braden-holtby-miserable-me-too

Photo: Justin K. Aller

The Capitals just had their best regular season in franchise history. We thought things might be different in this year’s playoffs, yet here we are again, feeling like we just got run over by a 16 wheeler (that then put itself in reverse, backed over our still twitching bodies, put itself back in drive, and ran us over again).

Let me just spew out a few painful facts that are real, actual things. Alex Ovechkin, this generation’s greatest goal scorer, has never made it past the second round of the postseason. Barry Trotz, this season’s slam dunk Jack Adams Trophy winner, has never gotten past the second round of the postseason. The whole dang Caps franchise has not made it past the second round since 1998. On top of that, this series loss to the Penguins marks the eighth time the organization has lost to the Penguins out of nine tries, which is the worst winning percentage in the NHL among any teams that have faced off 8 times or more. These stats can straight up go to hell.

So can this chart.

I have no grand conclusions on why this season ended early for the Caps — other than they were really unlucky and not failures in any way. What I do have is a lot of random thoughts and questions, some of which are fun and some of which are miserable. Let’s review.

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Keys for Game Six to Force a Game Seven

Brooks Orpik

Photo: Drew Hallowell

A Caps win in Game Five brought the series back to Pittsburgh. Tonight, the Washington Capitals will look to force a Game Seven back in Washington. The Caps must continue with what worked in Game Five, and even sharpen up a few areas, because an elimination game on home ice is one thing, but one in the enemy’s barn is a whole other animal.

Here are my five keys to a Game Six win.

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EvgenyKuznetsov

Photo: Drew Hallowell

Looks like Head Coach Barry Trotz is shuffling his line combos heading into Game Five on Saturday. NHL.com’s Katie Brown has the lines from practice this morning:

The biggest change is the flip-flopping of centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov’s elevation forms a new top line for Head Coach Barry Trotz with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, one that had success early in the season. Other notable changes include the reformation of the Caps’ Tre Kronor line with Backstrom centering Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams finding himself on the third line.

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Five Reasons Why the Caps Could Still Win This Series

holtby-pens-fans

Photo: Justin K. Aller

Wednesday night, the Capitals lost Game Four to the Penguins in sudden death overtime. According to the NHL’s PR, the Penguins improved to 8-3 in 11 all-time OT playoff games against the Capitals. The victory gave the Penguins a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Yesterday, we felt depressed. But there is reason to have hope. In fact, I have five reasons why the Caps could come back in this series.

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mike-weber

Wednesday after the morning skate, NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti reported that veteran Capitals defenseman Mike Weber would get a sweater for Game Four. Barry Trotz is benching Nate Schmidt, the man who had a bad turnover which directly led to the Penguins’ game-winning goal Monday.

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#CapsFilmRoom: A Tale of Two Passes

Alex Ovechkin

Photo: Justin K. Aller

It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. Okay, maybe that was forced, but it still holds true. Game Three began with a grope, but ended with a 3-2 loss on enemy ice. The Caps absolutely outplayed the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday night, but still walked away down 2-1 in the series.

Even so, there are positives to pull from the game. It was the first match of the series that the Caps unquestionably controlled the play against the Penguins. The Capitals probably never expected to come into Pittsburgh and take both games, so while it makes Game Four on Wednesday all the more important, it is not a backbreaker either.

The Caps are rightfully feeling pretty good about their current play going into Game Four. This was a game of bounces. The Pens got them. The Caps didn’t.

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#CapsFilmRoom: Goals Against from Game Two

Fehr Goal

Game Two was unsuccessful to say the least. The Capitals struggled through two periods of play, committed penalty after penalty in the second (though maybe some were undeserved), and lost the game off the stick of an old ally turned foe. So, let’s engage in the oldest pastime known to sports: assigning blame.

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#CapsFilmRoom: Goals from Game One

Oshie Hattrick

For the last couple months (since I figured out how to create GIFs), I have been posting 140 character or less takes on goals that the Capitals have either scored or given up on the Twitter. I am more than happy to take any requests on a non-goal play that someone has questions about, so feel free to make any requests. For now, let’s use the ability to post longer than 5-second videos to get some more detail in the explanations for the goals of Game One.

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Where the Battles Need to be Won

Dmitri Orlov Defends

Photo: Patrick Smith

I don’t know if anyone else has been paying attention to the numbers that Sportlogiq has been tweeting out about each playoff game, but I find them fascinating. For instance, did you know that in Game Five of the Caps/Flyers series, the Caps had offensive zone possession for 5:44 and the Flyers for only 2:07?

It was an impressive showing by the Capitals in the loss to be sure, but the interesting thing to me in those stats is that there was only 7:51 of even strength offensive possession by both teams combined. That leaves 32:09 of even strength time in a close, 60-minute game where there wasn’t offensive possession (there was 20 minutes of non 5-on-5 time). That is a huge percentage (80.375 percent to be exact).

That isn’t an outlier either, the Blues/Blackhawks series averaged 10:41 in even strength offensive possession by both teams combined, and they went to three overtime periods. So much emphasis is put on how players and teams play with the puck in the zone and defend in the zone, but the vast majority of time is spent doing other things, carrying or passing through neutral, fighting for loose pucks in all three zones, and regrouping and breaking out.

When it comes down to it, much of this game of hockey is played between the tops of the circles and not beneath them. That area of the ice is where the little things can cause more zone time, a quick strike goal or a huge breakdown. For the Capitals to win this series, they will need to outplay the Penguins here, in the middle of the ice.

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Sizing Up the Penguins: Special Teams

Penguins Capitals Special Teams

Photo: Patrick Smith

About two weeks ago, we previewed the special teams matchup that loomed between the Washington Capitals and their First Round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. Special teams ended up playing an important role in more than one game of that series, so wise men and women will take note of this preview as well.

In the Caps/Flyers preview, we outlined the Caps penalty kill as well as the Flyers power play and PK. The Caps do not alter their PK from team to team, so another breakdown of that will be unnecessary, but you might want a refresher on how the Caps kill penalties. There will be similarities and there will be differences, so buckle up.

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