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Killing Time With Numbers

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
It’s early, and it’s dangerous to read anything into an extremely limited sample size of results, namely two games. But with four days in between games at this early juncture of the season, might as well look at a few of the early returns, with only about 2.5% of the precincts reporting.

On this Monday morning, Washington’s Alexander Semin is the league leader with four goals. Semin’s hat trick in the home opener was only the second ever by a Capitals’ skater in a home opener (Mike Gartner notched one vs. Chicago on 10/10/87).

As a 19-year-old rookie with the Capitals in 2003-04, Semin totaled 10 goals and 22 points in 52 games while averaging 12:37 in ice time per night. Four of his 10 goals came on the power play that season. With additional ice time, power play ice time, maturity and bulk (he is currently listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds vs. the 6-foot-0, 174 pounds at which he was listed in the NHL Guide and Record Book immediately after he was drafted in 2002), it’s tantalizing to think of what he might be able to do over the totality of the 2006-07 season.

Caps captain Chris Clark and newly signed defenseman Brian Pothier each have four assists on the young season, tied for second in the league. Only Toronto’s Kyle Wellwood (five) has more, and Wellwood has skated in three games. In an ironic twist, Pothier is tied with former Ottawa teammate Zdeno Chara for the league lead in scoring among defensemen with four points. Chara has averaged 31:42 a night over his first two games of the season; Pothier leads all Washington defensemen with 25:38.

Last season, Pothier totaled 35 points while averaging 16:46 a night. You have to wonder what effect an increase of nearly 10 minutes a night – and more power play time – will have on Pothier’s offensive numbers. His hard and accurate right-handed point shot is bound to help the Caps power play this season. Two of Pothier’s four assists have come with the extra man.

Last season, three of Pothier’s five goals and 14 of his 30 assists came on the power play. With the Sens a year ago, Pothier saw second unit power play duty behind Chara and Wade Redden. Pothier picked up an average of 3:12 per night in power play ice time in 2005-06. Through the first two games of 2006-07, Pothier has logged an average of 7:32 in power play ice time per contest.

With 18 shots on goal (15 of them in Saturday’s home opener against Carolina), the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin is again atop the NHL charts in shots on goal. Ovechkin is sharing that spot with Toronto’s Mats Sundin, who has played in three games.

With his two goals this season, Ovechkin now has 108 career points. He is only four points behind Doug Jarvis, who currently holds the 50th spot on Washington’s all-time top 50 scoring list with 112 points. Jarvis needed 265 games to rack up those points; Ovechkin has played 83.

Olie Kolzig’s win on Saturday was the 255th of his NHL career, putting him just three behind Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 33rd place on the NHL’s all-time list. Kolzig ranks seventh among active NHL netminders, and sixth considering that Sean Burke (318) is not currently an active NHL netminder.

When the Caps claimed Rico Fata off waivers from Atlanta last March, he had played in 26 NHL games in 2005-06, and had fewer points (one) than teams (the Caps became his third; he also skated for Pittsburgh and Atlanta). This season, Fata has a goal and an assist after two games. He also deserves kudos for Washington’s improved penalty kill. Fata has averaged 3:17 per game in shorthanded ice time, third among the Capitals’ forwards. Fata was not on the ice for the lone power play goal surrendered by Washington thus far this season.

With the Caps last season, Fata totaled three goals and six points in 21 games, despite averaging just 8:11 in ice time per night. Those numbers would translate to a respectable dozen goals and 24 points over a full season. So far in 2006-07, Fata is seeing an average of 12:06 per night.

The Caps rank 16th in the league in power play prowess and are 11th in the NHL in penalty killing. Even more impressively, the Caps have found themselves shorthanded only eight times in the season’s first two games. San Jose, Detroit and Colorado have also averaged only four times shorthanded per game in the early going; no NHL team has a better rate.

Once again, it’s early. But we’ve got lots of time, and no game until Thursday. Take it for what it’s worth and exercise caution.

Notes: Matt Bradley and Matt Pettinger both skated at Washington’s practice session on Monday. Bradley, Dainius Zubrus and Brooks Laich left the ice before the completion of the day’s session. Defenseman Ben Clymer was given the day off for “maintenance.” ... The Caps practice at their temporary home in Ashburn, Va. on Tuesday before Wednesday’s departure for the Twin Cities. The Caps will practice in Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon.
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