Caps On the Brink: A Series Snapshot

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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.

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Photo: TSN

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.

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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.

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Let Your Heart Soar: Week 24 Snapshot

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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.

  1. The Caps Are Who We Thought They Were
  2. The Long Road
  3. Listening, Not Fixing
  4. Stay the Course
  5. Spread the Love Around
  6. And the Beat Goes On
  7. Bless You, Braden
  8. Keep On Keepin’ On
  9. Assess Not Inside Heads
  10. The Past Can’t Be Changed
  11. Inflection Point
  12. This Team, Y’all
  13. Eyes On the Prize
  14. Snow/ASG Break
  15. Snow/ASG Break
  16. Rolling the Rock
  17. Domination Consumes You
  18. The Extra Two Percent
  19. Prepare For Takeoff
  20. Just a Little Patience
  21. Keep Your Composure
  22. Taking Stock
  23. False Dichotomy

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.

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False Dichotomy: Week 23 Snapshot

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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.

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Taking Stock: Week 22 Snapshot

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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:

  • 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.
  • The 2015-16 Caps currently sit fourth in franchise history in goal differential, and they’ve got their work cut out for them if they want to crack the top three. Granted, the NHL scoring environment was much different in the 1980’s when two Caps teams posted goal differentials above plus-80.

Let’s dig into the numbers, current as of noon on Sunday.

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Keep Your Composure: Week 21 Snapshot

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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.

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Just a Little Patience: Week 20 Snapshot

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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).

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Prepare For Takeoff: Week 19 Snapshot

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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.

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The Extra Two Percent: Week 18 Snapshot

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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.

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