The Caps found themselves in the win column yet again on Tuesday night. Thanks to a pair of goals from Matt Niskanen, the good guys defeated the Isles 4-2 to extend their winning streak to five, with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games.
If it seemed like the Caps played well last night and deserved the two points, it’s because they did. Here’s a look at some numbers from the win
Brooks Orpik entered the season looking at a reduced role. Formerly deployed as a shutdown defender during his time in Washington, Orpik’s injuries, age, and the continued emergence of Dmitry Orlov have caused Barry Trotz and his staff to pencil in Orpik on the third defensive pairing.
Thus far, the results have been outstanding and, to many people, pleasantly surprising. There are a lot of factors that go into Orpik’s improved play this season. The veteran defender certainly deserves credit for accepting the role and seemingly simplifying his game.
Many people will point to Orpik’s sheltered minutes being a huge factor in his strong play, and it’s no doubt played a part. But not all third pairings are created equal. Orpik’s play on the third pair with Taylor Chorney this season has paled in comparison to his play on the third pair with Nate Schmidt. And Schmidt, for as much as he thrives on the Caps third pairing, as most any defender has under the Trotz regime, has shown an ability to play well in bigger roles. So, while being on the third pairing helps, this is far from the only reason Orpik and Schmidt have been such a strong pair.
One thing that seems clear is that Orpik benefits greatly from skating with Schmidt.
The Washington Capitals are currently on a four-game win streak and have a record of 17-7-3. You might expect them to be jumping out to a mondo Metropolitan Division lead just like they did last year. But as NHL.com reported Monday morning, the Metro division cumulatively went 17-1-0 last week, and the Caps gained no ground despite their win streak. They sit in fifth place in the division despite their solid record, although they have games in hand on everyone other than the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Philadelphia Flyers are on a nine-game win streak. The Penguins are 7-3-0 in their last ten and feature the league’s current leading goal-scorer in Sidney Crosby (20 goals in 22 games). The New York Rangers have a plus-35 goal differential, and the Blue Jackets are somehow plus-31. This is not last year’s Metro division.
The Caps downed the Sabres last night by a score of 4-1. Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal and Philipp Grubauer was again strong between the pipes. Perhaps the most encouraging news to come out of this win is the Caps converted two out of their three power play opportunities (and were successful killing four our of their five penalties). As we wrote about yesterday, special teams play has been the weak link for the team this season.
Here’s a look at some numbers from the win.
There is a lot of concern for the Caps play so far in 2016-17. After a dominant 2015-16, they’re looking strangely mortal in 2016-17.
There are reasons why it feels this way, and many of those reasons are valid. But, from a high-level view, the Caps’ problems have not been during 5-on-5 play. The issue with the Caps this season is their effectiveness — or lack thereof — on special teams.
It is no secret that the Caps’ power play is sputtering as of late. They have been subpar all season long, scoring on 14.8 percent of power plays and currently ranked 23rd in the NHL. They finished last year ranked fifth with a 21.9 percent power play.
The question is why. Peter painted a convincing picture naming Alex Ovechkin the key to the Caps’ power-play effectiveness. The power play unit started to do well when Ovechkin joined the Caps, and aside from a couple down years, it have always been top notch with Ovechkin.
In the first period of Wednesday night’s victory over the Bruins, it felt like the Caps were back. The pace was good, the passes were crisp, and Evgeny Kuznetsov was doing Evgeny Kuznetsov things. As a result, the Caps were up 2-0 after the first and then took a 3-0 lead in the second period.
And then, it happened. “It” depends on your perspective. “It” is probably a combination of a lot of things, including the Bruins proving why they are a top possession team and the Caps getting complacent. Before going HAM at the Caps for the blown lead, a perspective worth considering:
Random quote from Matt Niskanen: "I've never seen a 60-minute game. … That doesn't exist unless the other team's not on the ice." #Caps
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) December 30, 2014
This isn’t to excuse the Caps. After all, they went what seemed like seven years without a shot and, as a result, almost lost the game. Let’s take a look at the numbers
On Saturday night I made an offhand comment while watching the Caps power play sputter yet again.
The PP used to be so good that not even Adam Oates could break it.
— RMNB (@russianmachine) December 4, 2016
This was a joke and a jab at my favorite easy target, but there was intention behind it. The Caps PP has been good for a long time. If it stops being so, it won’t be because the 1-3-1 formula stops working or because league-wide defenses adjust to it — it will be because Alex Ovechkin stops being Alex Ovechkin, for he is the Caps power play.
Alex Ovechkin leads the Washington Capitals in goals this season. But in a new twist, Ovechkin also leads the team in PIMs (22) and minor penalties (11).
Over the weekend, Barry Trotz expressed concern about how much his captain was spending in the penalty box after accumulating two minor penalties against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Monday night, Ovechkin committed his sixth minor penalty in five games. Barry Trotz went nuclear during his postgame press conference.
“Unacceptable,” Trotz said.
“He’s a leader,” Trotz continued. “He can’t take those penalties. He’s got to be on the right side. I’m going to address it harshly with him tomorrow.”
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