The win streak is over. Long live the points streak.
The Capitals are still the hottest team in the league, but they’re not perfect, and that’s a crying shame. Because we’ve all grown accustomed to two standings points every game and an offense that has scored on 18 percent of its shots since New Years Eve.
But lean days are coming. Just last night we learned that the Capitals will not score at least five goals every game (they scored four), and that revelation has been sobering. So let us all come to grips with a more mild future, where the Capitals are just pretty great instead of flawless.
Let’s do the snapshot.
Do you get how big this is? The Caps had a 14-game streak in 2010, but this one has been so much more dominant. I’m trying to figure out how to impress upon you how special this run has been, and adjectives fail me. Mind-blowing, explosive, cataclysmic. Nope.
Here, lemme try this.
We’re now into January, and the Caps are sitting in good shape. The team has 55 points, good for fifth in the league. The team is fourth in the Metro division. Yes, the Caps are the fifth best team in the NHL yet sit in only fourth in their division. The Metro division is the best division in hockey this season and the Caps are one of the reasons why. They are sitting among elite company.
Take a look at the top-5 NHL teams in the standings, as four of these teams come from the Metro.
The same is true for league-wide goal differential. four of the top six teams are in the Metro.
This all just goes to show that the concept of divisions for playoff seeding, as well as divisional playoffs, are a complete failure. Chances are this season, once again, an elite team from the Metro will be knocked out in the second round.
But I digress. Let’s dig into some Caps-specific numbers.
Dmitry Orlov may be the player on the Washington Capitals roster that fans and analysts alike are most divided on. Known for his high-risk, high-reward style, Orlov is a dynamic player, but his style of play can lead to very noticeable mistakes when opponents are able to make him pay for his risky and sometimes ill-advised maneuvers. To his detractors credit, the chances that the Caps allow when Orlov is on the ice are often quality chances.
However, the point of many of his defenders is that despite his very noticeable gaffes, Orlov is a net-positive for his team. Since 2014, the Caps have scored 57.5 percent of the total goals when Orlov is on the ice, second only to Mike Green during the span.
Both sides of the Orlov debate have valid points. But on Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, there were many examples of why Orlov’s supporters are willing to excuse so many mistakes. Without his high-risk, high-reward style, the dynamic plays he made last night to help the Caps to victory wouldn’t be possible.
Taylor Chorney scored on Sunday night to give the Capitals a win over the Ottawa Senators. The game-winner was a great release from far out to become Chorney’s first goal of the season.
That performance gives Barry Trotz a conundrum: When the Caps host the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, should Chorney get another sweater, or should he play Sunday’s healthy scratch, Nate Schmidt, instead?
Another way to ask that question would be this: Should the Capitals ice one of the league’s worst defensive pairs or one of the best?
The Capitals’ defeat by the Penguins last season was due in part to Pittsburgh’s bottom six outplaying Washington’s. In the offseason GM Brian MacLellan vowed to make an upgrade the team’s third line his number-one priority. That upgrade was the acquisition of Lars Eller.
Through 32 games in a Caps’ uniform, Eller has posted just six points. Some people have been understandably underwhelmed by his lack of production. After all, the lowest point total Eller has posted in the previous five seasons is 26 points. Eller’s 15-point pace is not impressive.
But underneath his lagging production, Eller has brought stability and strong play to a Caps’ third line that needed it badly. And, while this strong play will need to drive more production at some point, there’s reason to believe the third line is in good hands with Eller at pivot.
Dmitry Orlov has caught a lot of heat for his defensive lapses. At the beginning of December, we detailed a game lost solely, perhaps, by Orlov’s missteps. And yet Orlov still enjoys a strong following, based partially on his talent for driving play.
That seeming contradiction — Orlov as a possession powerhouse who can’t be trusted in his own end — raised a curious thought: is Orlov a corsi-gamer? Is he what Barry Trotz would call a “businessman”?
Barry Trotz shook up his defensive pairings a few weeks ago and in doing so he reunited John Carlson and Karl Alzner as the Caps shutdown defensive pair. Carlson and Alzner have skated just over 3,000 minutes together in their career, but only 212 of those minutes have been during the Trotz regime.
But 128 of those 212 minutes have come since the recent reunion. The pair has been Trotz’s first choice to shutdown the top offensive players on the Caps’ opponent any given night. Unfortunately for the Caps, the reunion isn’t going very well. The Caps are getting outplayed when they’re on the ice. This pairing either needs to be broken up or have the difficulty of their assignments reduced.
On the day of the last Sunday snapshot, the Washington Capitals had 14 wins and 31 standings points, enough to own 4th place in the Metro Division.
But after that, the Caps went on a wild winning streak, adding five wins and 10 standings points, vaulting them up to — 4th place in the Metro Division.
In the standings, hard work just isn’t being rewarded right now. It’s tough to know who’s good, who’s great, and who’s just catching a lot of breaks. The same could be said for players on this Caps team, and that’s the theme of this week’s snapshot.
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