It’s easy to fall back on analytics this early in the season due to the impatience that lingers over franchises. Said analytics also usually come with negative rhetoric because 31 teams haven’t won a Stanley Cup in at least two years.
Luckily for the Washington Capitals, and 30 other teams in the NHL not named the Tampa Bay Lightning, there are still around 80 games left in the 2021-22 regular season. Let’s stay positive and take a look at how surprisingly well the blue line has played for Washington. They will again be tested against the preseason Stanley Cup favorites tonight.
Capitals Blue Line Playing Well
The Capitals are 1-0-1 to start the season and have a date with the Colorado Avalanche at Capital One Arena this evening. They lost in overtime to the reigning two-time champs on Saturday and last Wednesday handled the New York Rangers in the opener.
The preseason concerns have been reversed. The offense was supposed to be the benchmark as usual, but they have struggled to generate even-strength opportunities. On the other side of the ice, the defense has only given up two goals so far and is actually playing, well, defense. Here are three standouts.
It appeared Nick Jensen was having trouble during the preseason. Jensen, 31, quickly regrouped and has had a solid start to the 2021-22 campaign. He is skating fast and physical, and this was especially apparent against a heavy-hitting Rangers squad.
Jensen has logged 40:59 of ice time during 47 shifts so far and posts a plus-1 rating. Though he hasn’t recorded a point yet—he did have a goal called back against New York after video review showed the Capitals were offside—his defensive prowess has been strong. He has totaled four hits and three blocks in two games.
If the Capitals needed any defenseman to step up it had to be John Carlson, and the veteran has done so. Carlson, 31, didn’t have the greatest of seasons in 2020-21—to his standards, at least. Known more for his offensive abilities from the point and on the power play, his defense has shined more in the first two games.
Carlson has only recorded one point so far, an assist against New York, but has logged the most ice time (47:27) of any skater on the Capitals. He does have a minus-1 rating and just two hits thus far, but he is playing well, beating forwards to the puck and finishing his checks. Many points will soon come, and if he continues to lead the blue line with his strong play, he can easily be in Norris Trophy contention once again.
The biggest question heading into the regular season was how well Martin Fehervary would transition to NHL play. Fehervary, 22, debuted in 2020-21 and played six games. He made the opening night roster as expected, and has been very steady.
The young defenseman has zeros across the common stat line which is perfectly fine. He’s taken 50 shifts and has been on the ice 35:59 in the first two games. He’s recorded two shots, two hits, and four blocks, which all came against the Lightning except for one of his hits. The best thing about Fehervary is that he doesn’t look nervous, and that is a very good thing. He’s been confident with the puck and crisp with his passes and uses his big frame well against opponents.
Capitals Blue Line Pairings Working For Now
Fehervary has benefited from playing on the first line with Carlson. So far, all pairings have seemingly meshed well for head coach Peter Laviolette. Dmitry Orlov has paired with Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk and Justin Schultz make up the final duo.
Van Riemsdyk has been the shakiest of the bunch, especially at the point with the puck, but it’s still nothing of concern. He has registered two points which leads all Washington defensemen. Tonight will be another big test.
The Avalanche have been without Nathan Mackinnon due to the star forward being in COVID protocol. He did not travel with the team and will not play against the Capitals tonight. Still, Colorado is a very dangerous squad, and though they are 1-1-0 and averaging 3.50 goals per game, their high-octane offense can strike at any time. The Capitals should be wary of the fact that the Avalanche are 0-for-7 on the power play. They’re due. Washington ranks 13th in the league on the penalty kill at 83.3%. It should be a fun one tonight.
If the blue line continues to play well, then the Capitals will be a very tough team to beat, and they are getting some strong early tests to prove their worth.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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