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.”
The Washington Capitals are sitting in an unfamiliar position, fourth in the suddenly unstoppable Metropolitan division, currently holding a wild card spot. While their underlying possession numbers continue to be solid (second at score adjusted five-on-five play), their overall performance to date could be described as unconvincing.
Preventing goals-against is not their issue. On defense, the Caps are allowing the third fewest five-on-five shot attempts in the league. Thanks to those low shots against and a .940 team save percentage, they are also allowing goals against at the third-lowest rate.
The situation could be worse on offense. The Caps are producing shots at the ninth highest rate, and goals are coming at the 11th highest rate. By most metrics, they are still a good team. But, as we’ll see, they are being kept afloat at even-strength mostly by some familiar faces. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Caps could really benefit from some added production by depth forwards and the defense.
The Caps are 24 games into the season and are barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams haven’t been producing as expected. There’s been a lack of offense from the blue line, as the offensively talented trio of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov have combined for one goal. The special teams, generally a strong suit among recent Caps teams, rank in the middle of the pack.
Meanwhile, Barry Trotz has stayed cool, calm, and collected through it all. He’s been given plenty of reasons to take away ice time from guys like Kuznetsov or Burakovsky, or scratch Orlov after his mistakes in the third period against the Islanders. But, instead of running out of patience with certain players, Trotz has gone to bat for his guys. He kept a level-headed approach in reacting to Orlov’s miscues against the Isles and expressed confidence that Williams will soon break out of his slump.
In other words, much like Buck Showalter, Trotz likes his guys. And, while some may mistaken his calm for complacency, I think Trotz deserves credit for the approach he’s taken through the bumps of the first 24 games.
There are reasons to be concerned about this Caps team. But there’s also reason to think things will get better. While the former approach may be easier right now, that’s not where the snapshot is headed today. Let’s take a look at the numbers, with an attempt to focus more on what’s gone right and why things might get better.
Last night, the Capitals where shut out by the New York Islanders, falling 3-0 in a frustrating game. There was plenty of disappointment to go around for the Capitals. Justin Williams continued his run of poor luck when he missed out on scoring a late first period goal by 0.1 seconds, and looked shaken after an elbow from Cal Clutterbuck. The Caps allowed three quick third period strikes by the Islanders (two gift-wrapped by Dmitry Orlov). They will probably want to put this game in the rearview and forget about it.
Although at times the Caps looked bad — like horrible bad — last night’s shot chart shows that they were doing something very right. The Caps managed 54 five-on-five shot attempts while the Islanders only had 34. If you take into account the man-advantage time the Caps had in their five power play attempts they outshot the Islanders by a massive margin of 87-47. Check out the five-on-five shot chart below.
“We playing hard, working hard, and I did two bad mistakes and it cost our game,” Dmitry Orlov said to the media after the Caps’ 3-0 loss last night.
The 25-year-old defenseman committed two turnovers (one somewhat unlucky, the other egregious) three minutes apart in the third period. Jason Chimera would later conjure a Chimiracle to close the scoring.
For Orlov, the costly mistakes continue to be The One Bad Thing in a career full of Great Things: big hits, highlight-reel goals, and top-notch possession numbers.
Last night the Capitals kept on rolling by beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 for their second win in a row (and sixth in their last ten.) Goaltender Philipp Grubauer played a standout game and ticked off the “W” in front of his parents and girlfriend. And the depth chipped in some welcome scoring, with Daniel Winnik and Brett Connolly both finding the back of the net.
Not long ago we discussed some worrying trends after a loss to the Blue Jackets, and while this wasn’t a dominant game, the Caps have continued to climb out of their mini-rut. They have been above 50 percent possession in seven of their last nine games, and have had the better of scoring chances in five of those.
The Capitals dominated the St. Louis Blues in a memorable 4-3 victory last night, on the eve of America’s annual food-worshipping holiday. The star of the show was Alex Ovechkin, who netted the 16th hat trick of his career. Also featured was a mostly Russian scoresheet and children dressed as turkeys.
Despite the one-goal margin, this game was never in doubt (okay, maybe the last 30 seconds had us worried). The Caps out-attempted the Blues 35 to 24 at five-on-five, and 26-13 through the first two periods. Despite a late surge on the man advantage, the Blues never had much going at even strength.
With an 11-5-2 record, the Washington Capitals are off to another good start. They’re not amassing standings points at quite the same torrid pace as last year’s Presidents’ Trophy outing, but they’re still a damn fine hockey team.
Around this time last year, I wrote an article with the headline, “These Capitals are The Team.” What I should have said is “These Capitals are The Team that will certainly disappoint you in the playoffs once again.” That would’ve been a wordy headline, but it would have articulated something we’ve seen with the Trotz Caps every year: they are faders.
Hi, my name is Peter, and I’ll be your host for this biweekly snapshot.
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