Tuesday night the Caps beat the Calgary Flames 4-2 and narrowly maintained their hold on the Metropolitan Division with Pittsburgh hot on their heels. This game was entertaining from start to finish, and it featured Kevin Shattenkirk’s first goal as a Capital as well as an 11-shot Alex Ovechkin charge that ended with a PP snipe on Flames netminder Brian Elliott.
The final five-on-five shot attempt tally was 55 to 49 in favor of the Caps, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Five minutes into the third period, shot attempts were 53 to 32 in favor of the Caps. Scoring chances were also lopsided through the first two periods, with the Caps entering the second intermission up 22 to 14 in that statistic.
This is my final solo snapshot of the season. My first and most sophisticated thoughts about the 2016-17 so far goes like this:
The Caps have dominated the regular season. With 100 points and a plus-69 goal differential, the team has already locked up a playoff appearance. The remaining questions are few:
I think the answers to one and two are yes. The answer to three is back-to-back Vezina good. But I wonder sometimes if Holtby’s excellence might be lulling the Caps into complacency. The team is not without weaknesses, and I’d rather see them addressed now than in an offseason that comes too soon.
Let’s do the snapshot.
The Washington Capitals defense, now and presumably into the playoffs, goes like this:
Alzner – Carlson
Orlov – Niskanen
Orpik – Shattenkirk
The pairs leave 6’1″ Minnesota-native Nate Schmidt on the outside looking in. When asked about the lineup on Thursday, head coach Barry Trotz did not equivocate. “Nate is seven,” he said. “[Schmidt] played very well, and that makes the decisions tougher. That’s his job as a player. He’s in that seven-hole.”
There are lots of factors that inform a coach’s lineup decisions, and it’s certainly Trotz’s prerogative to make those calls, but it’s worth stating for the record that Nate Schmidt is not the seventh best defenseman on the Capitals. He’s probably among the seven best defensemen in the entire league this season.
Thursday night the Caps lost 2-1 to the Nashville Predators, after giving up a two-on-one rush early in overtime. The Caps seemed to have their skating legs under them, but Preds goalie Pekka Rinne stood strong and neither team ended up generating much offense. In fact, the most offensive thing that happened was Tom Wilson‘s fists solidly connecting with Austin Watson‘s face in an old-school hockey brawl.
The game ended almost entirely even in shot attempts at 37 to 36 at five-on-five, in slight favor of the Caps. Scoring chances and shots on goal were also nearly even. That said, it felt like the Caps had the better of the offensive zone time, and simply failed to convert on any of their setups besides a Brett Connolly goal on a turnover in the first period.
According to The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan, Nate Schmidt will serve as the team’s seventh defenseman for the rest of the season and sit tonight against Nashville. This decision is somewhat of a surprise, as reports had previously suggested that Brooks Orpik might get scratched with Kevin Shattenkirk returning from a two-game suspension.
After sitting out for five games, Schmidt was excellent filling in for Shattenkirk. Besides scoring a nice goal to open the scoring against Minnesota, Schmidt went plus-13 in five-on-five shot attempts during his two games back in the lineup. Schmidt sitting after such an excellent performance is a tough by-product of the Caps’ stacked blueline, especially after the Shattenkirk acquisition.
Tuesday night the Caps beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 and put their first four-game losing streak since 2014 behind them. For 40 minutes this game had everything you’d want, with Alex Ovechkin ending his own goalless streak, a gorgeous Evgeny Kuznetsov goal, and the second goal of the year by the smiliest Capital, Nate Schmidt.
Alas, at the beginning of the third period the Caps promptly allowed a goal and then took their sixth and seventh minor penalties of the night, resulting in another goal against. But then something awesome happened… the Caps held the Wild without an even strength shot attempt for the final 19 minutes of the game. You read that right. Final shot attempts at five-on-five were 48 to 36 in favor of the Caps.
With 95 points in 68 games, the Capitals currently sit atop the Metropolitan Division and the entire league. They are on a four-game losing streak, while the Metro division rival Pittsburgh Penguins have won five of their last six (with a shootout loss last night), tying the Caps in points with exactly the same number of games played.
Regular season success for the Caps has become a punchline. It’s hard to get excited about this final 14-game stretch when all that we really care about is what the team does come April, May, and hopefully June. Which is entirely fair.
But there is a lot left to play for right now, and the stakes are high. The Caps have snuck back into a dogfight for what is a genuinely important number one seed in the Metro. Forget the Presidents’ Trophy, they need to take this division — for the reasons you’ll see below.
Last night the Caps polished off a highly unsuccessful California road trip with a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. This was the first Shattless game that the Caps have played since acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk, as the veteran defenseman sat for the first game of a two-game suspension.
Reasonable minds can disagree about how concerned we should be after the team’s fourth straight loss and Alex Ovechkin’s tenth straight goalless game, but the players are looking to course correct as Brooks Orpik called them out and they had a closed-doors meeting after the game.
The Caps’ seemed out of sync from the get-go in this game, with their execution sorely lacking. This was evidenced in their missed shots. Halfway through the game the Caps were hanging tight with the Ducks in terms of shot attempts, actually ahead 21 to 20 at five-on-five. Shots on goal at that time were 14 to eight, however, in favor of Anaheim.
The Washington Capitals have a 5-4-1 record since their time off in mid-February. Normally, being a bit above a .500 points percentage isn’t bad, but for a team with Cup aspirations it’s been dispiriting.
Some have blamed the bye week for the Caps’ slump. One fan put it this way:
@russianmachine f$&k the bye week
— The Capital Bobbler (@capitalbobbler) March 1, 2017
I don’t agree. I watched and covered Thursday’s game at San Jose, and — besides the result and the hour — I thought it was a solid game of road hockey by the league’s best team. I’m pretty confident the Caps are still good. Maybe they’re just not as lucky anymore.
Last night the Caps lost to the Sharks by a score of 4-2 in a game that may have ended at 4am. Where’s my coffee? The best Caps-related highlights might be Barry Trotz narrowly avoiding a puck to the head, and Kevin Shattenkirk potting another point on a nice game-tying assist to Brett Connolly.
Five-on-five shot attempts were very even during this game, coming out 35 to 33 in favor of the Sharks, and 53 to 52 in favor of the Caps in all situations. The Caps allowed two powerplay goals against for the sixth time this season.
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