JOE SAKIC

Winning the Stanley Cup is incredibly difficult. After a grueling, 82-game regular season, the top 16 teams then compete in a small sample-size lottery face off with the intensity ratcheted up approximately one hundred notches. The first team to 16 wins bring home The Cup.

The fact is– even the teams thought to be favorites to win it all have the deck stacked against them. A few bad bounces here, a couple bad calls there, and it’s easy to see why “the field” is the best pick of all over any one team when picking a Cup winner.

We’ve already discussed why the Caps won’t be having a parade in June, and we looked at what needs to go right for them to have a realistic shot at riding down F Street on a float. Now here’s the one or two glaring weakness that will prevent every playoff team from winning the Stanley Cup.

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight, so that means Ian and I have to do our usual, horrifyingly inaccurate predictions for the first round.

Below you’ll see the hottest of our hot takes and the most upsetting upset picks you’ll ever see, but we’re also bringing in an x-factor, who might defeat us both in predicting the outcome of this season’s race of the Stanley Cup.

Introducing: Keith, a Coin.

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Tom Wilson draws (and takes) a lot of penalties. (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Throughout the season, the Washington Capitals have generated a lot of offense during four-on-four play. With Tom Wilson, who leads the Caps in penalties taken and drawn per 60 minutes of ice time, expected to return to the line-up, it’s not farfetched to think we may see some coincidental penalties doled in the first round series against the Islanders.

While four-on-four play only accounted for 178.5 of the 5002 minutes of the time Caps spent on the ice during the regular season, the Caps scored 13 goals (good for second in the league and among playoff teams) in those situations, meaning they scored at a rate roughly 57 percent higher than in all situations and almost twice as high as during the five-on-five play.

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For the Capitals, A Season of Redemption

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Photo courtesy of Monumental Network/Amanda Maglione

I was reading the PuckBuddys’ coverage of Alex Ovechkin’s Ride of Fame thing the other day. To celebrate Ovi’s success, this “mobile monument” tour created a custom bus emblazoned with his face, cruising around the Penn Quarter. It was a nice moment for a special player– and it seemed to me a complete reversal from where we were one year ago.

In early April of 2014, the only bus I was concerned about was the metaphorical one the team’s coach kept parking on his players.

Here and now, at the setting of a successful season and the dawn of the playoffs, I’m struck by the transformation this team has made in the last year. You’ve come a long way, baby.

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Photo: @WashCaps

At mid-season, Braden Holtby was near the top of almost every important goaltending statistic in the NHL. He was also starting nearly every game for the Washington Capitals.

NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire asked the Holtbeast in January about his heavy workload after a nationally televised game (which he won). Holtby’s response:

Since then, Holtby has played even more. He’s got a 41-19-10 record, nine shutouts, a 2.21 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s set a franchise-record 24 consecutive games and faced over 2000 shots. If Holtby plays Saturday against the Rangers, he’ll match Olie Kolzig‘s franchise record for most appearances in a single season (73). If that happens, Holtby, according to CSN Washington’s Chuck Gormley, would become the 21st goalie in NHL history to play in 73 or more games in a single season.

So, the question is this: Should the Caps rest Holtby on Saturday?

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Photo: Atlant-MO.ru

A few days after the Toronto Maple Leafs announced the signing of one of the KHL’s top young players Nikita Soshnikov from the Atlant Moscow Region, some interesting details about the move have come up.

Via Maple Leafs Hot Stove, here’s what Leafs’ Director of player personnel Mark Hunter had to say about the move.

We got a lead from Evgeny Namestnikov, who we hired as a scout for us over in Russia. He said come over to watch this young man who he liked a lot, who he coached.

The Maple Leafs hired Namestnikov, a former NHL player and father of current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vlad, to scout for them while working as an assistant coach for Soshnikov’s Atlant. This went mostly unnoticed in North America, but Russia’s top hockey reporter Alexei Shevchenko, after confirming Namestnikov’s double affiliation, referred to situation as “awkward.”

I think what the Leafs did was an unfair practice and requires an NHL investigation regarding its legality and possibly prohibiting it in the future.

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Photo: Monumental Network

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman released his latest 30 Thoughts column on Tuesday. He had a blurb about defenseman Mike Green, who will be unrestricted free agent this summer.

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No, The NHL Draft Doesn’t Need to be Fixed

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This year, several NHL teams including the Capitals’ opponent tonight, Buffalo, have been awful. Two potential superstars will be avaliable at this year’s draft: Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Fans of those teams want to lose.

On Monday, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Sun wrote about this phenomenon and published an article titled “With lottery teams tanking for Connor McDavid, it’s time NHL rethinks draft.” In the article, McGran states that since teams are tanking for Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel that indicates the NHL draft system needs fixing.

Does it though? And are these teams really tanking? Let me address a few key points of his article.

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Elliotte Friedman is one of the most connected and respected journalists in hockey. On Friday morning, Friedman released his latest 30 Thoughts article, in which he  expounded on why the Patrick Sharp trade never materialized.

The short answer: Joel Ward.

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen

Coming into 2014-15, Jay Beagle had never scored more than four goals in a season. For a fourth line center, that’s fine. Under Barry Trotz, however, Beagle’s playing time has increased. When the Caps took the ice against the Leafs on Sunday, Beagle was slotted in the top-six alongside Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer. By the end of the game, Beagle was the top-line right wing, a position he has occupied many times this season.

But here’s the rub: despite a career-high nine goals and 17 points for Beagle, he brings Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom down. I love Beagle. He’s a great face-off man, a solid fourth liner, and a fantastic guy. He is not, however, qualified to play on the first line. Analytics — and the singularly important eye test — back this up. Trotz disagrees though.

“Beagle’s like my lucky charm,” Trotz told reporters when asked about the rotating right-wing spot. “When I put him up there ,we score. I know you analytics guys don’t like his numbers, but we score and get back in the game. There’s reasons for that.”

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