Prime Time For Prime PlayersPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
If the Caps are to extend their modest winning streak to three straight on Thursday against the rival Penguins, they’ll almost certainly require some tangible offensive contributions from their top players. It’s no secret that NHL teams are at their best when their best players are at their best. For the Capitals recently, that hasn’t been the case. And that’s one of the reasons – and maybe the main reason – why Washington has struggled so much of late and why it recently endured an eight-game winless streak. For the last few seasons, the Caps have marketed the group of Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin as “Young Guns.” At 26, Semin is the oldest of those weapons and at 23 Backstrom is the youngest. Each of the four has established an extremely high level of previous performance coming into this season. And each of the four is still young enough to be considered to be in his pre-prime seasons, meaning that more upside could reside in all four. We’re now 36 games into the 2010-11 campaign. The Caps got off to a rousing 14-4-1 start, putting them on pace to become just the second team in NHL history to record consecutive 120-point seasons. But then they went into their worst tailspin in more than three years. Having won two straight after that eight-game skid, Washington is now 6-8-3 in its last 17 games. One of the reasons for the Caps’ struggles – and probably the main reason – is the team’s “Young Guns” are all struggling simultaneously. The foursome combined for 35 goals and 84 points in the team’s first 19 games, but has managed just 11 goals and 36 points in the last 17 contests. Ovechkin had 10 goals and 25 points in the first 19 games. He has two goals and 14 points in the last 17. Backstrom started with six goals and 21 points in 19 games. He has five goals and 13 points since. Semin roared out to 14 goals and 25 points in 19 games, but has four goals and eight points since. Green had five goals and 13 points in the Capitals’ first 19 games; he has had just a single assist in the team’s last 17 games. “Like I said in between periods against Ottawa on Sunday, they have to find a way,” says Boudreau. “It’s up to them. I can’t be talking and yelling and screaming. They have to find it. I think it’s the same with individuals. We’ve bugged a lot of the people that are in a scoring slump at this stage more than they’ve ever been bugged before. “It’s time to say, ‘Hey listen. We’re there for you. Whatever you need, we will supply. But it’s up to you. You know what the messages have been, you know what you need to do. Just go out and do it.’ “Sometimes maybe they have to hit the bottom before they get to coming back up.” In the entire 2007-08 season, there were just 17 games in which none of the “Young Guns” scored. In each of the last two seasons, there were just a dozen such games. Already in just 36 games of the 2010-11 campaign, Washington has gone without any goals from “Young Guns” 14 times. They are 3-10-1 in those games, having won two straight without “Young Gun” contributions. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Capitals are 151-49-27 when one or more of the “Young Guns” gets a goal (or more) in a game. Washington is 16-33-6 in games in which no “Young Gun” scores. The Caps have won two straight games without help from the “Young Guns” three times, including their current “streak.” They’ve never won three straight without any of the kid guns a-blazing. The eyes of NHL Network, two HBO crews and two rabid fan bases will be on them tomorrow.
This is the Capitals’ 36th season in the NHL, and it will be the 25th time – and fifth season in a row – they’ve played a game on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. Most of those games have been played on home ice, including each of the last three. The Caps won each of those last three