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.
Photo: Patrick Smith
With Brooks Orpik returning from injury on Tuesday night against the Kings, Taylor Chorney found himself as a healthy scratch for the first time in 40 games. As Mike Vogel pointed out, this was the longest consecutive game streak of Chorney’s career and he performed admirably during the stretch.
Grubauer is indeed starting. Orpik returns and Chorney will sit after 40 straight games in lineup, longest run of his career. Job well done.
— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) February 16, 2016
New York Rangers defenseman Our friend Kevin Klein over at Japers’ Rink also discussed how sturdy Chorney was during Orpik’s extended absence.
Entering the season, there were plenty of reasons to doubt if Jason Chimera could be a meaningful contributor. Save for the playoffs in which he look re-energized, 2014-15 was a lackluster season for the Ice Cheetah, spending time as both a healthy scratch and a fourth liner in Barry Trotz‘s first season behind the Caps’ bench. Combine that with this being Chimera’s second mediocre regular season over the previous three seasons (2013-14 being the exception) and Chimera now entering his age-36 season, many people, myself included, were skeptical of his ability to contribute in 2015-16
But somehow, someway, Chimera’s production has bounced back. There’s plenty of reasons to be suspicious of how sustainable this production is moving forward, but that doesn’t take away the 30 points Chimera has chipped in through the first 54 games.
The Washington Capitals scored two empty-net goals last week– a rare (I think) game-winning empty-netter off the stick of Jason Chimera and another from the world’s greatest scorer, Alex Ovechkin.
Before that, I had casually assumed that the Caps were one of the less productive teams in the league when the opposing goalie was pulled. I was wrong. The Caps are in a four-way tie for fourth place with 10 empty-netters (Chicago has 14, Dallas has 15)*. That’s a result of lots of empty-net time (45 minutes, 2nd highest in the league), not a high goal rate (13.3 goals per 60, at the bottom of the league’s middle third).
Fun fact: The New Jersey Devils, with the most ice time played with the opposing goalie pulled (47.8) also have the lowest goal rate (5.0). Teams should just play the full 60 at 6 on 5 against them.
If it seems like I’m fascinated by empty-netters right now, yes. It’s a fascinating subject. Take, for example, this tweet from the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg in response to someone asking how many of Alex Ovechkin’s career goals were empty netters.
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) February 10, 2016
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