Matt Niskanen’s second season as a Capital was pretty terrific. You want defense? Niskanen delivered. How about offense? Nisky checked that box, too. Even strength, shorthanded, man advantage–Niskanen is the hockey version of an all-you-can-eat buffet. He’s got it all.
On Thursday, the Capitals gathered at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss another season that ended prematurely. The players were more visibly emotional than in years past at the annual end-of-season confab with reporters, promising Stanley Cups to the fans and articulating their frustrations with plenty of “failures” and “sucks.”
The news, however, came in the form of injuries revealed publicly for the first time. Karl Alzner’s ailment was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Referred to by Braden Holtby as the team’s most important player, Alzner missed most of the final game with a torn groin. He played just two shifts early in the second period before being pulled from the game.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot, Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning in the game. That’s when you know you can still do things, but once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”
Capitals defensemen Dmitry Orlov went for the big hit, hoping to take Penguins center Nick Bonino out at the blue line. Instead, Orlov missed, colliding with Nate Schmidt. Bonino was left with an unfettered path to the net. He shot the puck on Braden Holtby before Ben Lovejoy cleaned up the rebound at the midway point of Game One on Thursday, tying the score at one.
Orlov, who, like Schmidt, is playing in his first postseason in the NHL, didn’t see the ice for the rest of the game, save for a brief 25-second shift early in the third period. He finished with less than six minutes of time on ice.
The Capitals penalty kill was the second-best unit in the league during the regular season, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ chances. Yet on special teams, it was overshadowed by the power play, which finished fifth. While the PK doesn’t provide between-the-legs passes or booming one-timers, it has kept the Capitals in control of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington’s penalty kill is a perfect eight for eight. Going back to the last five games of the regular season, the opponents’ power plays have been stopped 21 times in a row. Despite outshooting the Capitals 61-54 overall in the first two games, the Flyers have scored just one goal. Washington has six, including three power-play goals, good for a 2-0 series lead.
“We got our butts on the line,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after Saturday’s Game Two loss.
On April 11, 2016, In Analysis, By Spenser Smallwood
The Washington Capitals’ special teams units have been at or near the top of the league rankings all year. While the number of power-play chances certainly goes down once the playoffs begin, the relative rarity of goals and chances makes converting those opportunities all the more important. Look none other than to the last President’s Trophy run. In that playoffs first round match-up the Montreal Canadiens scored six PP goals to the Capitals one, the Canadiens prevailed. Last year in the first round, the Islanders did not score a PP goal while the Caps scored two. Then in the very next round the New York Rangers tallied three PP goals to the Capitals one.
Saturday, the Capitals almost completed an improbable comeback against the second-best team in the league, the Dallas Stars. To put it succinctly: the third period was good times for the Caps. Washington scored three consecutive goals and looked to be the better team. But before that, the Caps were miserable.
In the game’s first two periods, the Stars jumped out to a 4-0 lead, outshooting the Capitals 25 to 11. That left some players frustrated. And angry.
As Peter pointed out in the recap, Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen hadn’t scored since the first week of the season, a span of 115 days and 47 games. Sunday against the Flyers, Niskanen scored the game-winning goal.