The 2016-17 Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL by a country mile. Tuesday, the Capitals won their tenth straight game at home. Washington’s 80 standings points puts them seven points ahead of the next closest teams, the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Over the last two months, the Caps have gone on an absolute rampage through the rest of the NHL. We could use verbs like demolish, destroy, flatten, or level. Or adjectives like ridiculous, unmatched, or sublime. Yet even a 10,000 page Thesaurus would not have the words to describe how good this team has been lately.
War and Peace. Chinese Democracy. Suicide Squad. These are the consensus picks for the greatest Works of Art by mankind ever. But close behind comes DuckTales, the hand-drawn, independent, Ayn Rand-ian objectivist serial that graced analog television from 1987 to 1990.
But if millennials have their way, America would pretend it never existed.
Tuesday, Barry Trotz scratched Andre Burakovsky against the New York Islanders. This was the first time Burakovsky had sat this season. After two goals during the season opener, Burakovsky has been ice cold, going goal-less in his last 26 games.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan had this to say when asked about his young forward’s struggles.
After starting the year on fire, the Leafs’ Auston Mathews has gone 10 games without a goal while the Oilers’ Connor McDavid has been goalless in nine straight. Panic has started to set in north of the border so TSN’s Travis Yost tried to illustrate just how normal these goal droughts are, especially among the NHL’s best snipers over the last five years.
When Yost tabulated his the numbers however, he learned that Alex Ovechkin is the one exception.
Alex Ovechkin is already the 33rd greatest goal scorer in NHL history. The Russian machine has 525 career goals, and, at 30 years old, was the fifth fastest player to reach the 500-goal plateau.
Ovechkin is scoring, however, in a time period where goals are even harder to come by than usual. On Sunday, Hockey Reference tweeted that Ovechkin’s 601 career adjusted goals puts him in the top 20 all time.
Photo: Drew Hallowell
Editor’s note: Ned Belliveau, who made this awesome “Too Many Caps” video and this absurd season preview video, was wondering if he could try his hand at statistical analysis. While he’s no Pat Holden, he had some interesting thoughts on the Capitals’ forward depth for the upcoming season. After pulling dozens of numbers and wrestling with spreadsheet formulas Ned came to us with a complete piece that sheds some light on the contributions that the new forward acquisitions might bring to the team.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup Championship, painful as it was, may have been the best possible thing for the Washington Capitals. The old saying is that the NHL is a copycat league and Pittsburgh’s win showed that having three deep and skilled scoring lines and forward depth in general is an important factor to a successful Cup run. The Capitals were not good enough in that six-game series, and they need to address their forward depth issues to make a deep playoff run in 2016-17.
Photo: Harry How
Heading into the offseason, Brian MacLellan said he was going to upgrade the Caps’ third line over the summer. Per usual, MacLellan did exactly what he said he was going to do by acquiring Lars Eller from the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks.
MacLellan said that Eller had been on his radar since last season and that he thinks the acquisition fills the Caps third line center spot. MacLellan touted Eller’s skating ability and two-way play as the reasons that he thought the newly-acquired center is a good fit in DC.
Here’s a closer look at what Eller brings to the table.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
Evgeny Kuznetsov put himself on the map as a star in the NHL during the regular season. Building off of a solid playoff performance in the spring of 2015, the Caps’ Russian center led the Caps with 77 points, posting 20 goals and 57 assists in 82 games. Entering the playoffs, Kuznetsov was expected to lead a second line that would give the Caps a top-six as feared and productive as they’ve had in the playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin era.
Through 11 games, that hasn’t happened. Kuznetsov has posted just one goal and one assist. I’m not going to make a definitive narrative about Kuznetsov as a player based off of these 11 playoff games. To do so would be both shortsighted and disingenuous. After all, Kuznetsov was great in the playoffs last year. Further, the sample of games in the playoffs is generally so small that it’s dangerous to build a narrative off of, as a few good games can result in a total reversal of any playoff-based narrative.
While keeping in mind that an 11-game sample isn’t enough for any grand takeaways on Kuznetsov as a player, the fact remains that his production (goals, points) has fallen off a cliff at the time when the Caps need him the most.
But here’s the thing: Kuznetsov has actually been a more dangerous player during the playoffs than he was during the regular season. The only thing keeping this from showing up on the score sheet is that he and his linemates haven’t been able to bury their chances. Call it bad puck luck, a cold streak, or whatever you want, but the bottom line is Kuznetsov has been doing everything right in the playoffs but the often-fickle results haven’t yet fallen in line with the rock-solid process.
Comparing regular season numbers to the playoffs, let’s take a look at the numbers to support this.
Photo: Rob Carr
The Caps are still alive. The team in red defeated the Penguins 3-1 on Saturday night to force a Game Six in Pittsburgh Tuesday night.
The Caps by no means dominated this game, but they played well enough to win and got some timely goals and saves. Peter wrote a great recap of the game that you should read, but below we’ll take a look at the numbers from the victory.
Photo: Justin K Aller
The Caps have their first must-win game of the season on Saturday night against the Penguins. Down 3-1, the Caps have to win three straight against one of the best teams in the league (granted, the Caps are also in that group) or else their season will be over.
If this series hasn’t driven home the point that the margin for error in the playoffs is razor-thin and sometimes a few bad bounces (like a goal off a player’s back, for crying out loud) can make a world of difference, nothing will. Have the Caps looked dominant? Absolutely not. But have they more than held their own and are down 3-1 in part because hockey can be cruel and unjust? Oh yes.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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