What Does Lars Eller Bring to the Caps?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Caps On the Brink: A Series Snapshot

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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.

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The Capitals are on the verge of playoff elimination again. For the second straight year, Barry Trotz’s Capitals team look unlikely to pass the second round, and it’s just not right.

Washington’s franchise goalie, Braden Holtby, has stopped 663 of 702 shots (all strengths) across 23 games. That is a stunning .944 save percentage, and yet Holtby has a losing record.

Washington’s penalty kill has been perfect since Game Four of the first round, shutting down 24 consecutive power plays. That is remarkable, and yet the Caps are still about to break down for the summer.

What the hell?!

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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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