J.P. of our friends over at Japers Rink took the time to answer five questions for us. You can check them out below.
Q: The possession numbers are just okay, but how do the Capitals look this season?
A: "Just okay"? Puck On Net has them second in the League in score-adjusted Corsi-For percentage and Corsica has them second in score and venue-adjusted CF% - I'd say that's better than "just okay." But as to how they've looked, they look like a well-coached team that has a ton of talent but is settling in for a long regular season after a tough playoff defeat (following a Presidents' Trophy regular season) last spring, which is to say there are stretches of dominance, some spells where the focus and effort may seem to wane a bit, and there's generally enough skill to be in and win a lot of games without being at their absolute best. I'd imagine you guys are familiar with that kind of play.
Editor’s Note: The Capitals are 10th in fenwick-for percentage and seventh in corsi-for percentage when adjusting for score, zone and venue on corsica.hockey. All numbers are even strength. J.P. is referring to numbers adjusted for score and venue, hence the discrepancy.
Q: Where are the expectations set for the Capitals this season?
A: Some would probably say it's "Cup or bust" for the Caps, but realistically and barring something significant and unforeseen, they absolutely need to make it to at least the Conference Finals for the season to be considered any sort of success. That, of course, won't be easy, given that it likely means having to go through at least one if not both of the Cup-champ Penguins and red hot Rangers. So expectations are that they'll contend for a Metro Division title, probably have home-ice advantage in the first round and then face an extremely tough second-round match-up that will likely be a coin-flip... on paper.
Realistically, though, these are the Caps, so expectations are that they'll end their season in the most gut-wrenching, soul-crushing and faith-shattering way possible.
Q: Nicklas Backstrom only has one goal this season. Is there concern about his play right now?
A: I don't think so. He's spent a lot of time away from Alex Ovechkin (though they've since been reunited) and played more of a Patrice Bergeron-style "shutdown" role against top competition at times, and his underlying numbers have remained strong (much better away from Ovi, in fact). He does have eight assists, five of which have come at even strength and four of which are primaries, But sure, you'd like to see him lighting the lamp a little more (and his shots are down a tick, which is contributing). Heck, between him and Evgeny Kuznetsov (who, you'll recall, led the team in points last year), the Caps have only gotten two goals from their top two centers, a position which is a real strength of this team.
Concerned, though? Nah, not really - you can set your watch to Nick Backstrom; at the end of the year, his numbers will be just about exactly what you'd expect them to be.
Q: The Capitals' power play percentage is in the bottom third of the league right now — has anything changed or is this more a matter of poor luck than anything?
A: That's a good question, and I've got some concerns there. But their shot rates are still great (top of the League, in fact), Last week I tweeted a chart that showed that the Caps' PP was scoring at a lower-than-expected rate, given the shots they were taking (the Sharks, too, by the way), and I certainly buy that. As of this morning, per Corsica, the Caps' five-on-four power play has scored four goals and their xGF (expected goals for) is 7.99. So add four more conversions to the Caps' current 5-for-35 (overall) and they're at a cool 25.7%, which would've led the League last year. So it certainly seems like luck (and/or other unquantifiables) is playing a big part in the low percentage so far.
Q: Andre Burakovsky's possession numbers look great so far. What do you think of him?
A: Burakovsky is a terrific player who, despite being in his third NHL season, is still the youngest player on the Caps' roster at 21. He has a lot of the traits you'd expect in a supremely skilled kid - flashes of brilliance, bouts of self-doubt and low-confidence, scoring droughts, etc. - but he's battled through them, and dealt with inconsistent linemates and usage and remained productive throughout, at least with regards to his underlying numbers. The sky's the limit for this kid, and it'll be exciting to watch him develop further.
Bonus Question: Is anyone in D.C. going to be at this game on election night?
A: Good question. But I'm sure 20 Caps and 20 Sharks will show up and put on what should be an entertaining show that will provide a welcome distraction for anyone willing to watch.