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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False Dichotomy: Week 23 Snapshot

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

The Caps will likely clinch the President’s Trophy within the next week, perhaps before March even ends, and they’ll soon be wrapping up one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. Yet, all is not well in Caps land. Recently, the Caps have struggled both with process and results more so than earlier in the season.

Perhaps they are just waiting to flip the switch when games become meaningful again, or maybe they haven’t been getting enough from certain key players. There’s been some prolonged trends in the team’s game that has raised legitimate concerns about how they’ll fare come playoffs.

But history can show us that there’s also reason to temper those concerns. And, as we’ve tried to note on RMNB throughout the season, and Dan Steinberg put so eloquently, it’s also okay to simply enjoy this regular season success. It’s also perfectly fine to do so while feeling antsy about how this team will perform come mid-April.

And that’s the thing: with it being a given that there is no right or wrong way to be a fan, it’s possible to appreciate this season and acknowledge the reasons that the Caps have a legitimate shot at a deep playoff while also expressing concerns about the team’s recent performance and why that casts doubts upon the team’s chances at playoff success. These two perspectives need not stand in opposition to one another.

Before we jump into the numbers, let’s give the final word to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who can help offer a reminder that it’s possible, to use the parlance of our times, to both find some chill but still keep it 100 about this Caps team:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

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Caps Beat Devils: Numbers For the Morning After

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Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Friday night, the Caps played a snoozefest and beat the Devils 1-0 in OT. While TJ Oshie was out with the flu, John Carlson returned to the lineup and scored the OTGWG. Game highlights include and are limited to the aforementioned goal and Jason Chimera playing a hearty round of Duck, Duck, Goose.

The Caps’ play as of late has raised some eyebrows. As they head into the playoffs, one area of concern is their possession numbers. Tonight, the Caps posted a very solid 60 percent of the shot attempts. Granted, they played the Devils, whose 46.1 shot attempt percentage ranks second-to-last in the NHL.

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What’s Wrong with Nicklas Backstrom?

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the direction the Caps are trending as the playoffs approach. From a lackluster power play to inconsistent goaltending, and a number of things in between, the Caps are playing their worst hockey of the season at a time when the games are about to become a lot more meaningful.

One area of concern is the play and production of all-star center Nicklas Backstrom. Qualitatively, to my lying eyes, Backstrom seems weaker on the puck and less confident handling it, two things that are normally strengths in his game that set him apart from many of his peers. Quantitatively, there’s a lot to back up the notion that Backstrom’s play has been well below his standards for an extended period now.

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Taking Stock: Week 22 Snapshot

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

It’s basically late March and, since the Caps have had the conference wrapped up for a couple months now, it seems like the playoffs have approached at the pace a watched pot boils. But the playoffs really are growing near and, given that the Caps are basically a lock to enter as the number one seed in the East, the two things to worry about are health and process. In other words, don’t anyone get hurt and, regardless of results, hopefully the Caps will look like the dominant team they’ve been for much of the season and the standings suggest they are.

Before jumping into the snapshot numbers, let’s take quick stock of just how dominant the Caps have been this season. The numbers are current prior to Sunday’s game against the Penguins:

  • It’s March 20 and the Caps have long been over the 100-point mark, something just five other Caps teams have done since the late 1980s.
  • With two more points, the 2015-16 Caps will pass the 2008-09 team for the second most standings points in a season in franchise history. The 2009-10 Caps (121 points) could be caught with 14 points in the final 12 games.
  • The Caps plus-63 goal differential is the 11th best since 2005-06. No one is even close to the Caps this season, as the second place Kings currently have a plus-36 goal differential.
  • The 2015-16 Caps currently sit fourth in franchise history in goal differential, and they’ve got their work cut out for them if they want to crack the top three. Granted, the NHL scoring environment was much different in the 1980’s when two Caps teams posted goal differentials above plus-80.

Let’s dig into the numbers, current as of noon on Sunday.

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Keep Your Composure: Week 21 Snapshot

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

The Caps have lost in regulation just 14 times through 68 games. They’ve had the Metro division wrapped up since the Carter administration (Jimmy, not Aaron or Nick) and are running away with the President’s Trophy. And yet, things aren’t going very well right now.

Four of those 14 regulation losses have come in the last 10 games, with an overtime loss giving the Caps five losses in their last 10 games. Since the John Scott Game break, the Caps score-adjusted shot attempt percentage is 49.9 percent, 17th best in the league. Braden Holtby’s 5v5 save percentage during that time sits at 91.3 percent, ranking 34th among the 44 NHL goalies who have played at least 300 minutes since the break.

Feel nauseous yet?

The good news is that this team is still a Stanley Cup contender. No matter what “yeah, but” or “well, actually” rebuttal someone may have to that statement, the fact remains that this team is winning more through 68 games than the majority of teams in NHL history. No, the team has not looked great for a while now. And yes, their results have outpaced their performance for quite some time. But, it’s important to keep perspective that all teams go through ebbs and flows during the grind of an 82-game season.

The Caps might lose in the first round of the playoffs. But they’re also among a small handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Troubling trends have arisen at a time in the season when you’d least like to see it, but this isn’t the end of the world.

We can’t have anyone freaking out. We gotta keep our composure. We’ve come too far. We’ve got too much to lose. Keep our composure.

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Just a Little Patience: Week 20 Snapshot

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Photo: Amanda Bowen

It is March 6 and the Caps have 100 points. We are watching a remarkable season. It’s true that the team hasn’t looked as dominant in recent weeks, yet they continue to rack up points in the standings, going 7-3-0 in their last 10 games.

As concerning as some of these trends may be, here’s a snippet from the week 2 snapshot that feels relevant today:

There will be ups and downs so, as the team embarks on this long road, it’s best to try to keep an even keel.

Despite whatever concerns one might have, the Caps are still nearly lapping the field. All concerns should be within the context that this is a team with 100 points in early March, and while feeling a little anxious about how this all ends is understandable, it’s also okay to enjoy the here and now.

Take it slow. It’ll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience (with our 100-point team).

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