A Tale of Two WingersPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Jason Chimera scored his 11th goal of the season last night in the Capitals’ 26th game of the season. Chimera now has one more goal than he scored in 81 games last season. Chimera has five goals in his last seven games, and he also set up Brooks Laich’s overtime game-winner on Saturday against Ottawa to give Caps head coach Dale Hunter his first NHL victory. Chimera has 11 goals and 17 points now, and seems a good bet to match or exceed his career bests in goals (17 in 2005-06) and points (36 in 2006-07). Prior to this season, Chimera never had more than seven goals through his first 26 games of the season. When he scored 17 goals in 2005-06, Chimera had just four goals at the 26-game mark. Currently, Chimera is on pace to score 34 goals. He probably won’t, because his shooting pct. is through the roof at the moment, and those sort of things tend to regress toward the norm over periods of time. But he’s having a great year, he is leading the Caps in goals, has helped anchor a pretty decent checking line, and has been one of the team’s most consistent players throughout the first third of the season. It would be great to see him get his first 20-goal season in the league. Speaking of 20-goal seasons in the league, we’ve got the case of Mike Knuble. When he scored against the Panthers last night, Knuble notched his third goal of the season, also in 26 games. It ended a personal 16-game drought without a goal for Knuble, his longest since he went 17 games without lighting the lamp 10 years ago. Knuble has a running streak of eight straight seasons with 20 or more goals, and he is one of just eight NHL players who can make that claim. His shooting pct. of 6.8% is far under his career mark of 14.1% and is well under last year’s 11.8% figure. Should we bet against Knuble getting to a ninth straight season with 20 goals? Maybe, but if so it’s because of opportunity. Or lack thereof. Knuble averaged 2.57 shots on goal per game last season. He’s averaging 1.69 this time around. He skated an average of 17:52 per game last season compared to 14:59 in 2011-12. Finally, he averaged 2:19 per night in power play time last season compared to 1:44 this season. And of course, and most obviously, he is no longer skating alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. For the most part, Knuble has played with Matt Hendricks and Jeff Halpern, who have combined for one goal so far this season. Cut Knuble’s ice time, cut his power play time, move him from the first to the fourth line, and then wonder why he’s not producing. The Caps’ power play with less Knuble than last season is 2-for-its-last-50 (4%) and ranks 22nd in the NHL. Ovechkin is also currently producing at a rate far below his career norms. I’m no genius, and I’m the last guy to tell anyone how to do their job. But if I had a couple guys who were struggling, and who had a previous history of success together, I might try playing them together for a bit. Maybe from the start of a game. Maybe even keep them together for a few games. Just to see what might happen. You can always change it up if it doesn’t work. Here are the Caps, sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference a third of the way through the season. Six wins in their last 19 games. Struh-gull-ing, as Joe Namath would say. Two different coaches, and neither has opted to try reuniting the 8-19-22 combo for anything more lasting than the odd shift here or there. Is there something I am missing here? Seems like far more upside than downside to me. Chimera has been put in a spot to succeed, and he’s succeeded. He is playing about a minute more per game than last season, and he has had the same linemates for something like 75 or 80 percent of the season to date, I’d guess. And it has paid off. One more thing. You know last year, when Knuble finished with those 24 goals and he had all that additional ice time and stuff? He only had five goals after 26 games; he scored the fifth in the 26th game. It’s not too late.
When the Caps roared out to their 7-0 start this season, one of the reasons for the team’s success was its power play. Washington scored with the extra man in six of those seven games, and was 8-for-27 (29.6%) with the extra man in those seven games. Since then, the Capitals’ power play has gone