The win streak is over. Long live the points streak.
The Capitals are still the hottest team in the league, but they’re not perfect, and that’s a crying shame. Because we’ve all grown accustomed to two standings points every game and an offense that has scored on 18 percent of its shots since New Years Eve.
But lean days are coming. Just last night we learned that the Capitals will not score at least five goals every game (they scored four), and that revelation has been sobering. So let us all come to grips with a more mild future, where the Capitals are just pretty great instead of flawless.
Let’s do the snapshot.
We’re now into January, and the Caps are sitting in good shape. The team has 55 points, good for fifth in the league. The team is fourth in the Metro division. Yes, the Caps are the fifth best team in the NHL yet sit in only fourth in their division. The Metro division is the best division in hockey this season and the Caps are one of the reasons why. They are sitting among elite company.
Take a look at the top-5 NHL teams in the standings, as four of these teams come from the Metro.
The same is true for league-wide goal differential. four of the top six teams are in the Metro.
This all just goes to show that the concept of divisions for playoff seeding, as well as divisional playoffs, are a complete failure. Chances are this season, once again, an elite team from the Metro will be knocked out in the second round.
But I digress. Let’s dig into some Caps-specific numbers.
On the day of the last Sunday snapshot, the Washington Capitals had 14 wins and 31 standings points, enough to own 4th place in the Metro Division.
But after that, the Caps went on a wild winning streak, adding five wins and 10 standings points, vaulting them up to — 4th place in the Metro Division.
In the standings, hard work just isn’t being rewarded right now. It’s tough to know who’s good, who’s great, and who’s just catching a lot of breaks. The same could be said for players on this Caps team, and that’s the theme of this week’s snapshot.
The Caps are 24 games into the season and are barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams haven’t been producing as expected. There’s been a lack of offense from the blue line, as the offensively talented trio of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov have combined for one goal. The special teams, generally a strong suit among recent Caps teams, rank in the middle of the pack.
Meanwhile, Barry Trotz has stayed cool, calm, and collected through it all. He’s been given plenty of reasons to take away ice time from guys like Kuznetsov or Burakovsky, or scratch Orlov after his mistakes in the third period against the Islanders. But, instead of running out of patience with certain players, Trotz has gone to bat for his guys. He kept a level-headed approach in reacting to Orlov’s miscues against the Isles and expressed confidence that Williams will soon break out of his slump.
In other words, much like Buck Showalter, Trotz likes his guys. And, while some may mistaken his calm for complacency, I think Trotz deserves credit for the approach he’s taken through the bumps of the first 24 games.
There are reasons to be concerned about this Caps team. But there’s also reason to think things will get better. While the former approach may be easier right now, that’s not where the snapshot is headed today. Let’s take a look at the numbers, with an attempt to focus more on what’s gone right and why things might get better.
With an 11-5-2 record, the Washington Capitals are off to another good start. They’re not amassing standings points at quite the same torrid pace as last year’s Presidents’ Trophy outing, but they’re still a damn fine hockey team.
Around this time last year, I wrote an article with the headline, “These Capitals are The Team.” What I should have said is “These Capitals are The Team that will certainly disappoint you in the playoffs once again.” That would’ve been a wordy headline, but it would have articulated something we’ve seen with the Trotz Caps every year: they are faders.
Hi, my name is Peter, and I’ll be your host for this biweekly snapshot.
Peter introduced the weekly snapshot during the 2013 season. The snapshot is a weekly look at Caps players in a few key statistical areas. Looking at these numbers can help us not only analyze what has happened but also allow us to take a more educated guess as to what is going to happen in the future.
People have told me they feel intimidated by advanced stats or think they aren’t good at math, and so they’ve never tried to understand them. Here’s the good news: the stats are really easy to understand and use elementary school-level math.
Photo: Justin K Aller
The Caps have their first must-win game of the season on Saturday night against the Penguins. Down 3-1, the Caps have to win three straight against one of the best teams in the league (granted, the Caps are also in that group) or else their season will be over.
If this series hasn’t driven home the point that the margin for error in the playoffs is razor-thin and sometimes a few bad bounces (like a goal off a player’s back, for crying out loud) can make a world of difference, nothing will. Have the Caps looked dominant? Absolutely not. But have they more than held their own and are down 3-1 in part because hockey can be cruel and unjust? Oh yes.
Hey everyone, they did it: the Caps beat the Flyers.
Some national pundits may tell you that this series was close. While the 5-on-5 play was more even than the series score made it seem after three games, this series really wasn’t very close.
The Flyers needed a Caps own goal and three games of heroic goaltending to force this series to six games. The Caps were the better team, and rightfully they move on to the next round.
The Caps, of course, got great play from Braden Holtby in net. They also completely dominated the special teams battle. These were major factors in the series victory. But the 5-on-5 play has some good nuggets in it too. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the 5-on-5 numbers from the series.
Photo: Amanda Bowen
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.
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.
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.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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