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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 11/27

Caps start busy stretch vs. Cats, Washington's ongoing power play prowess and the remaking of the third line, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Work To Do - After a temporary lull in the schedule in which they played one game in the last six nights, the Capitals are back to work and starting another heavy duty stretch on Wednesday night. The Florida Panthers are in town to supply the opposition for the Caps' traditional Thanksgiving Eve game, a contest that also kicks off span of three games in four nights and six games in the next 10 nights.

Power Trip - In its daily "Noon Number" feature on Tuesday, the always excellent Japers' Rink noted the Caps' power play prowess since 2012. Beginning with the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season, the Caps' power play outfit has been over 20 percent for seven straight seasons, and it is above that threshold thus far this season as well. The Caps have scored a league-high 407 power-play goals in that span, and their overall 23.3 percent success rate is also tops in the circuit over that span.

This marks the fifth straight season which the Caps have iced basically the same No. 1 unit, with Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin going over the boards first when Washington is up a man. During that stretch, the Caps have scored 235 power-play goals, and the aforementioned quintet is responsible for scoring 180 of them (76.6 percent).

As a corollary, it's been difficult for other players to get much footing on the Washington power play, because that first unit has been so effective, and also because they tend to stay on the ice for most of the man advantage time. Over the last four-plus seasons, Washington's leading power-play goal getters - beyond the five aforementioned stalwarts - are mostly guys who have moved on to other teams: Marcus Johansson (11), Justin Williams (8), Brett Connolly (6), Andre Burakovsky (5) and Jakub Vrana (5) are the other Washington skaters with as many as five power-play goals over that span, and only Vrana is still here. Among the others who've scored with the extra man during that period: Tom Wilson, Lars Eller, Jason Chimera, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Chiasson and Kevin Shattenkirk. Only Wilson, Eller and Orlov remain from that group.

When the team is at peak health, the Caps' current second unit consists of Wilson, Vrana, Eller, Orlov and one of Travis Boyd, Brendan Leipsic and Richard Panik. It's been tough to crack the top six here, and even tougher to crack the power play unit in D.C.

As further evidence of that point, the Caps have frequently had a forward outside their top six who has been among the league's most efficient 20-goal scorers. Back in 2009-10 - a few years prior to the period of time Japers' spotlighted - Washington's power play led the NHL with a 25.2 percent success rate. Among the league's forwards that season, 110 scored 20 or more goals. Of that group, Washington's Eric Fehr had the least ice time per game (12:08), and only three of his 21 goals came on the power play.

(A further note here; among every forward at the bottom of this list yearly since 1997-98, Fehr's 12:08 is third lowest. Dave Andreychuk averaged 12:00 for Buffalo at the bottom of this list in 2000-01, but he was a power play specialist who scored 15 of his 20 goals with the extra man that season. The only other bottom-of-the-list guy lower than Fehr was Jeff Carter, when he was a rookie in Philly in 2005-06. Carter averaged 12:04, and he scored six of 23 on the power play.)

Video: Reirden Pregame | November 27

Fast forward to 2015-16, Jason Chimera is the bottom guy on the same list. As one of 101 forwards with 20 or more goals that season, Chimera was the low man on the average ice time list (14:03) among the same group. Four of his 20 goals came on the power play.

Last season, the Blue Jackets' Oliver Bjorkstrand had the lowest average ice time among the league's 20-goal men. The Caps had seven players among the league's 121 forwards who finished with 20 or more goals, but Connolly (13:20) was second lowest and Vrana (14:02) was fifth lowest on that list in average ice time. Both Connolly and Vrana finished with just one power-play goal in 2018-19.

Since we're about a third of the way through this season, let's adjust the goal threshold from 20 to seven, which gives us a similar sample size of 99 forwards who've reached that level in 2019-20. Among them all, Arizona's Conor Garland is the lowest at 13:04. But three familiar names are sprinkled among the top 10: Vrana is third at 14:22, with none of his 11 goals on the power play, Connolly is fourth at 14:35 with one of his 11 goals on the power play, and Burakovsky is eighth at 15:46 with one of his 11 goals on the power play.

Finally, it's rather remarkable that two guys - Burakovsky and Connolly - who spent a great deal of time skating with Eller on Washington's third line over the last several seasons - each have 11 goals thus far for their new teams (Colorado and Florida, respectively), while their ostensible replacements (Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik) have combined for exactly one goal, though each has also missed a number of games because of injury.

Despite a lot of goals going out the door over the summer and relatively few - so far, anyway - coming back into those same spots on the depth chart, the Caps are still thriving. As Caps general manager Brian MacLellan noted on Tuesday, the Caps have recast their third line as more of a defensive outfit.

"I think we changed the identity of our third line," says MacLellan. "It became more penalty-kill focused, more two-way focused than it was last year. I don't know that we've had the opportunity to see that line and whether it works or it doesn't work yet. I think we saw Hagelin and Eller last year, it seemed to work for us the last part of the year. I'd like a bigger sample size to see if all three of those guys work together.

"Ideally, we'd like to have a line that can kill penalties, that can play against top six forwards, and produce 5-on-5 - not to the level that we had last year, because I don't feel we need that much production. We need more two-way game."

Ideally, MacLellan and the Caps can start to get a handle on what a Hagelin-Eller-Panik unit is capable of achieving during the upcoming West Coast trip. The unit has not played together in more than a month, since Oct. 16, the eighth game of the season. Panik returned to the lineup on Nov. 11 after an absence of nearly a month, and that Nov. 11 game against Arizona is the first of 11 contests that Hagelin will miss because of an upper body injury. He can return to the lineup on Dec. 3 in San Jose.

Video: Two-Man Advantage | November 27

In The Nets - Braden Holtby makes his fifth consecutive start on Wednesday against Florida. Holtby had a seven-game personal winning streak snapped a week ago in New York against the Rangers, and he came out on the short side of a 2-1 shootout decision to Vancouver on Saturday afternoon in his most recent start, a game in which he made 32 saves and the lone goal to beat him in 65 minutes was a 5-on-3 power-play strike.

Holtby is 10-1-2 with a 2.41 GAA in his last 13 games, and he has posted a .932 save pct. in his last eight starts. Lifetime against the Panthers, he is 11-2-2 with a shutout, a 2.86 GAA and a .904 save pct. in 16 games.

Sergei Bobrovsky is the expected Florida netminder tonight. In his first season with the Panthers, Bobrovsky has won nine of his 19 starts thus far (9-5-4), posting an underwhelming 3.44 GAA and .888 save pct. in the process. Lifetime against Washington, Bobrovsky is 9-11-5 with a shutout, a 2.98 GAA and a .901 save pct.

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Panthers to look on Wednesday night in DC when they meet for the second of three encounters this season:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie

14-Panik, 18-Stephenson, 72-Boyd

47-Malenstyn, 26-Dowd, 28-Leipsic

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

30-Samsonov

Injuries

19-Backstrom (upper body)

21-Hathaway (suspension)

62-Hagelin (upper body)

Scratches

29-Djoos

 

FLORIDA

Forwards

11-Huberdeau, 16-Barkov, 68-Hoffman

10-Connolly, 21-Trocheck, 62-Malgin

72-Vatrano, 14-Toninato, 63-Dadonov

9-Boyle, 55-Acciari, 7-Sceviour

Defensemen

3-Yandle, 5-Ekblad

19-Matheson, 6-Stralman

13-Pysyk, 2-Brown

Goaltenders

72-Bobrovsky

60-Driedger

Injuries

8-Hawryluk (upper body)

Scratches

52-Weegar

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