Last season, the Caps finished fourth in the NHL with 146 goals and ninth in the league in 5-on-5 goals with 93. Not too shabby for a team that also led the NHL in power-play goals with 44.
Through three games this season, the Caps’ power play is humming along at 50 percent [6-for-12], but they’ve been outscored at even strength by a 10-3 count.
That is shabby, but not enough for coach Adam Oates to break up his forward lines. In fact, aside from replacing fourth-line center Michael Latta with Jay Beagle in Game 2, Oates has kept his forward combinations intact.
“I’m really not worried about it at all,” Oates said Tuesday. “We know what guys can do. We have a lot of guys who need a couple goals and relax.
“I’m a very patient guy when it comes to that. You’ve got to give a guy a fair amount of time to let everything happen.”
The Capitals’ lack of 5-on-5 production is evenly distributed. Alex Ovechkin, Mikhail Grabovski and rookie defenseman Connor Carrick are the only Caps with even-strength goals and nine forwards, including top-liner Marcus Johnasson and second-liners Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich, are still looking for their first goal of the season.
“I think we’ve been good,” Brouwer said of his unit with Laich and Grabovski. “But if we’re going to be a second line we need to score goals; otherwise, we’re going to get broken up and somebody else is going to get the opportunity to do it.”
To be fair, a hip injury to Laich and visa issues for Grabovski limited the trio to just one preseason game during training camp. But by Oates’ estimation, the Laich-Grabovski-Brouwer line created between 10 and 15 scoring opportunities in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss in Dallas.
“I think we can be a consistent threat every shift,” Laich said. “It just takes time. We looked at some shifts on the plane and we talked about it. We haven’t really been hemmed in our zone, which is always a plus. Now it comes down to producing.”
Oates said that as well as Ovechkin has played on the power play – his three goals on the man-advantage lead the NHL – he expects more from the Caps’ 28-year-old captain.
“He had a good week, but I still say there is so much room for improvement for all of us, himself included,” Oates said. “He got some power-play goals and only one 5-on-5 and we need to get more 5-on-5 opportunities.”
The Caps’ third line of Jason Chimera [minus-4], Eric Fehr [minus-6] and Joel Ward [minus-5] has combined for just one assist, but Oates pointed out they were on the ice for an empty-netter, another goal was scored against them at the end of a power play and a third when Michal Neuvirth gave the puck away behind his net.
“The [plus-minus] statistic is skewed a lot,” he said, “but there is some grounds to it.”
Everyone seems to agree that the Caps’ struggles at 5-on-5 starts on their blue line, where they’ve had trouble getting the puck cleanly out of the zone.
“We’re just panicking,” Brouwer said. “We want to get the puck out right away and because of that we spend half the game skating after the puck instead of possessing the puck.”
Oates said the forwards deserve some blame as well.
“I thought there were moments where we turned it over too many times, trying to get cute instead of making the obvious play, which is get it deep and try to wear them out, which is part of the plan,” Oates said. “We did it at times and we looked like a pretty good team.”