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Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

Who's hot and who's not?: Oshie is crushing it while Ovechkin searches for scoring touch

Once a week this season, we're taking a closer look at the numbers and pointing out a few trends that every Capitals fan should know about.

Hot

T.J. Oshie

In his last 11 games, Oshie has seven goals and five assists. Since Jan. 1, in fact, the first line winger is the Caps’ leading goal scorer with 14. That’s two more than anyone else on the team…and Oshie missed six games during that stretch. With one more goal, Oshie will match his career high of 26, which he set last season. And the timing couldn’t be better for the 30-year-old, who is setting himself up for a big free agent contract this offseason. “Every player handles it differently,” Coach Barry Trotz said of contract year pressure. “Some players have career years on those years. Some players wilt under that pressure. He’s real focused. He’s having an exceptional year.”    

Nicklas Backstrom

Backstrom leads the Caps in points with 67 (21 goals, 46 assists) in 65 games. And he's been red hot the past 15 contests. During that span, the 29-year-old center has eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points—seven more than any of his teammates in that timeframe. Backstrom also logged seven shots against the Stars. He hasn’t taken seven shots in a game since 2013. So, yeah, he’s feeling it.

Penalty kill

The Caps’ penalty kill has risen to fourth (tie) entering Wednesday’s game with an effectiveness rate of 85.0 percent. Over the past 10 games, the Jay Beagle-and Karl Alzner-led unit has thwarted 25 of 28 shorthanded situations. This, of course, is a good thing for a team that’s got a penchant for taking minor penalties. In fact, since Dec. 31, the Caps have been assessed 124 minors. The next team is Tampa Bay with 106.

RELATED: Caps' playoff opponent watch: Battling Brooklyn

Cold

Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin has not scored a goal at even strength since Jan. 31—a span of 15 games—and has no goals in the Caps’ last seven contests. Overall, the 31-year-old has 27 goals (two more than Oshie) and is on pace for 34. Ovechkin had 50 or more each of the last three seasons. Asked about the downturn this week, Trotz said he’s confident his captain will get hot. “Early in that [slump], I don’t think he was getting very many chances,” Trotz said. “I think he’s working better for those chances [now]. He’s going to score, I’m pretty sure about that. …He’ll get back on track and get hot here. It’s tightening up now [so] you have to work for your goals, you have to work for your space.”

Goals per game since the bye

From Jan. 3 - Feb. 11, a span of 20 games, the Caps boasted the best offense in the NHL, scoring a total of 93 goals (4.65 per game). Then they had a six-day bye week. Since returning, they’ve scored 20 goals in nine games (2.22 per game). Sure, they’ve played a few desperate teams that adopted a, shall we say, defensive posture. (Flyers and Devils, I’m looking at you.) Still, it’s time for Ovechkin and Co. to bear down and get the “snipe” back in their game, as Trotz is fond of saying.  

Recent first periods

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Caps were tied with the Maple Leafs for the most first period goals (67) in the NHL. That trend, however, has been slowing as of late. In fact, in the nine games since the bye, they’ve come up empty in the first period six times. “We haven’t dominated,” Trotz said. “It was a sort of a mindset [prior to the hiatus]. We came out with a lot of juice and jumped on teams. And lately, we just haven’t. We haven't come out with that, ‘Let’s jump on you early and not give you a chance to get off the mat.’ We’ve been sorta saying, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals ink two college free agents

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Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

Continuing a trend, the Caps loaded up on defensemen Saturday

CHICAGO—The Capitals tried to move up a couple of times on Day 2 of the NHL Draft, but those deals did not materialize.

Instead, GM Brian MacLellan and his staff used the four picks they began the day with...and continued a trend the organization has established in recent drafts: selecting defensemen.

In fact, three of the players the Caps drafted Saturday at United Center were blue liners—Switzerland’s Tobias Geisser in the fourth round, Sweden’s Sebastian Walfridsson in the fifth and Minnesota high schooler Benton Maass in the sixth. (Winger Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen was the team’s seventh round pick.) Going back to last year's draft, Maass' selection marked five straight defensemen drafted by the Caps.

“It’s not a conscious effort,” MacLellan said of using three of the team’s four picks on defenseman. “The philosophy has been to take the best player available and our amateur staff liked these guys here today.”

Assistant General Manager Ross Mahoney added: “It comes down to taking the best player that was available to us, and there happened to be defensemen that we liked that were still on the board, so we took them.”

Conscious or not, the trend is tough to ignore.

Dating to the 2015 draft, the Capitals have chosen defensemen with nine of their 15 picks during that span. Among them are highly regarded prospects Lucas Johansen (first round in 2016), Jonas Siegenthaler (second round in 2015) and Connor Hobbs (fifth round in 2015). 

Mahoney acknowledged that have a surplus of blue liners in the pipeline can be a good problem to have.

“It is for sure,” he said. “Teams are always looking for defensemen. There’s no problem having extra defensemen in the farm system.”

Mahoney also said that as the game gets faster, finding and developing smart, puck-moving rearguards will become even more critical.

“You want your defensemen to be able to skate and have good sense and be able to make quick decisions because the game is so fast now,” he said. “The forwards get on the defense really quickly, so you want to make sure you get guys that can skate and move the puck well.”

None of the Caps’ draftees were in attendance. It was unclear as of Saturday afternoon if any of them will attend next week’s development camp at Arlington.

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Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

Trotz: Re-signing Oshie was 'the highest priority' for the Caps

CHICAGO—As excited as Barry Trotz was about retaining T.J. Oshie’s goal production, he was just as pleased to keep all the intangibles the 30-year-old brings to Washington's lineup. 

“For us, that was the highest priority,” Trotz said of re-signing Oshie. “Obviously, Osh means a lot to us.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps locked up the high-scoring winger to an eight-year, $46 million contract extension. 

“I think it sends a great message to not only our team [but] our fans,” Trotz said. “You see what Osh did the last two years. He’s a big part of our culture, a big part of our success.”

RELATED: Caps made 'a couple of good' offers but to keep Schmidt

Oshie has put up back-to-back career highs in goals, scoring 26 in 2015-16 and 33 last season. He’s also a lead-by-example type who plays bigger than his 6-foot, 189-pounds.

“He’s a guy that brings energy,” Trotz said. “He’s a guy that consistently brings a high compete level, a high execution level and a relentless attitude. That’s Osh.”

The Caps now have four of their top-6 forwards from last season under contract, with Oshie joining Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, meantime, is expected to re-sign, while Andre Burakovsky figures to round out the top two lines. Burakovsky is also a restricted free agent.

“We knew we were going to lose some guys,” Trotz said. “We still feel we’re going to be a high-scoring team. Obviously Osh had a career year last year. We’re hoping that he can build on that and have other people step in and fill some roles.”

MORE CAPITALS: MacLellan: Caps likely done signing own UFAs