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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.