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.

Everything Else

I would say that the Washington Capitals learned all the wrong lessons from winning their first Cup last spring, but then what can you learn when you spend the next eight months riding the creature? You’ve probably learned some lessons while bass-ackwards, but they were learned the wrong way and could have been absorbed in much more efficient and cleanly ways.

So there the Caps were, kind of like a Diet ’07 Ducks, convinced their constant penis-measuring and bicep-flexing was the reason they had a parade last June. Running around trying to hit everything, as if trying to impersonate a super collider. And there they were trying to hold up T.J. Oshie as some sort of martyr. He broke his collarbone, he wasn’t the dude from the “One” video. And it’s hard to take a team’s claims of a dirty or iffy hit seriously when they employ Tom Wilson. It’s like that one friend you have who made out with someone truly objectionable at closing time at the bar once. It’s a response you always have in the back pocket.

You didn’t like that crosscheck to Oshie? You employ Tom Wilson. Thought you should have had more penalties? You employ Tom Wilson. Afraid the opponent isn’t looking you in the eye? You employ Tom Wilson.

Of course it goes beyond that with the Caps. They nearly won this series on the back of their premier and special amount of scoring. That’s how they won the Cup last year, behind Ovie and Backstrom and Kuznetsov and Carlson. But after a summer and more of listening to professional belchers like Mike Milbury and Keith Jones claim that their path past the Lightning had to do with scaring and beating them up, they clearly bought into the bullshit and started growling like a five-year-old trying to be scary. It was almost an adorable sort of growling.

So yeah, Ovie got to punch a child unconscious while his teammates applauded, a super great look for the league. And hey, if he hadn’t his team might have only gotten one shot in the final 40 minutes of that game instead of the glorious two he lifted them to through his “leadership.” He might have gotten into Dougie Hamilton’s head, but Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin were more than happen to just glide into the space the Caps had vacated while trying to be the meteor from “Armageddon.”

It’s not really Ovechkin’s fault, of course. He’s an intense guy. He’s also the greatest scorer of all-time, and should focus on that. And yet what gets more replays? His goal in Game 6 which was a thing of beauty, his assist in Game 7 which was the same, or him trash talking the Canes bench after he missed a hit by five feet? It’s the way we live, apparently. Also his chicken impression isn’t much more than a tick above the Bluths.

Still, the Caps carried on a noble tradition of the previous Cup champs losing in seven games. The Wings did it, the Penguins did it the first time, the Hawks did it the first, second, and third time, so did the Bruins. The Penguins of last year lost in a Game 6 overtime, which is pretty close. Seems that’s how you go out on your shields these days. Maybe they can raise a banner for that next to their Winter Classic ’15 one.

The Caps have such a strange legacy. They’ve won their division four straight years and five of the last seven, which is a rare accomplishment. It should be celebrated. And yet it feels like they just kept winning a division the Penguins can’t locate enough fucks to give to win it and everyone else is too helpless to take. It’s the division crown the Caps keep finding in the alley.

In the end, last year’s run will be the outlier to the true nature of the Caps. They don’t go past the second round. It’s just not something that happens. They find a way to spit it before eight wins. There won’t come another season where the true power is simply too tired, and the rest of the rabble incapable to keep them in their natural habitat. The Caps win last year felt like the first time a child claims he’ll walk way from his/her parents. With every step they turn around to see if anyone will stop them, and you let them go knowing they’ll end up back where they should with a new sense of bravery. They don’t have it in them to stay out there though.

Water seeks its own level. The Caps win the division and then go away soon after. It’s how things are. It’s how they will be. We may spin off our axis every so often, but always return. Doesn’t it feel better this way? Comfortable, right?

Too bad T.J. Oshie died for nothing.

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Tonight, Game 2 Wednesday, Game 3 Saturday, Game 4 Monday

When it’s been 90 degrees for a few days you’re probably not thinking about hockey. You’re even less likely to be thinking about hockey between these two teams. This was not the Final predicted, and in the NHL’s supreme marketing strategy it’s going to put it’s showpiece curtain-raiser up the night after LeBron had THAT Game 7 and Game 7 between the two best teams in that league tonight. Good thinking. Anyway, this series has a chance to be good, and it also has a chance to be bad, because predicting anything with these two the past two rounds has been folly. Let’s get through it and then get about our holiday.

Goalies: He’ll be the least talked about goalie in this series, but Braden Holtby certainly has nothing to apologize for. He’s carrying a .928 throughout the playoffs since he came in on his white horse against the Jackets. While the Caps certainly played it back at times against Pittsburgh especially and the Lightning at times, he didn’t give the Bolts much at even-strength at all. Other than last year’s minor slip against the Penguins, Holtby has been a playoff stud for pretty much his whole career. Sure, it’s his first trip here, but it was his first trip to the thrid round and that didn’t seem to phase him much.

Then again, it might not matter. Nothing the Caps do might matter if Marc-Andre Fleury is going to continue to look like something from North Of The Wall in net. The numbers at this point are stupid, and while a five-game win looks like a pounding, in point of fact the only reason the Knights got out of that series was Fleury and the top line. Fleury isn’t being shielded in any form like Holtby has, and it hasn’t mattered. Ok, sure, Fleury will be seeing an inspired Ovechkin, but he just turned away the Jets who have at least three lines of scoring. If Fleury keeps this up, you really don’t have to dig much farther than that. If Holtby continues his form, you might see a lot of 2-1s in this series.

Defense: On paper, this is a pretty big advantage for the Caps. And they’ve seen what the Knights are modeled after in the Penguins and found a method for keeping them bottled, which was keep them in the neutral zone. The top four has more mobility than any of the teams Vegas has seen so far, and more discipline to go with it. Sure, Brooks Orpik is going to need an oxygen tank on the bench, but he’s been well-spotted and it hasn’t cost the Caps much and it’s unlikely to now. Carlson and Orlov are a threat to help get play the other way when the Knights get stretched as well. The stage might jar them, the script won’t.

I’ve written it four times but they got here with this blue line so I guess I have to stop. Still, I’d only want Nate Schmidt on my team but again, the Caps don’t have the firepower the Jets do and they just beat them. That said, the Jets carried a lot of that series and even though the Knights do their best to take their defensemen out of the equation by just asking them to get the puck out, the Caps won’t be as caught off-guard by it. The Caps do have enough speed to expose McNabb and Engelland and whatever other goofus is back there. But then so did Winnipeg. It doesn’t have to make sense because it’s hockey. That’s what “Hockey Is For Everyone” actually means, that every player will get his day because the sport is basically random.

Forwards: I’m sure if Ovechkin doesn’t get a goal in every game the stories will be about how he froze in his first Final, but he and his line have been excellent. Fleury kept Scheifele and Wheeler on a leash in the last round, but one thinks if Ovie sees some of the same chances He might score a couple more. Backstrom and Oshie on the second line and Eller on the third actually give the Caps slightly more depth, based on what’s been going on lately. But with the way Fleury is going, if Kuznetsov and Ovie don’t score and probably score a fair amount, they’re going to be up against it. And sadly, if this series is going to get national attention away from the Warriors third title in four years, it’ll probably be because Tom Wilson did something assholic.

While the going story about the Knights is how they’re “All For One” and all that, really they’ve been the top line and grunts for two rounds now. Marchessault, Reilly, and Karlsson have kicked everyone’s skull to dust to the tune of a near 60% attempts-share, and everyone else has kind of been backing up. Sure, Tuch, Haula, and Neal have chipped in goals here and there, but the process has been in efficient. Sure, the fourth line has been good as well, but the Caps have one as well and I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Ryan Reaves is going to be a difference maker in this series without renouncing everything I am as a human being. If the Knights’ main trio doesn’t remain dominant, Fleury might not even save them. The Caps top pairing has more mobility and smarts than they’ve seen in the playoffs, as Trouba and Byfuglein (in his own end) were both awful in the last round. Chances are Niskanen and Orlov won’t be, and Carlson and Kempny aren’t likely to be either.

Prediction: You’d feel pretty stupid going against Fleury now. Continuing his .947 means they win, plain and simple. Holtby has been really good too, and the Caps have kept pulling rabbits out of their hats. The Lightning were a better team than the Knights. The Penguins certainly had more pedigree. Feels like this one goes the route but again….947. Knights in 7. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

It’s kind of amazing, while feeling completely inevitable, that we ended up here again. The Capitals were not supposed to be good, much less win the Metro again. The Penguins flirted with both ends of the spectrum this season, flipping between simply awful and simply brilliant sometimes game-to-game. So it was thought the Penguins might have lost by now, or that the Caps would. All of that conveniently forgot that the rest of the division has to wear a helmet both on and off the ice at all times, and were never going to get in they way of these two again. But for once, it’s probably the third-best and third-most anticipated series of this round instead of being the main event of the entire playoffs as its been the past two years. Could that lessening of the spotlight be what the Capitals need to finally get one over their black and gold clad tormentors?

Let’s run it through:

Goalies: The Penguins don’t have any questions. Matt Murray wasn’t excellent against the Flyers, but he didn’t have to be while the Flyers were recreating the Budweiser Frogs in net all series. He’ll probably have to be better here, you’d think. Ovechkin doesn’t tend to lose his mind and principles in the playoffs the way Claude Giroux does, and he comes with Kuznetsov, Oshie, Backstrom, and some spiky bottom-sixers. Murray beat them two years ago but was injured last year so it was left to Fleury to stand by and watch the Caps hilariously fold in on themselves. Murray wasn’t particularly good against the Caps this year, going 2-2-0 while turning around 12 times in four games. But then he wasn’t particularly good in the regular season overall and he still finds himself here.

It would appear the Caps are now settled on Braden Holtby, who gets the chance to make amends for what was a very disappointing season. The incoming hero seems to have brightened his mood, as he threw a .932 at the Jackets in five appearances. But the Jackets don’t come with anything like Crosby, Kessell, Malkin (if he’s healthy), Hornqvist, Guentzel, and a host of others who have proven to be dependable playoff scorers. But Holtby already knows this. He was excellent two years ago and it wasn’t his fault that the Caps lost three OT games. He was pretty awful last year and was a big reason the Caps lost. He’s going to have to at least split the difference here, and unless you play a Guy Boucher-trap-until-everyone-strokes-out system to protect your goalie, these Penguins just don’t get goalie’d.

Defense: The Penguins defense always seems to play above its head, no matter who’s in the lineup and who isn’t. Dumoulin, Letang, Maatta, and Schultz were mostly excellent against the Flyers, and they were under serious pressure at times. The Penguins do make it easier on their d-men where they’re not asked to connect on breakout passes all the time but simply chips into space in the neutral zone for their speedy forwards to latch onto. This certainly helps them. Ruhwedel and Oleksiak are limited but aren’t asked to do much, and the Caps don’t quite have the depth they used to to really get at them.

At first, it looks like John Carlson was adding to his UFA presentation package with nine points in six games against the Jackets. But all of them came on the power play and the Penguins are just not going to be as forgiving. That said, the Caps top four on paper matches the Penguins’, if not better. And that includes Michal Kempny which makes me want to put my fist through a wall and eat the drywall that ends up on the floor. Just like the Penguins, Orpik and Djoos have their issues on the bottom pairing, but the difference is that the Pens do have the forward depth to really expose them, at least if Malkin plays and Brassard isn’t asked for more. Home ice once again matters… or it would if this weren’t the Caps.

Forwards: At this point everyone knows the deal with the Penguins. A lineup loaded with fast, shifty wingers bolstered by perhaps the best center-depth in the league. That depends on the health of Evgeni Malkin. He won’t play Game 1, is a stretch for Game 2 but is probably back after that. Even without him, the Pens put up eight goals in Game 6. Brassard is a decent enough stand-in, though they leave him on the third line with Sheary and Rust and Sheahan fills in between Kessel and Hagelin. Either way, the Penguins can and do get you from everywhere, and expect Orpik to look completely bewildered at times.

This isn’t the Caps group you remember, as it is far top heavier than it was. If Ovie and Kuznetsov and Oshie don’t score in this series, at evens or the power play, the Caps are toast. Smith-Pelley and Eller and Vrana are the kinds of players you’d expect to provide support scoring, and they’ll need to. Even with all that, Tom Wilson is going to take a really dumb penalty or 12 that the Penguins will cash in on that will shift the series. It’s just what happens. There is more depth here than the Caps get credit for but it’s not the same as the past two years. And it wasn’t enough the past two years. If Malkin misses the first two games then Backstrom and Kuznetsov have to take advantage. As soon as the Caps lose a home game all the gremlins in their heads come out to dance again.

Prediction: There’s a part of me that really wants to pick the Caps here, just for something different. But everywhere you look, you can’t see where they’re markedly better than the Penguins, if better at all. You’re counting on something you can’t predict happening for them. Maybe Holtby plays incredibly. Maybe Ovechkin binges. Maybe Lars Eller goes off. Maybe their power play stays so hot. But when looking at things that are on the baselines for both these teams, everything for the Penguins just seems likelier. Pens in 6. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Capitals 33-17-7   Hawks 24-26-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

THE NATIONALS HAVE NEVER WON A PLAYOFF SERIES: Japers Rink

At this point, we should just enjoy every game for the singular event that it is. I guess. So tonight is the one time per year that Alex Ovechkin comes to town, and if you’re headed to the UC tonight remember that you may be seeing the greatest goal-scorer of all-time (if you adjust for the era and such). So that’s cool. Other than that… well, it’s more to the Lance Bouma-Tommy Wingels Showcase Showdown.

When looking at the Caps, it’s actually really hard to tell just what the hell they’re doing at the top of the Metropolitan. Maybe it’s just that division is so bad, or was until the Penguins turned on lately. For fuck’s sake, the Flyers are in third in that division. Did you know that? No, you didn’t, because you don’t ever think about Cold Ones. And you don’t know who the hell is on there anymore. And they’re in third.

The Caps are a bad possession team. They’re a bad defensive team, as they actually have a worse expected goals-against than the Islanders, and the Islanders defensive policy is to fart into the wind. The Caps haven’t even really gotten a high-level of goaltending, as both Braden Holtby and Phillip Grubauer are carrying SV%’s right around league average. Holtby of late has been terrible, with an .898 in February. At least Trotz has figured out to not punt him out there 70+ times a season.

What the Caps do is shoot well, with the league’s best SH% at evens. The Caps have never needed to dominate games possession-wise with the skills of Ovie, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov, and they still have bottom-six finish with Eller, Connolly, and Vrana. They get some help in that area from the back end as well, with Carlson and Orlov each having over 20 points (and Carlson over 40). But the extent at which they’re overcoming their deficiencies so far makes you believe this is all a house of cards. And of course, once the Caps spit it in Round 1 or 2, we’ll get the now springtime tradition of Caps and turning their road jerseys into home ones by opening up a vein or six.

The Caps busted a modest two-game losing streak by stuffing the Wild but good on Thursday. They’ve been ho-hum this month, going 3-2-2 and giving life to the division chase of Pittsburgh. The Pens are three points back but have played two games more, so it’s still a ways to go but if the market corrects on the Caps before the playoffs, you can see where this is going.

Still, for tonight, it’s an awful lot of firepower for the Hawks beleaguered defense and goalies and… you know, let’s just change this to “beleaguered Hawks.” The Caps can get you from three lines and the power play is always something you don’t want to mess with. Trotz likely won’t hold anything back tonight, as the Hawks look like easy prey to just about everyone right now. The word’s out that if you get the Hawks in any kind of antsy situation, they’re probably going to find a way to lose and/or pack up the cats. So Washington will be looking for an early lead to get themselves an easy night. Not like the Hawks can score three goals anyway.

For the Hawks, lineup changes look like Connor Murphy will be punished for catching a rut on Thursday in Quenneville’s every increasingly-logical world. David Kampf also looks like he’ll draw back in for Tomas Jurco, so he can center Duclair and Anisimov for seven minutes or so. Everything else should stay the same, and Forsberg will get two straight starts if you can believe it.

Nothing to do now but play spoiler and see how much Schmaltz, Top Cat, and now Dahlstrom can grow. At least the Hawks showed some chutzpa on Thursday. That’s another thing to watch, whether Q can keep them trying until the end. We have so little to hang on to.

 

Game #59 Preview

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Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

This is going to sound strange. But strange is what we deal in around these parts. The Hawks really weren’t that bad tonight. In fact, for the first two periods, they were pretty good. It’s just that whenever something can go wrong for the Hawks right now, it’s going to horribly. When you have to lean on you backup goalie for three straight games, he’s probably going to let in a softie. So there’s the Caps’ second goal, which changed the outlook of the game. Still, you’d like to see a team like this respond a little better than giving up another one 29 seconds later, but we’ll get to that. Toss in a power play that can’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow-shovel right now, some players that are being asked to do the wrong things, and you get what looks like an ugly loss. The time for consolation is running out quickly. Hockey remains weird, and because of that there’s no guarantee that things will bend back the way that the Hawks play really suggests it should.

-While the second Caps’ goal–The Fels Motherfuck is on a real streak this season–appeared to be the game-changer, really it was the power play in the 2nd period when it was still a 3-1 game. Actually it was two of them. And the Hawks power play didn’t do anything. Like it’s been doing, or not doing I s’pose, all season.

What’s most frustrating is it’s obvious to everyone, and it must be obvious to the players, that the coaches have no idea where to go. Every power play the Hawks try something different. First we had Kane on a point, though moving down to the right half-boards with Saad on the left. But what good does having Saad on the left do? He’s a left-handed shot. The next power play saw Kane on the other side with Schmaltz where he was. A third power play saw the Hawks move two guys below the net.

We see this every game. The Hawks have new personnel or a new look or both on every chance. It doesn’t suggest that they’ve got a lot of plans. It suggests they don’t have any plans, and that translates to the players. If the coaches have no confidence in what they’re putting out there, why would they? And it’s costing them points, because for the most part at evens, the Hawks are where they need to be. Yes, I know, but it’s true.

-The new lines were… well, the new lines. It’s hard to get a read after one game. Toews’s line looked exactly like we thought, didn’t have a role. Schmaltz made some things happen with Top Cat, but they also could get overpowered down low in both zones.

-The problems are still on defense. All of Forsling, Rutta, and Franson got exposed in ways that the coaches simply refuse to see. Rutta and Forsling cannot handle anything but lower competition, but found themselves out against Backstrom’s line a lot of the night. And the Hawks seemed happy to have it that way. And ti’s not the first time we’ve seen that, because Tyler Seguin’s line spent two games making them look like Glass Joe. The Hawks best d-man right now is Connor Murphy, and it’s about time the Hawks start treating him like that.

For the Caps third goal, which made this hill really steep, came from Franson’s inability to recognize danger and his Snuffleupagus-like feet. Keith had pinched down the boards and no forward had covered for him. But Franson has to recognize that, instead he was sinking down into the offensive zone. So when the go-route was thrown for Wilson, he’s never going to catch that. He needs to be a free safety there. He was also slow getting back into position for the Caps’ 5th, trailing Kuznetsov.

You simply can’t keep asking Franson to take anything more than third pairing assignments, if that. The Hawks haven’t discovered gold here where no one else could see it. Three teams have decided that Franson is no better than a #7. There’s a reason for that. Stop thinking you’re geniuses. You’re not.

-While the Hawks certainly controlled the possession game for the first 40, most of it was pretty much restricted to the outside. This is where the annoying “Annette Frontpresence” discussion always rears it’s ugly head. I don’t know that the Hawks lack guys who can get to the net. Panik can’t buy one right now. Anisimov is Anisimov. Bouma and Wingels are what they are. You would think Saad would be another, but he isn’t really, is he? Most of Saad’s goals seem to come on the rush or elsewhere. He doesn’t score as many tips and rebounds as you feel like he should. And this was the problem the Hawks had with him the first time.

It’s an ugly scoreline for sure. And the 3rd period wasn’t pretty. There are serious problems here, but a good portion of it is the Hawks own making. Things have to turn sharpish, but it’s there. At least I think it is.

 

 

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 12-10-5   Capitals 16-11-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN, because this is such a rivalry and all

HOLLYWOOD FOR UGLY PEOPLE: Japers Rink

In some ways, the Hawks will be looking across the ice at what they were just a year or two ago. Both of these teams are either somewhat or pretty hollowed out from the teams that sat upon the top of their respective conferences year after year. That’s how the NHL wants it. Well, they get it. But whereas the Hawks can at least look up at the banners and say it was worth it, all the Capitals have are the broken glasses, waded up tissues, and the sad ballads of shattered dreams. Both have the hangover and clean-up, only the Hawks had the party.

The Capitals are still in the muck of the Metro Division, where all of four points separates the top six teams. So you can’t say they’re out of it by any stretch. Yet looking beyond simply the record and the points, the foundation the Caps used to be built on appears to be heavy with mildew and rust. By surface measures, this team is middling. They’re 15th in goals per game, and 15th in goals-against per game. You can’t get any more “in the middle” than that.

But the underlying numbers will tell you this team is flying on the wings of fortune and the sun is coming up awfully big in the rearview. They are 25th in CF% and 27th in xGF%. They have the sixth-highest shooting percentage in the league. Now, a team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie, Kuznetsov is probably always going to carry a higher than average shooting percentage given the skills of those four. But they’ll need to shoot around 10% to outdo their horrible possession markers.

They’ll also always get plus goaltending, though Braden Holtby hasn’t been at Vezina-level of the past two years. His .919 overall is below the .925 and .922 of last year, and the real mystery is the three shorthanded goals he’s given up already. That doesn’t really affect the whole, it’s just kind of weird.

It’s not hard to see where the copper wiring has been stripped in this house, though. The bottom six, a strength the past two years, has been shorn of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, and in their place are some kids or experiments or simply hail-marys. Those six forwards are getting their heads handed to them on a nightly basis, forcing the top six to do pretty much all the work. Through Eller, Beagle, and Connolly the bottom two lines can occasionally land a haymaker, but spend most of their time on the ropes or staring at the lights.

The defense is kind of the same story. The lost Karl Alzner–who kind of sucks anyway–and secret weapon Nate Schmidt. To make up for that, coach Barry Trotz has apparently decided to let John Carlson skate all their minutes. Carlson is averaging 27 minutes a night, by far the most of his career, 4th most in the league, and nearly four minutes per night over his career average. And the thing is, he’s not doing that much with that time. He’s taking on top lines and the hardest assignments, but the best you can say for him is he’s playing them to a draw. Considering he’s anchored to Brooks “Seabrook This!” Orpik, that’s probably the best they can hope for. What the Caps need is more d-men who can clean up after that firefight, and right now it’s just Orlov and Niskanen. And they’re doing ok, though not exactly dominating. There are a couple kids in Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey (yes, I’ve had many a “Madison Boweys” on trips to Wisconsin) on the third pairing. but Trotz would rather light his body hair on fire than play them in a meaningful situation or much at all. Djoos looks promising but he needs to be given the leash to bum-slay so they can get more out of anyone who’s not Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom.

Ah yes, Ovie. This team would be pissing up a rope without him. 20 goals already to lead the league. He was split up for a while from Backstrom as Trotz sought to spread out the scoring, but since reuniting they’ve been a terror as usual. And they’re doing this while dragging around Tom Wilson, so maybe we should just hand Ovie the Hart Trophy now simply for that.  Wilson has skated most of the season with Backstrom and has two goals. Dear reader, raise your hand if you think you could manage two goals while skating with Backstrom.

This preview has already ran on a bit long, so I don’t know that I can give the bonkers Hawks’ lines the treatment they so deserve. We’ll do so in the Lineups page. Needless to say, none of them make goddamn sense. The highlight could be keeping Top Cat on the right side in order to keep Lance Bouma on the left. Or it could Toews centering Hayden and Hartman in a “Guess What This Line Does For A Dollar!” set up. I can’t decide.

But we all know this will last a period at most, and the Hawks will likely look like shit during it. Then Q will switch back to what it was before, and the players will have a look on their face of, “Why did we bother with that horseshit?” for about five minutes and then they’ll get to playing.

This is a cozy part of the schedule, as the Caps are no great shakes before home dates with the Sabres, Coyotes, and Panthers who all blow. That’s before the Hawks have to go to sudden juggernaut-bitch Winnipeg, so these eight points are pretty crucial before that and a six-game road trip that wraps around Christmas.

 

Game #28 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

I know you’re not going to believe this, but a Barry Trotz-coached team wasn’t able to get past the second round. And I know you’re not going to believe that the Washington Capitals, despite having the deepest team in the league by some distance and probably the best team they’ve ever had, couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Game 7. But hey, they didn’t lead 3-1 this time! Now the Capitals have to see if they can try and scale the mountaintop again as something other than the favorite, with a slightly stripped-down roster. Actually, if you’ll allow me, the Capitals are being booked probably the way Roman Reigns should have been. They were at the top, everything was set for them, and they failed. And now they have to go through it again, with the most amount of doubt from the hockey world and within the organization themselves. They don’t even know if they can do it, or will ever be able. They have to overcome themselves even more than what’s on the other bench. Might being just outside the center of focus be exactly what they need? The Auld Enemy is almost certainly going to be waiting in Round 2, once again.

Washington Capitals

’16-’17 Record: 55-18-8  118 points (1st in Metro, out in 2nd round)

Team Stats 5v5: 51.8 CF% (4th)  52.0 SF% (3rd)  52.1 SCF% (6th)  9.1 SH% (2nd)  .937 SV% (1st)

Special Teams: 23.1 PP% (3rd)  83.8 PK% (7th)

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Bernie Would Have Won: Japer’s RinkRMNB

In years past, even for a mid January game, had both the Hawks and Capitals been carrying the two longest current winning streaks in the league (Caps at 7, Hawks at 4) there would be such a clamor over yet another POTENTIAL STANLEY CUP FINAL MATCHUP that it’d be deafening. But with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild on an inexorable collision course for June, it seems that tonight’s game in DC is simply old news to most.