly higher GAA (2.55, 19th among all goalies) and a lower save percentage (.911, 27th among all goalies with 68 goals in 698 shots), but has proven to be an adequate stand-in, along with sometime minor league call-up Braden Holtby.
This unit suffered with the loss of Tom Poti, who's only played 21 games this year, but got a nice upgrade with the trade of Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan, who's become a dependable third-pairing partner for John Erskine. Mike Green is the lone All-Star from this group, even though he's on pace to record half of the 76 points he racked up in 2009-10. But the real standout performers are John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who rank third and fourth on the team in +/- (Carlson with a +13, Alzner with a +10) behind only Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Carlson might feel justifiably miffed to be left out of this weekend's festivities in Raleigh, but no doubt he'll he proud of his first-half performance as part of a unit that's giving up 0.31 fewer goals per game than last season (2.53 this season, 2.84 in 2009-10).
As I pointed out earlier this week, the Capitals are averaging almost exactly one fewer goal per game than last season's record-setting bunch. While it is tempting to set everything at the feet of the two Alexes (Ovechkin and Semin), the fact of the matter that the entire offense is, relatively speaking, experiencing a power outage. Brooks Laich, for example, has scored three goals since December 1. Mike Knuble is on pace to record his lowest goal-scoring total since the 2001-02 season. Eric Fehr's shoulder injury doesn't help matters, but he was also on pace to score 16 goals even before his injury, five fewer than the 21 goals he notched in 2009-10. One of the few bright spots has been watching the development of Swedish rookie center Marcus Johansson, but even he's only recorded two points since January 14. It's been that kind of year for the Capitals forwards.