Following on from a memorable 2015-16 regular season which saw a Metropolitan Division title and Presidents Trophy added to the franchise’s list of achievements, the Washington Capitals have started the 2016-17 strong, looking to sweep aside the pain of playoff failure last May.
Facing a daunting road game in the season opener, the Capitals secured a valuable standings point before falling to the Penguins 3-2 after a dramatic shootout and some Marc-Andre Fleury heroics. Since then though, the team has bounced back to win each of its next three, accounting for the Islanders, Avalanche, and Panthers in what will surely impress head coach Barry Trotz.
In each of the four games, the Capitals have looked the more dangerous team – out-shooting their opponents 138 to 98 overall and leading the shots on goal category on every occasion. The most dominant outing of the four came against Colorado on Tuesday where they fired off 40 shots on goal to just 18, on the way to a comfortable 3-0 win.
The most pleasing element of the early-season success has probably been the evenness of the contributions, with four skaters collecting multiple goals this week – Alex Ovechkin, Daniel Winnik, T.J. Oshie, and Andre Burakovsky. Marcus Johansson has also scored and picked up three assists, while Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom also have three helpers. In total, 15 skaters have collected a point through the first four games, once again highlighting the attacking nature and extensive depth of the team as it looks to control the division standings from the outset.
Braden Holtby has picked up where he left off last season, collecting a pair of wins and saving 75 of the 80 shots (.938) fired his way, while Philipp Grubauer’s 18 save shutout against the Avalanche will fill him with confidence going forward in the back-up goalie role. Holtby’s early-season form in particular has been impressive, having made a series of incredible saves that are becoming more ‘routine’ by the day.
The performance of the special teams is probably Trotz’s only area of concern at the moment, with the Caps struggling on the power-play thus far, converting just two of 13 opportunities (15.4%). This figure is well down on last season’s mark of 21.9% and has reflected the team’s inability to create constant periods of pressure. In addition to their struggles on the power-play, the Caps have been successful in just 71.4% of penalty kills – well down on last season’s mark of 85.1% which was good enough for second best in the NHL (behind the Anaheim Ducks). Despite the struggles though, the team continues to do enough to win and the special teams’ rust is sure to settle as the weeks progress.
The second week of the season starts with a trip back to DC to take on the Rangers on Saturday, before heading north-west to face the red hot Oilers on Wednesday who have won four of their first five games.