After a franchise-record 15-straight home game wins, the Capitals dropped Monday night’s decision 4-2 to the Dallas Stars, ending the streak. The Stars always seem to have the Caps’ number, and they’ve been on a streak of their own, beating the Caps in Washington in every matchup since 2006. Holtby has never beaten the Stars. That said, the Caps made quite a comeback push with 29 shot attempts in the third period (all situations) to just eight by the Stars.
The Caps ended up with 58 shot attempts to the Stars’ 40 at five-on-five. Even after the rare loss they still lead the division by seven points. Despite the at-times frustrating playoff matchup structure, they will want to keep that lead as it will likely award them a weaker first round opponent than if they were to sit in the two or three spot.
The Washington Capitals continue to roll. After a slight sputter coming out of the bye week, the guys in red have won five or their last six and a franchise-record 15 straight at home. This is the best team in the NHL.
But, things could slow down at some point. Back in January, Peter asked if the Caps are lucky or if they’re good. He correctly concluded that they are both lucky and good. To say that there’s some luck baked into the Caps results isn’t a slight. While getting lucky is often associated with bad teams, good teams are lucky just as often as bad ones. In fact, it takes a whole lot of luck to be the last team standing in June.
Just how lucky has this Caps team been? Well, the difference between the Caps goals for percentage and expected goals for percentage is the biggest of any team for a single season since 2007. By a mile. Here’s a look at the top 30.
I cut out the individual season markers to make the graph less cramped. That’s the 2016-17 Caps in first and the 2009-10 team in fourth.
The good news, even if the Caps’ luck turns, is that their underlying numbers tell us they’re still one of the top teams in the league. But the Caps shouldn’t merely count on their underlying numbers mitigating the effects of a slump, they should be looking for ways to continuously improve the process that results in those strong underlying numbers. The Caps should be looking to maximize every part of their roster so, if the hockey gods stop smiling on them, the fall is as soft and padded as possible.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Thursday night the Caps started off a three-game homestand by shutting out the New Jersey Devils 1-0. This game was an utter snooze-fest, with Braden Holtby’s league-leading eighth shutout only requiring that he block 15 pucks. But despite the slow pace, the Capitals passed yet another milestone, with their franchise record 14th straight home win. Jakub Vrana also scored his second NHL goal.
This was the fewest shots on goal that the Caps have given up in any game this year, but it was far from the fewest shot attempts. Somehow the Devils actually out-attempted the Capitals 34 to 32 at five-on-five, while the Caps were ahead 59 to 50 in all situation.
Kevin Shattenkirk’s debut with the Caps on Tuesday night was largely met with positive reviews from both fans and analysts. The newest member of the Caps came as advertised, showcasing superior skating and puck skills that have elevated him to be one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL today.
We’ve already covered plenty about Shattenkirk, including that he’s a top pairing quality player and his arrival could cause a shakeup on the Caps blue line. But, now that we’ve all seen him play a game for the Caps, here are some numbers to show that, yes, he’s as offensively-skilled as he appeared to be on Tuesday night in New York.
Last night the Capitals defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden. The game marked coach Barry Trotz’s 700th career win. After spending much of the season with a steady roster, this game featured some unfamiliar faces. As you probably heard, the Caps recently acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and he made his debut. Additionally, the Hershey callups Riley Barber and Jakub Vrana played in lieu of an injured TJ Oshie and Andre Burakovsky.
The Caps started this game looking out of sync but managed to escape the first period actually up 16 to 15 in five-on-five shot attempts. From there they found their footing and finished the game up 58 to 42 in five-on-five shot attempts.
The Caps rolled out new lines at practice on Monday. The most notable change was fourth line forward Tom Wilson getting promoted to play on the team’s first line alongside superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. There’s never a shortage of opinions on Wilson, so playing him alongside the two best players in the history of the franchise was sure to draw a lot of reactions.
There’s actually a good bit of history to draw on when evaluating this move. Since 2013, Wilson has skated 305 minutes with Ovechkin and Backstrom, third only to TJ Oshie and Marcus Johansson as the most frequent right wing to play with them.
Those 305 minutes of hockey show us that there’s reason to be optimistic that top-line Tom could work out alright for the Caps.
In acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues last night, Caps GM Brian MacLellan made a key move to help propel the team for a deep postseason run. He snagged the crown jewel of the 2017 NHL trade deadline without sacrificing any true roster players.
While the addition of the 28-year-old top-pairing defensemen doesn’t require sacrificing a key piece of the Caps’ roster, it will shake up the special-teams configurations and blue-line pairings. We will get a better sense of the impact after Brooks Orpik returns from injury, but it may take a while for the playoff-ready pairings to be finalized.
What we do know is that Nate Schmidt is the player most likely to lose his spot in the lineup, if the past is any indication. Schmidt has been the only defenseman this season Barry Trotz has scratched to get Taylor Chorney into the lineup, sitting out eight times through the team’s first 61 games.
Let’s take a closer look at how the pairings might shake out.
Last night, the Caps somehow acquired Kevin Shattenkirk without giving up a significant piece of their roster or a top-five prospect. Shattenkirk is a skilled, offensive-minded defenseman and arguably the best player on the Caps’ blue line.
While it remains to be seen how the Caps will use Shattenkirk, here’s a high-level look at the newest member of the Caps and how he stacks up compared to his new teammates.
Alex Ovechkin recorded no shots on goal in the Capitals’ 5-2 loss to the Predators on Saturday night. It was the third time this month that he didn’t put a single shot on net. That wouldn’t be a remarkable feat for a normal player, but Alex Ovechkin is not a normal player.
On Wednesday night the Capitals beat the Flyers 4-1 in a tough, tight, bruising affair. There were multiple skirmishes and Matt Niskanen left the ice with a lower-body injury, but the Capitals played a controlled brand of hockey and kept a desperate Flyers team in check, getting back in the W column after falling to the bye week curse with back-to-back losses. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice, and Nicklas Backstrom continued to be red hot with a two-point night.
This game was neck-and-neck through 40 minutes, with five-on-five shot attempts tied at 35 a piece to start the third period. The Caps held back after their fourth goal, and shot attempts ended up at 54 to 46 in favor of the Flyers. Washington did a good job getting in lanes and blocking shots, as unblocked shot attempts were almost even at 36 to 35 for the Flyers.
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