Photo: Bruce Bennett
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Let’s dig into the numbers, current as of noon on Sunday.
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.
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).
Photo: Derek Leung
Daniel Winnik was the Caps’ biggest acquisition prior to the trade deadline and he stands poised to make his Caps debut this week.
Winnik is a versatile, bottom-six forward who figures to slot in on the Caps fourth line to start, but is capable of playing effective third-line minutes as well. He’ll likely be a fixture on the penalty kill.
Here’s a quick glance of the new Caps’ forward.
Photo: Chris Gordon
The trade deadline comes Monday afternoon, but a lot of teams have already started loading up. As of the time of this post, the Caps have only made one minor move in adding depth defenseman Mike Weber. That could change, as John Carlson is on LTIR and Brooks Laich was placed on waivers, giving the team some salary cap flexibility, if they wish to use it.
I still think the best move would be to add a skill player to replace Tom Wilson on the third line. It’s not so much that Wilson isn’t capable of handling third line minutes, but look how much adding skill player Marcus Johansson has helped that line. Adding another top-six capable player would give the Caps depth that would prove helpful come playoff time.
Regardless of what they do at the deadline, the Caps are a legitimate contender. Their game has had some kinks in it lately, but they remain on a nearly historic pace this season and are one of a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at winning four playoff rounds come springtime.
Trade deadline activity and rumors continue to swirl and we’re fast approaching the stretch run. Prepare for takeoff and hold onto your butts. Please make sure your trays are in an upright and locked position and your seat belts are securely fastened.
The numbers are current as of the end of Sunday’s game against Chicago.
Photo: Chris Gordon
The Extra 2% is a book about the Tampa Bay Rays looking for every small, incremental advantage over their competition and how this philosophy helped aid the team’s rise from the bottom of the MLB to being a perennial threat in the American League.
Part of the Rays’ motivation in doing so was financial. As a team with a small budget, they looked to find value in market inefficiencies. Given that they weren’t going to outspend their competitors, they looked for ways to outsmart them.
But there are lessons in the Rays’ approach to all teams of all budget sizes across every sport. In the world’s best sports leagues, the difference between the best and the worst is so minuscule that any advantage gained, no matter how small, can pay big dividends.
Enter the 2015-16 Capitals. Having afforded themselves such a comfortable place in the standings, it’d be easy for the Caps to coast over the final two months of the season. But the team shows no signs of resting on their laurels, as they continue to seek ways to improve. Barry Trotz continues to tinker with his lines, the team took a chance on signing a veteran center in the middle of January, the power play continues to try different things (while seemingly going away from other changes, perhaps hiding them from opponents who will be prescouting for the playoffs), and here on RMNB, we’ve suggested ways the Caps can continue to look for competitive advantages.
Keep improving, keep trying new things, keep looking for part of that extra two percent. You never know what you may come across that could make the difference in a third overtime at 1 AM on a weeknight in May.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.