With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Washington Capitals.
Carlson surprises as Capitals, NHL defensemen scoring leader
John Carlson began 2019-20 on a downright dizzying scoring pace, and really only slightly cooled off down the stretch.
There were moments when Carlson topped the league in scoring outright, and the NHL named him the first star of October after a ridiculous seven-goal, 23-point output over 14 games. Carlson became the first defenseman to reach 50 points in 40 games or fewer since Paul Coffey did so in 1994-95.
It’s telling that, for all the strong offensive seasons the Capitals enjoyed, Carlson topped the team with 75 points.
Should he win the Norris Trophy? That’s a debate for another day.
To some extent, it almost feels beside the point. Carlson keeps raising the ceiling for what he can accomplish, and it’s really become a sight to behold.
Heading into the season, Carlson leading defensemen in scoring wouldn’t have been that huge of a surprise. The magnitude of his scoring dominance ranks as one of the biggest surprises for the Capitals, though. Carlson topped all blueliners by 10 points (75 to Roman Josi‘s 65), and Josi was 10 points ahead of third-ranking Victor Hedman (55).
Realizing that Carlson had about a month to tack on more points makes his accomplishments that much more astounding.
Ovechkin passes 700, in range of another Maurice Richard Trophy
Yes, yes, death, taxes, and Alex Ovechkin scoring lots of goals. I get that.
The “death” part of that is a reminder that Father Time eventually wins. With that in mind, Ovechkin tying David Pastrnak for the NHL lead with 48 goals at age 34 isn’t routine. It’s mind-blowing. Ovechkin’s .71 goals-per-game average this season represents his best rate since his matching .71 from 2008-09. When he was 23. Yeah.
Now, you can transition Ovechkin-related Capitals surprises to disappointments if you look away from the goals, all 700+ (706) of them.
A drop in playmaking explains how Ovechkin can score 48 goals and not lead the Capitals in scoring. He managed 19 assists for 67 points in 2019-20. That assist rate of .28 ranks as the second-worst of his illustrious career.
While his 2019-20 stands as a little cleaner, the points about Alex Ovechkin’s defense being shabby also ring true. Wince at this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, for example:
It makes you wonder: for all of Ovechkin’s gifts, might his flaws eventually outweigh what he brings to the table?
One way or another, such thoughts could lead to future surprises and disappointments for Ovechkin and the Capitals.
Holtby towers over other disappointments for Capitals
There are other positive surprises for the Capitals, including the ascent of winger Jakub Vrana.
But if there’s one issue that towers as a disappointment — one that could at times derail strengths for Capitals — it was a rough, rough season for Braden Holtby.
Holtby managed a 25-14-6 record in large part because of his team’s scoring ways. Holtby produced an ugly .897 save percentage, and Hockey Reference’s version of GSAA puts him at an ugly -16.76. For context, only Jimmy Howard (-22.12) ranked lower by that metric.
Zooming out on his entire career, I’d argue that Holtby’s probably been underrated at times. Yet, those past accomplishments might cloud future judgments for the pending UFA. He’s struggled quite a bit during the regular season for the past three years, really.
Could the Capitals produce surprises in going with younger goalie Ilya Samsonov, who was solid in 2019-20? Would Holtby leaving be a bigger disappointment, or would the Capitals be the ones suffering if they handed him an ill-advised contract? After extending Nicklas Backstrom, it was that much clearer that someone has to go eventually.
Might Holtby once again rebound in the playoffs, as he did so masterfully during that curse-breaking, Cup-winning run in 2017-18? Also … why does that run feel like it happened a decade ago?
We could see more twists and turns — so, yes, surprises and disappointments — involving Holtby and the Capitals before this is all over.
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.