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Photo: Patrick Smith

Riding a trick of hats from TJ Oshie, the Caps grabbed a 1-0 series lead Thursday night with a 4-3 win over the Penguins in overtime. The game’s pace and intensity was noticeably up a notch over the Caps first round matchup against the Flyers. The Penguins are also obviously a more skilled opponents.

The most important thing is the Caps got the win. But there are things the team can improve upon moving forward. Some of the matchups gave the team fits and there were prolonged periods of the game where the Pens carried the play.

In the end, it was, objectively, a great hockey game and the Caps are up 1-0. Let’s take a look at the numbers 5-on-5 numbers from the game.

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Sizing Up the Penguins: 5-on-5

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Thanks to the NHL’s obsession with attempting to create divisional rivalries, the two best teams in the Eastern conference will meet in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Caps and Pens are all set to square off and the winner will be heavily favored to advance to the Stanley Cup.

The Caps went 2-3-0 against the Pens this season, with two of those losses coming during the final three weeks of the season, and one of them being a 6-2 thrashing.

We’re going to look at how both of these teams perform at 5-on-5 and what that may be able to tell us about the upcoming series.

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Photo: TSN

Hey everyone, they did it: the Caps beat the Flyers.

Some national pundits may tell you that this series was close. While the 5-on-5 play was more even than the series score made it seem after three games, this series really wasn’t very close.

The Flyers needed a Caps own goal and three games of heroic goaltending to force this series to six games. The Caps were the better team, and rightfully they move on to the next round.

The Caps, of course, got great play from Braden Holtby in net. They also completely dominated the special teams battle. These were major factors in the series victory. But the 5-on-5 play has some good nuggets in it too. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the 5-on-5 numbers from the series.

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Photo: Elsa

With Brooks Orpik not expected to play in Game Four on Wednesday night, the Caps will be without one of the main cogs of their penalty killing unit. This is a PK unit that has played a large role in the Caps’ ability to build a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers.

Luckily for the Caps, Nate Schmidt stands at the ready, able to provide a meaningful contribution to the penalty killing unit. One positive to come from the injuries to the Caps blue line this season was players like Schmidt being given a chance to prove their worth in expanded roles. While Schmidt’s season at 5-on-5 wasn’t as strong as we expected from him, his efforts on the penalty kill leave plenty of reason to believe he’ll be up to the task to stand in for Orpik.

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

The Caps enter Monday’s Game Three with a 2-0 series advantage. The guys in red need to win two of the remaining five games before the Flyers win four. Obviously, we’d all appreciate a quicker victory.

The series so far has been a great example of why this Caps team is so tough to knock off in a seven-game series, and something we hit on repeatedly in the Sunday snapshot throughout the season: Even if a team manages to outplay the Caps at 5-on-5, as the Flyers have done, especially in Game Two, the Caps still have Braden Holtby as well as elite special teams units that can help cover up for games in which the 5-on-5 process is deficient.

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Sizing Up the Flyers: Goaltending

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Photo: Al Bello

Previously, we’ve broken down the Caps and Flyers at 5-on-5 as well the special teams battle. Next up is the goaltending battle.

The Caps don’t have as large of an edge in goaltending in this series as people might think. This isn’t a knock on Braden Holtby but more so an acknowledgement that Steve Mason is a better goalie than he’s been given credit for.

Mason burst onto the scene in 2008-09, winning the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie. But then he floundered for a few seasons and was written off as a legitimate number one goalie in the NHL. But, since arriving in Philadelphia in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Mason has been every bit a legitimate number one goalie.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Mason has appeared in 171 games. According to War on Ice, 53 goalies have played 2,500-plus minutes at 5-on-5 during that same stretch. Here’s a list of the goalies with a better save percentage at 5-on-5 than Mason during that time: Carey Price.

That’s it. Masons’s 93.1 5-on-5 save percentage since 2013 ranks second among all qualifying NHL goalies. So yes, the dude is a very good goalie and is capable of stealing games and maybe even a series.

Mason has played only nine playoff games in his career, and his numbers are deflated by a disastrous outing as a rookie. In five playoff games with the Flyers, he’s posted a 93.9 save percentage. Mason has never stolen a series, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of going toe-to-toe with Holtby, whose numbers are as good as any goalie in the history of the NHL playoffs.

Let’s take a look at how each guy did this season.

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Sizing Up the Flyers: 5-on-5

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Photo: Nick Wass/AP

By now you already know that the Caps play the Flyers in round 1 and the series starts on Thursday. Given that they’re the one seed, the Caps will be picked by many as heavy favorites in the series. But don’t let the Flyers’ low seed fool you. They are a capable, scrappy bunch who have played some of their best hockey of the season over the last two months or so.

In the regular season, the Caps compiled a 2-0-2 record against the Flyers with both wins coming in regulation.

For today, we’re going to look at how both of these teams perform at 5-on-5 and what that may be able to tell us about the upcoming series.

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Is Tom Wilson a Bust?

Tom Wilson at development camp

Photo: Chris Gordon

Myan Tran is a long-time RMNB reader. She writes from Northern Virginia to settle an argument we’ve been waging among ourselves for months.

A lot has been said about whether Tom Wilson has reached or will ever reach the potential expected of a first-round draft pick. When we start talking about whether Tom Wilson is a “bust” in comparison to his peers, the conversation always turns into “well, what is a bust and who are his peers?” We’ll talk about what a “bust” is later.

First, let’s talk about who Tom’s peers are.

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Let Your Heart Soar: Week 24 Snapshot

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

We’re entering the final week of the regular season, which means the weekly snapshot for 2015-16 is nearing a close. Taking a look back, even just at the titles, the tone tells the story. The Caps have had an amazing regular season that, as it has begun to wind down, has caused some guarded concern. Give a scroll down the titles and let your heart soar as you relive the winningest regular season in franchise history.

  1. The Caps Are Who We Thought They Were
  2. The Long Road
  3. Listening, Not Fixing
  4. Stay the Course
  5. Spread the Love Around
  6. And the Beat Goes On
  7. Bless You, Braden
  8. Keep On Keepin’ On
  9. Assess Not Inside Heads
  10. The Past Can’t Be Changed
  11. Inflection Point
  12. This Team, Y’all
  13. Eyes On the Prize
  14. Snow/ASG Break
  15. Snow/ASG Break
  16. Rolling the Rock
  17. Domination Consumes You
  18. The Extra Two Percent
  19. Prepare For Takeoff
  20. Just a Little Patience
  21. Keep Your Composure
  22. Taking Stock
  23. False Dichotomy

Peter started the snapshot in the Fall of 2013. At the time, I was swamped in my last year of work for grad school, an internship, and a job. The snapshot was one way of the main ways that I kept up with the team. But it didn’t just help me keep up with the team. His insights and approach furthered my understanding of things like shot attempts, puck luck, and so on. I wasn’t yet writing for RMNB at that time and, as a reader of the site, I looked forward to reading it every single Sunday.

Long story short, it was a bit of a trip for me, two years later, to be writing the snapshots on a regular basis. We all know that Peter’s tone, thought process, and way with words are unique and insightful in a way that would be impossible to replace.  So, thanks for continuing to stop by the snapshot, despite the change in writer. The comments, suggestions, insights, and complaints are what made it worth it, even when it felt like a grind to get through writing it some Sunday mornings.

Okay, enough reflection and feelings, let’s talk about hockey and numbers.

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Should Nicklas Backstrom Win the Selke?

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

Spenser Smallwood writes about the Caps for Along the Boards. We’re excited to have him to help out here on RMNB. Please give him a warm welcome and follow him on Twitter.

For the last two years, the Selke vote has been somewhat predictable. Patrice Bergeron has taken home the trophy, and Jonathan Toews, David Backes, and Anze Kopitar have finished as the other top four vote-getters. Last year, Nicklas Backstom finished 11th in voting, his first time in the top twenty. It may be unlikely that Backstrom amasses enough votes to take the trophy this season either, but that hasn’t stopped Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz’s drum-banging regarding Backstrom’s defensive prowess.

He might be right.

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