The expansion draft is going to hurt. In mid-June, once the travails of this season are over, the Vegas Golden Knights will get to snatch players from every team in the league. It seems inevitable that the Caps will lose one or two valuable players to George McPhee’s new team.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some scenarios that won’t be so bad overall, and maybe there’s a couple that might even help the Caps in the long run.
The Capitals are playing somewhere beyond “red hot” on the temperature scale, for the second year running. And as the team has gained momentum, nobody has shone more brightly than the third line. Of trios with more than 160 minutes at five-on-five, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky are second in the league with a 61.6 shot attempt percentage and first in the league with an 88.1 goals for percentage.
Brett Connolly has without a doubt been a key piece of that on-ice success. The 24-year old has scored seven times in the last 15 games, and with his 11th goal of the season is already just one away from tying his career high. At this point, it’s looking highly likely that Caps GM Brian MacLellan’s low-risk gamble on the young forward has paid off, and he could be a huge asset going into the playoffs and beyond.
Tuesday night the Capitals beat the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-0 and extended their home win streak to 10 games. They continue to rack up even-strength goals at a ferocious pace, and on top of that they solved the Canes top-ranked 87.7 percent PK twice. One of those tallies was Alex Ovechkin passing Joe Sakic for 14th all-time in PP goals.
The superlatives and records keep on mounting. This was the Caps’ 10th shutout of the season and it was also their ninth straight home game where they scored five goals or more. Holtby is 12-0-0 over his last dozen games and tied the league lead in shutouts at seven. Not only that, but the Caps also won the battle of the underlying metrics, keeping the Canes to just 39 five-on-five shot attempts to their 50.
The Caps are at it again. They are piling up points at a dizzying pace and are one of the best teams in the league. Skeptics may point to the team’s 10.3 percent shooting percentage or 65.5 goals-for percentage as unsustainable, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But even if the Caps percentages regress to a seemingly more sustainable level, they are still one of the best teams in the league.
“But,” they say “will this last?” Or will the Caps have another juggernaut of a regular season end in playoff disappointment?
I’ll spare you the details of why I believe regular season success is more meaningful than playoff success and how randomness can sometimes cause the better team to lose a seven-game series. Instead, we’ll hear from a couple smart, insightful folks from around the league. I asked both of them the same question: in about two sentences, do you think this is the Caps’ year? Here’s what they said:
(If you aren’t already following these great folks on Twitter, I highly recommend it. Click their names.)
Just like many seasons during the Ovechkin era, this could be the year. But maybe it won’t be.
Let’s dig into the numbers through 53 games for a Caps team that is again considered a legitimate threat to win it all.
On Sunday the Capitals successfully closed out a difficult weekend, beating the LA Kings 5-0 on home ice. They also honored Alex Ovechkin for reaching the thousand point plateau, and TJ Oshie detonated a water bottle. The Caps were as efficient as a surgeon’s scalpel, pouncing on their opportunities and blowing out the Kings despite being dominated in many statistics.
The game was a textbook example of what is known as “score effects.” At the time of the Caps’ third goal, five-on-five shot attempts were neck-and-neck at 18 to 16 in favor of the Kings. By the end of the match the Kings were miles ahead, 65 to 31 — or 32 percent possession for the Caps. That makes this the single worst possession game the Caps have had all year long, although it’s more than excusable given the result.
Wednesday night the Washington Capitals beat the Bruins 5-3, making it their eighth victory in a row against Boston. The win streak stretches back to October 11, 2014.
The milestones just keep on coming for Alex Ovechkin, who scored his 550th career goal and moved into 27th in all-time goal scoring. The game also featured some pretty scoring plays by Nicklas Backstrom, one of which led to an all-too-easy TJ Oshie breakaway goal for his 19th of the year.
While the final shot count of 33-22 Bruins doesn’t look great for the Caps, some of that is the result of a 10-shot Boston binge (one of which went in) in the last few minutes. The possession battle at five-on-five was fairly even, ending up at 50 Bruins shot attempts to 41 by the Caps.
Look at this ink blot… what do you see?
Do you see a hardworking and lovable forward who can play up and down the lineup? Or a pricey fourth liner who is solid at his position but overvalued by his coach and easily replaceable? Jay Beagle has long been a Rorschach test, provoking debate among fans and pundits alike.
Fresh off his first career overtime winner and tenth goal of the season last week, Beagle has somewhat settled that argument. It’s clear he’s more than a replacement level fourth liner, and it’s worth investigating what he’s meant to the team this season and what we can expect from him going forward.
When Barry Trotz came to Washington in 2014, one of his primary goals was to broaden Alex Ovechkin‘s game.
In their first meeting after Trotz was hired in 2014, Trotz told Ovechkin he wanted him to be a more two-way and defensively responsible player without hindering his offensive production.
In a sense, that has happened. Washington has allowed fewer than 2 goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey the last two seasons, and opponents see fewer overall shot attempts when Ovechkin’s on the ice when compared to the Oates and Hunter years.
But whatever progress we’ve seen in Ovechkin’s defensive game risks undoing this season. Lately, when Ovi hits the ice, it’s a feeding frenzy for opponent scoring chances.
Thursday night in New Jersey the Capitals re-found their footing, with a 5-2 road win against the Devils. The game produced some nice highlights, with Brooks Orpik doing his best impression of an immovable object against Taylor Hall and a couple pretty breakaway goals. But the best news of all? Daniel Winnik will keep his beard.
Stats-wise at five-on-five, it was evenly played. The possession battle was basically a tie (43-40 Devils at five-on-five), but the Caps edged out a few more shots on net. Factor in the significant PP time and the Caps outshot the Devils 36-29.
RIP points streak. Last night, the Capitals’ 14-game point streak came to an end in the dreariest of ways: a three-nothing loss to the Ottawa Senators. The Caps couldn’t have let this one get away much faster, ceding both a shorthanded goal and a power play goal against before you could say “back-to-back.”
This was only the third time the Caps have been shut out this season, with all three shutout losses ending with a score of three to nil. Besides a nice tribute to Bryan Murray (and a gift from the Caps), this was a game to forget.
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