Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Capitals 5-2-2  Hawks 2-2-1

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago/NHLN Outside the 606

WHAT A BUNCH OF CLOWNS: Japers Rink

The Hawks come in to their first game of the year on a positive base, though perhaps a touch lucky to have their second win of two. So the Hawks have a chance for their first “winning streak” of the season. The challenge is that to get to there, they’ll have to go through one of the hotter teams in the league.

The Washington Capitals come in with the second-highest point-total in the East, tied with the Penguins atop the Metro which has been their apartment for the past few seasons. Their two regulation losses have come against the Predators and Avalanche, who have been a problem for America so far on the nascent season. And they’re doing it a little differently so far than they have.

In the past, at least the last couple seasons, the Caps were not a great team when measured metrically. But they’re finishing talent would always outshoot what the chances and attempts said they should have, because when you have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and some nifty bottom-sixers that’s a thing you can do. They didn’t give up too much while not being exactly defensively iron curtain, but just enough to let their array of snipers to outdo whatever they did surrender.

This year, they’re controlling play much more so far, ranking fourth in team Corsi-percentage and expected goal-percentage. Which has left them sixth in goal for, because again, they have finishers everywhere. But Barry Trotz’s ways haven’t completely disappeared, as the Caps remain one of the better defensive teams around in terms of attempts and chances against. It’s been a promising start for a team that becomes an afterthought simply because they’ve been around so long you get a little sick of them or take them as a given so consistently they just fade into the background. But it’s been a decade now where anyone trying to get out of the Metro or NASCAR Division before that had to go through DC. Still looks that way now.

The concern for the Caps so far is that Braden Holtby has been awful, and once again the Capitals are thinking about turning their eyes to a younger model. Where it was once Phillip Grubauer, it’s now Ilya Samsonov. He’s been very good in his first month in the NHL, and with Holtby a free agent after this season, you can bet there are more than a few hopes in the Caps front office that Samsonov proves he can be a cheaper, younger starter going forward. Of course, we won’t know that until April, where Grubauer faltered for the Caps a couple years ago and kept Holtby around.

The big story tonight for the Hawks is whether or not Kirby Dach is going to make his debut. It would seem silly to call him up and then just have him sit in the pressbox, but we’ve seen that before. Dach was skating as a top line winger with Jonathan Toews yesterday, as a totally charming, bright, and handsome (and available!) writer suggested just a couple days ago. Given the success David Kampf has had between Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik, and that Dylan Strome belongs far less on a wing, it seems the best answer. It would be the softest landing as well, and Toews and DeBrincat could use a little more dash than Drake Caggiula can provide. Then again, Caligula is the only puck winner there, and Toews might not be able to that any more. Could we see Dach with Caggiula and Toews with Top Cat sliding down to the second line with Kane and Strome? Even talking about it is kind of exciting. It could be new toy night, and what we really want is Dach just to flash what he can be this season. It won’t all be pretty, but let’s see if there’s a diamond here.

As for the rest, Corey Crawford will take the net as he and Lehner are going to split the starts over this busy stretch you’d have to think, at least until one gets hot or one turns into stone. It’s how they drew it up.

The Hawks were scorched at least in the first period by the Jackets, who are a team that’s consistently been able to use their speed against the Hawks’ lack of it. The Caps certainly can play in the straight lines through the neutral zone that the Hawks can’t handle when their defense gets squared up. Kampf can take the Backstrom assignment, but the thing with the Caps is they still feature Kuznetsov behind that. If we’re going to get excited about what the Hawks can do this season, they have to prove not only that they can survive against teams that can do that thanks to goaltending, but can actively handle it and give as good as they get. It’s been a while since that happened. Tonight’s another test.

Hockey

Because of 2018’s run, Braden Holtby will probably never pay for a drink or meal in the DC area again. And he played no small part, as he came in relief in the first round of a struggling Philip Grubauer and rescued the Caps out of a 2-0 series hole on the road. He was brilliant that spring, posting a .922 in 23 games and turning back both the Lightning and Knights in the last two rounds.

The thing is, those free drinks and meals might only do Holtby any good once or twice a year after this season.

Holtby is off to a woeful start, with a .862 SV% and a goals-against creeping up on 4.00. Holtby’s SV% at evens is just .868, and it’s not like he’s getting peppered, as the Caps have kept him at a respectable .919 expected SV%. He just hasn’t made the stops. And what’s worrying for Holtby, perhaps more so than the Caps as you’ll see, is that this isn’t not a one-off.

Holtby has been subpar the past two regular seasons, getting himself out of jail with that Cup run. He had a .911 last year and a .907 in that season before the parade. So this would be the third year in a row that Holtby hasn’t been up to it, which you can’t just chalk up to a spike of bad luck.

It couldn’t be more poorly times for Holtby for a couple reasons. One, he’s a free agent after the year, his first and perhaps only chance to cash in as an unrestricted free agent. While the gloss from backstopping a champ almost never wears off in the NHL, there won’t be the quite the same market for a goalie who has three seasons of too many whiffs. Perhaps a great defensive team would think they could shield him and could use “the experience,” but more and more teams are getting away from that kind of thinking.

Second, the Caps already seem to have a backup plan in place. Ilya Samsonov is already clawing starts away from Holtby. Samsonov had something of a rough go of it in his first year in North America last year in the AHL, but has some glittering numbers in the KHL and so far this year has been great in four games. He’ll certainly be getting more starts while they let Holtby try and find it again with less pressure.

While Holtby’s name will go down in Capitals history, his play is making it less and less likely the Caps are going to have any interest in signing him. They have the space, but have Nicklas Backstrom to re-sign (if they so choose) and room to leave themselves to improve. Most of the rest of the core of this team is locked in, though Alex Ovechkin will see his contract run out after next year, and he’ll be given pretty much whatever he wants. Having freedom in the cap will be ideal for the Caps just in case, which means Holtby doesn’t fit.

What’s gone wrong for Holtby is hard to pinpoint. He was certainly overworked there for a while, having 73, 66, and 63 starts the three years before he fell off the table. But at 30 he shouldn’t be fatigued that much. Generally we think of goalies having longer aging curves than skaters, but Holtby and Martin Jones seem to be doing their best to disprove that. It could be that Holtby is missing the tutelage of Mitch Korn, who followed Barry Trotz to the Islanders. But the first year of his decline was with Korn around.

Holtby really couldn’t have timed this worse. In some sense, it couldn’t actually be better timing for the Caps.

Hockey

The old standby. The last four seasons, no matter what happens, there the Caps are, finishing first in the Metro. There’s always a portion of the season where it feels like it’s gone on them, that this is finally where they’ve gotten too old and too predictable and too comfortable, and yet the season ends and here we are. Coaching change doesn’t seem to matter much. Whatever player turnover doesn’t seem to matter much. There seems to be things you can always count on. Alex Ovechkin will lead the league in goals, he’ll score from his post-up spot, and the Caps will finish first.

Will it be true again? There are a couple challengers, but maybe we’ve gotten to the point where we just take the Caps as a given until they say they’re not.

2018-2019

48-26-8  102 points (1st in Metro, lost in 1st round)

3.34 GF/G (5th)  3.02 GA/G (17th)

49.1 CF% (18th)  47.1 xGF% (25th)

20.8 PP% (12th)  79.9 PK% (24th)

Goalies: You think of Braden Holtby as another given for the Caps, along with Ovie and Backstrom. Still, the past two seasons he’s only been ok, and you’ll recall the Caps’ Cup run started with Philip Grubauer in net in the playoffs before he gave way to Holtby. Holts put up a .911 last year, which was only a touch above league average. He hasn’t been near his Vezina form for two seasons now, but this is his final one before hitting free agency. Tends to motivate some players. He’ll be 30 when the season starts, which means whatever comes after this is probably the last big contract he’ll sign, wherever that might be. There’s no reason to think the .908s and .911s of the past two seasons are now the norm. If the Caps get another .920+ out of Holtby, then they’ll almost certainly be near the top of the standings again.

He’ll be backed up by Pheonix Copley and his misspelled first name, who was your run of the mill backup last year. The Caps can’t afford an injury to Holtby, that’s for sure. Then again, do the Caps want Holtby to prove he’s worth $8M or $9M for the next few years?

Defense: The Caps mostly return the same outfit on the blue line, except they’ve swapped out Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas. At first that sounds like a major downgrade. It’s still something of one, but Gudas is actually effective when none of the bullshit is on display. Sadly, there’s always some bullshit on display, so the Caps will be killing off some dumbass penalties. John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Michal Kempny (sigh) will be doing the heavy lifting here, They’ll hope for development from both Christian Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler, and both were good in sheltered roles last year. If they get that, they can reduce what they need out of Gudas, which should always be the idea. They may get minutes from prospect Lucas Johansen as well, but they shouldn’t need it.

Forwards: Along with Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom is going into his free agent year at 31. Just like the goalie, this is probably his last big contract, and it’s a question if he’ll get it from the Caps with Evgeny Kuznetsov pretty much taking the #1 center role, or poised to. Backstrom is a lock for 70 or more points every year, and that should get him a deal nearing eight figures next summer, even at 32. Kuznetsov and him down the middle is just about as good as it gets. Lars Eller does the dirty work, and you know what Ovechkin is going to do no matter how old he is. He’ll be scoring 45 when he is 45. Beyond that there’s TJ Oshie, who if healthy he’s probably good f0r 30 goals again. Big if, though.

Beyond that, the Caps might be a touch short on scoring forwards. If they get a step forward from Jakub Vrana and his 24 goals last year, they’ll be ok. Carl Hagelin is around for a full season this time, and though he’s getting up there he still that brain and those feet. If the top six do top six things, the Caps are fine as they have plenty of foot soldiers in the bottom six to carry through. They always do, don’t they?

Prediction: You know what the floor is with the Caps. It’s incredibly hard to envision them slipping out of the playoffs unless Holtby goes full poltergeist in net or getting hurt. Ovie will score. So will Kuznetsov and Backstrom and Oshie. They’ll get contributions from elsewhere. The defense is solid if not spectacular, though it could start to approach that if the two kids become things. They have the Penguins and Hurricanes to outlast, but they always seem to. Maybe they’ll fall all the way to second. It’s hard to see anything worse.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Everything Else

vs.

Schedule

Game 1 in DC tonight, 6:3o

Game 2 in DC Saturday, 2pm

Game 3 in Carolina Monday, 6pm

Game 4 in Carolina Thursday, 6pm

There’s a chance that being everyone’s bandwagon team, the Carolina Hurricanes could get kind of annoying pretty soon. I’ll never find them that way, because of Our Dear Sweet Boy, but you can see where plenty will. And rarely, outside of Vegas last year, does the hot new thing that everyone likes with all the fun stuff ever go very far. And the Caps are just the the kind of tried and trusted yet boring-ass team that snuffs this kind of thing out with no mirth whatsoever. The Authority always wins Let’s see if we can find a way to an upset.

Goalies: The only longer shot to leading a revival than Jordan Binnington had to be Curtis McElhinney, who is 35 and already proven to be an NHL journeyman. Then he and Petr Mrazek put up a ridiculous February, the Canes got hot, and here we are. But McElhinney has only been so-so since, and was actually pretty bad in March as the Canes made the playoff chase harder than it needed to be. So another unlikely revival came to save the day, as Mrazek has been on fire for the whole of the spring, and he has taken the job and will start tonight. But it’s still Petr Mrazek, who was basically woeful for three years before this. The Canes certainly limit what their goalies have to do, which is good, because other than recency you’d be awfully afraid of Mrazek having to do that much.

Meanwhile, Braden Holtby basically did what he did last year, which is kind of just be ok. His numbers are pretty much on-line with what he did last season, and then of course he turned it on in the playoffs, took his job back after a game and a half, and ended covered in beer. That’s probably been his plan all along. So while he might not looked all that good in the season, his playoff record is what it is. He’ll take some beating, because history says he’s going to turn back to Vezina-level now.

Defense: You won’t find a better defense than Carolina’s, and it’s getting Calvin de Haan back. It includes the best d-man who’s never considered among the top tier but the metrics say he is in Dougie Hamilton. It’s got another premier puck-mover in Justin Faulk. It’s got two guys who dominated the dungeon shifts before Dougie’s arrival in Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

And then there’s Maude (TVR).

It can do anything, it does everything, and is the main reason why the Canes remain one of the more dominant even-strength possession teams around. When it comes to possession and expected-goals, the Canes are the best.

The Caps will be hamstrung by Michal Kempny being injured, which is a sentence that also hurts to write. Still. He provided a platform for John Carlson to pull something of a cowboy act, and now that appears to fall to Nick Jensen, who was a Red Wing d-man so you know he sucks. Orlov and Niskanen still do the mine-sweeping here, and if they don’t get the pop they got from Carlson this spring as they did last (and all season) then they lack a little punch from the back. Or if they’re getting buried because Kempny isn’t around to spring Carlson. And there’s still a belief that Brooks Orpik will cause damage at some point. Against a team loaded with fast, nippy forwards would seem the prime time for that.

Forwards: Once again, you’ve got a classic tale of Star Power vs. The Collective. Which is what last year’s Final was supposedly. How’d that go?

It’s something of a disservice to Sebastien Aho, who is a genuine star or will be one day very soon. But he is not Nicklas Backstrom, at least not yet even though he outscored him this year. And there’s our Darling Finnish Prince, but of course he is not Alex Ovechkin. Justin Williams is a fine leader and gritty gutty guy, but the Caps answer with TJ Oshie.

The Canes do have some depth, as Nino Neiderreiter showed up, was nearly a point-per-game, and was the perfect Cane which everyone except for Minnesota predicted. McGinn, Foegle, Martinook have chipped in with big goals as the Canes locked down a playoff spot. Still, Jordan Staal is a #3 center miscast as a #2 here, and you can see where this could be a problem.

Because not only do the Caps have stars, not only do they have pedigree, but they also have depth. And where the Canes are trying to convince you Staal can score, the Caps have Kuznetsov who does. The Caps boast seven 20-goal scorers. The Canes have four. Eller and Burakovsky are always lurking down at the bottom of the lineup, along with Brett Connolly. Carl Hagelin has been a playoff hero before. and he’s down there too.

Prediction: This is something of a classic matchup, where one team’s strength goes right up against another’s. The Canes have the deepest defense in the East, possibly in the entire playoffs. The Caps have forwards for days. So it would be easy to think this is where the series is decided.

Except the Caps aren’t weak defensively. Or more to the point, they have good players on defense. But this year, they’ve given up more chances than before, and have one of the worst expected-goals against in the league. They were seriously only a little better than the Hawks in that category. But the Caps do what they always do, which is outshoot their problems, with a league-leading 10.0 SH% at evens. Do the Canes have enough scoring to make that weaker defensive play hurt against Washington while surviving the firing squad at the other end? With Petr Mrazek? You can almost make the case. Just not quite.

Caps in seven. 

Everything Else

One of the biggest watches before the trade deadline is what the Sharks would do about the goaltending situation. Though they are amongst one of the best teams in the league in every metric and points-total, they have the worst goaltending in the league, at least at even-strength. At evens, they’re the only team under .900. At all strengths, only the Panthers are near them, and they’re both tied for worst in the league. Considering where the Sharks are, it’s a borderline miracle.

So would they opt for Jimmy Howard? Would they make even more of an all-in push than they had already and go after Sergei Bobrovsky? Maybe try to wheeze one last run out of Roberto Luongo?

It appears they’re hoping that history repeats itself.

The Sharks didn’t do anything, and will go into the playoffs hoping that Martin Jones just has some kind of awakening in the postseason. He certainly has the pedigree, as in three playoff runs with the Sharks he has a career .926 SV%. But then again, those all came with solid regular season numbers before them. Now, he’ll be rolling into the playoffs after being dog meat for the regular season. The only thing that suggests he can just turn it around is hope, and that Braden Holtby did it last year.

The similarities between the two are striking. Both had been starters for only three seasons before suffering a regular season brain bubble. Holtby was 28 when things went south on him, and Jones is 29 this year. Holtby was coming off a higher platform, as he was coming off a Jennings Trophy and a second-place finish to backing up his first Vezina with a repeat. Jones was merely good last season. There was really no inkling that such a thing could be coming.

Holtby put up a .907 SV% last year during the regular season, 18 points off what he had done the season prior. Jones is at .896 this year, 19 points off what he put up last season. But whereas Holtby at least had the safety net of Phillip Grubauer’s breakout season last spring (and Grubauer started Games 1 and 2 in the first round), it’s all going to be on Jones this time around. Holtby responded by coming in and putting up a .922 for the Caps’ run to the Cup. What will Jones do?

The thing is, Jones doesn’t need to do that for the Sharks to get to 16. Whereas the Caps needed just about every save they got, playing as they did kept them on the margins, the Sharks dominate play to such a degree that league average goaltending probably sees them through. Even just league-average play in net this season would have seen them give up 29 less goals at even-strength, which by some models is nearly 10 points in the standings. In a playoff series an additional goal, or a goal less, every two games doesn’t sound like much, but as you know it can be.

The teams are in different situations as well. Whereas it was thought the Caps were nearing the end of their window, they certainly didn’t feel like an all-in team. The Sharks are, thanks to the trade for Erik Karlsson and the ages of the important players. So why not keep going for the Cup that has eluded them their entire existence? The Sharks have based this on loyalty. The  Caps can claim they did, but that wouldn’t be true as they only turned back to Holtby when Grubauer wasn’t up to it. It somewhat lifted the pressure off Holtby. Jones will have no such relief.

Doug Wilson seems to have staked his entire legacy on this one. That’s a lot to ask of loyalty.

 

Game #66 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Japers Rink has been among the gold-standard in team blogs for over a decade. They lent us Greg this morning. 

The Caps for the second straight year are kinda weird. Theyre near the top of the Metro, so no problems there, but their metrics say they shouldn’t be. Braden Holtby has been good, but short of great. Is it just as simple as the top line is always going to outshoot the percentages and they get just enough saves to make that count? Or just weird?
 
We’ve been wondering the same thing! There’s been a bit of debate amongst Caps fans about how good our team is this year, and this is something I speculated a bit about this on our site’s podcast earlier this week. I tend to think that the Caps will outperform their expected goal metrics to some degree (Kevin Klein explained why this keeps happening earlier this year, and having the skill of the Capitals helps generally in this area)…but they were still due for some regression this year, because they were outperforming their metrics by an even more extreme degree. The fact that our power play has come crashing back down to earth and is now ranked 11th in the NHL isn’t helping matters much.
One positive note, as your question referenced, has been the goaltending for the Capitals this year. Braden Holtby has bounced back, and is returning closer to his career norms in Save % (.912 this year) and Goals Against Per Game (2.82 this year.) We’ve also been impressed with backup and human typo Pheonix Copley, who is close to Holtby in Save % and GAA.
Ultimately, I still think the Capitals are safely a playoff team, and we’re ultimately still talking about a team with a number of elite-level players, but things definitely aren’t perfect over here in D.C.
You wouldn’t say Evgeni Kuznetsov is having a bad year, as he’s still close to a point per game. But only eight goals after 27 last year in a more free-scoring environment. Just rotten luck on the shooting-percentage?
 
I wouldn’t say it’s just rotten shooting percentage luck…though he seems pretty likely to improve from a 1.54% (!!) shooting percentage at 5v5. Anecdotally, Kuznetsov has been making some strange decisions in the neutral zone,  is turning the puck over pretty frequently in all zones, and just seems…off. One note is that he did suffer a concussion earlier this year, which he still maybe recovering from, even though he’s in the lineup. We’ve noticed this with Capitals players before, that sometimes it can take a couple of months after a concussion to start getting back in the swing of things.
The Caps find themselves in an interesting spot down the road. Both Backstrom and Holtby will be up for extensions in the summer. Both will be over 30. How careful do the Caps want to be with this or will they hand both significant raises from their current bargain rates of $6 million per year?
Backstrom first: Backstrom’s next contract is going to be a fascinating puzzle for GM Brian MacLellan to solve. Backstrom has consistently managed to hover around a point per game throughout his tenure, a pace he’s continuing this year. His value isn’t just offensive though, he’s continued to draw key defensive assignments, and former head coach Barry Trotz was always vouching for him to get Selke consideration. Yet, at the same time, Backstrom will be 32 when his next contract is discussed, which is a dangerous age to be giving away massive free agent contracts. Personally, I think they’ll have to get a deal done (maybe around 6-7 million a year?), and his legendary passing ability may help stave off a drastic decline in his late 30’s.
Holtby, to me, is a bit clearer of a case. The Capitals top prospect is goaltender Ilya Samsonov, and a lot of people envisioned him taking over the starting job once Holtby’s contract expires. Unfortunately, Samsonov has struggled a bit in Hershey, which has perhaps slowed the calls for him to immediately take over from Holtby. Here, I think the Capitals have the benefit of waiting. If Holtby plays consistently well this and next year and Samsonov continues struggling, they can absolutely work out an extension. However, if Samsonov looks ready and Holtby starts a bit of a decline, it could be time for a transition in net.
What might the Caps do around the deadline and what are you expecting from them in the spring?
 
I’m actually working on a piece now about this, so stay tuned for more details! Generally, at the deadline, I’d expect them to get a depth forward and maybe another depth defenseman. The problem is that the Caps have basically no cap space (around 400k, according to Capfriendly), which limits any deals. 
 
The expectation here is that the high talented but inconsistent Andre Burakovsky seems likely to be traded  which could free up around $3 million in cap space. He’s fallen out of favor with the Capitals brass and has been healthy scratched a few times this year, so he could use a change of scenery. There could be a fit by trading Burakovsky either for another player who could use a change of scenery, or maybe to a talent-starved team in exchange for a forward on an expiring deal.

Game #50 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 @ 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
What A Bunch Of Clowns: Japer’s RinkRussian Machine Never Breaks

Though the Circus Trip is now a thing of the past, the Black Wednesday/Black Friday two-fer for the Hawks still remains, and the past to years things have been set out east rather than in California. And the earlier start time is probably better for all involved on one of the biggest drinking nights of the calendar year, but given the state of things with the Hawks, that probably won’t stop anyone reading this from getting after it and ending up at White Castle/Burrito House/Bacci’s Pizza by 9:30, not that anyone here would know anything about that.

Everything Else

RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com has been a quality Caps outlet for as long as we’ve been doing this. Follow them @RussianMachine. 

It’s odd for a Cup-winning team to lose its coach. What really happened with Barry Trotz and has it made any difference so far this year?

There’s probably less to the story of Trotz’s exit than meets the eye. Trotz’s contract was up at the end of last season, but he had a provision that would have extended him with a modest raise if he won the Cup. Trotz felt he deserved more than a modest raise, and the Caps felt they should not commit upwards of $20 million on a coach that would likely be fired before full term. Trotz had come very close to a firing this time last year, and Todd Reirden had been groomed to take over for a couple years now. It was an awkward split, but this is sort of the way it had to go.
The team is mostly the same, but they’re having massive trouble with team defense, especially on the PK. New AC Reid Cashman is reportedly in charge of the defense, and they’re certainly struggling so far.

Much like last year, Braden Holtby can’t seem to stop a sloth. He struggled last season, and then was excellent in the playoffs. What’s the deal here?

We think Holtby’s doing okay, but “okay” is sub par for Holtby. Instead of saving around 93% during 5v5 play, he’s barely saving above what we’d expect given his workload — and that’s the rub. Holtby’s job has gotten much harder in the last year: more shots and more of them from close up. The team needs to do slightly better for him, and then I suspect Holtby will climb back up to that 93% range.

Feel free to go ahead and taunt us about Michal Kempny. We’ve lost all feeling anyway. 

Kempny literally saved the Caps season. He replaced Madison Bowey in February and immediately transformed the blue line. He seemed just as happy about the change of scenery as we were. Flat out: the Caps could not have won the Cup without him. Thank you for sharing.
Actually, Kempny got a concussion in the preseason and hasn’t quite been on the ball yet this year. I hope he’ll get back to it soon.

With the defense this team still has, why do their metrics underwhelm?

A bunch of factors, but here are a few: they stink without the puck. They are way too passive on the forecheck, which leaves the potential of dangerous floaters like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov unexploited. Orlov and Niskanen seem to be having down years, and depth forward Andre Burakovsky can’t seem to get his scoring touch back after an injury-riddled season. Still, I expect the Caps to outscore their shot-attempt stats by a fair bit just on the strength of their shooting talent.

If the Caps went 0-82, would anyone around there really care?

In the words of JP at Japers Rink,
[}=[[[[[[[[[
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Game #22 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Oh yeah, these guys. While the Capitals finally hoisting the Cup last season was basically the equivalent of Denzel winning an Oscar for Training Day or Scorsese winning for The Departed, they certainly didn’t celebrate like a team that beat an expansion franchise, and to be fair, they did take out the top seed in the conference Lightning and the two-time defending champion and arch-nemesis in the form of the very tired Penguins, so the names won’t be ground out of the silver any time soon. Last season’s champions return mostly in tact, if more than a little bit dehydrated.

’17-’18: 49W-26L-7OT 256GF 239GA 22.5%PP 80.3%PK 47.96%CF 9.19SH% .9248SV%

 

Goaltending: Last year was finally the year that Braden Holtby broke under years of tremendous workloads, with sub .900 months of January and Febrary, ceding much of the home stretch of the season to Philipp Grubauer, who even started the playoffs in Round 1 against Columbus. But as Grubauer faltered, a somewhat rested Holtby was able to return to form and posted a .922 overall the remainder of the post season. With Grubauer shipped to Colorado for a second round pick, Holtby will now be backed up by something called Pheonix Copley (yes, that’s how his name is spelled) who has allowed 6 goals on the 35 shots he’s faced in the NHL since 2016. While Barry Trotz and his propensity for grinding goalies into dirt might be gone (due to some of the dumbest ass reasons ever), Holtby might have to play 70 games again out of necessity. He’s always generally been up to the task as one of the most consistent and stable goalies in the league and has a Vezina to prove it, but the modern game just simply can’t ask goalies to play that much.

Defensemen: Someone was going to pay John Carlson an exorbitant amount of money this past off season, particularly after the playoff run he had where he scored 5 goals and 20 total points from the back end, and given that the Caps actually walked away with hardware this time, it makes a certain degree of sense that it would be them to keep the home grown product in the fold. Carlson is the de facto #1 defenseman here, and he’s certainly paid like it, but it’s the goddamnedest thing that his game picked up right around the time that the Capitals acquired Michal Kempny from a long-out-of-it team with a coach that somehow couldn’t or wouldn’t figure out how to properly use him. Kempny’s coming out party in the post season earned him a contract of $2.5 per over four years, which will be an absolute steal if he plays the way he did in Washington post-trade. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov provide a fair amount of offensive punch themselves, however one of them is still going to be dragging around what’s left of the wheelbarrow full of cinder blocks that is Brooks Orpik. Orpik was traded, bought out, and resigned back with Washington for $1 million for this year, which probably figures to be his last as he turns 38 a week from today. It’s a solid grouping, but it still kind of hinges on Michal Kempny not being a fluke.

Forwards: The strong suit of any team that has Alexander Ovechkin on it. The sheer firepower that Ovechkin has produced in his career, particularly having occurred in this era, has been poured over at length in this space. Having just turned 33 on Monday, he’s not quite the force of nature that he once was, but he can still basically get whatever he wants on the ice whenever he wants it, even if he probably didn’t fully deserve the Conn Smythe he was awarded in June, which should have gone to Evgeny Kuznetsov and his 32 post season points. Kuzya’s emergence has given the Caps some true center depth as Nicklas Backstrom ages gracefully into a slighly reduced role as a #2 center, and Lars Eller slots in nicely as a #3. Timothy Jimothy Leif predictably did not put up the Mike Bossy-esque shooting percentage numbers last year that he did in his contract year, and the game he plays at 31 would indicate that age is going to hit him in a hurry when it finally catches up, and a summer of being dick in the dirt drunk probably won’t help that. Andrei Burakovsky will be counted on to take the next step while providing some size on the wing, and Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana will certainly contribute some zest from the bottom six. Tom Wilson is now paid $5.16 million dollars a year to attempt to injure other players and generally be a pus-seeping carbunkle on the ass of the league.

Outlook: After the absolutely boneheaded decision to not pay Barry Trotz like the top tier head coach that he always has been in the wake of his and the franchise’s first Cup, and Todd Reirden has subsequently been giving his first ever head coaching job as Trotz has fucked off to Long Island/Brooklyn/wherever they play. Given how publicly and infamously the Capitals partied this year, having a rookie coach in the room doesn’t exactly seem like a great way to get everyone back on task to making another run at things. This team is still stacked given the restraints the salary cap imposes, but it took a lot of tread off the tires just to get to #1, and they may just not have it in them anymore. Given the personnel, the team can only get so bad, and they’ll probably ride Holtby until he collapses in the regular season which could very well win them an iffy division, but in all likelihood everyone will probably run out of gas by the time the inevitable post-season matchup with the Penguins comes around again.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins