The Hawks surprisingly continue to not suck, eking out wins under Derek King and his amusing, incredibly human personality. After adapting to King’s style of defense, the team has seemed calmer, more in sync and surer of themselves. And considering how horrifically this season started (in more ways than one), I’ll take it at this point.

The Blackhawks’ defensive zone coverage at least makes sense, even without shutdown players like McCabe and Murphy in the lineup, and you’re hard-pressed to find a guy out of position these days, limiting the chances of their opponents pretty well. Of course, many teams in this league are just more talented than the Hawks which will lead to losses on occasion. But considering the garbage effort that was trotted out under Coach Vinny del Colliton, this more boring style of hockey is a welcome change. Maybe we can try out a regulation win or two?

Hawks 4, Capitals 3 (Hawks win menko match)
Box | Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks were able to win this one in spite of all odds, albeit in a shootout. But the entire team had a pretty good game, which included keeping the greatest goal-scorer of all time, Alex Ovechkin, without a goal that night. They also did it without Connor Murphy, who got hit by Ovie early into the 2nd period and had to leave the game to go into the dark room.

Kane and the Cat started things off near the end of the 1st period, their playmaking abilities on full show with a nifty goal that beat the goaltender backhand. Barely a minute into the 2nd period, however, the Capitals tied the game after, shockingly, Erik Gustafsson couldn’t break up the play.

Despite the Capitals dominating the possession game in the 2nd, the Hawks were able to take back the lead with not only a powerplay goal, but one by Dominik Kubalik, who was set up by DeBrincat. Amy’s Eldest made a good play near the blueline to keep things alive as well. Though the Caps ended up scoring two goals to take the lead back thanks to a Fleury fumble and a breakaway glove save gone wrong, the Hawks rallied back late to tie the game up thanks to a goal by Amy’s Eldest. Getting a point was just about all I was hoping for this game.

Nobody scored in overtime thanks to the goalies on both sides, and then Fleury had some good luck in the shootout as two Caps in a row hit both goalposts. Luckily it was enough to give Kane the opportunity to win it in the shootout in a way only he can.

Hawks 2, Rangers 3
Box | Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks won’t win them all, but I was pleased with the effort they put into this game and the fact that they didn’t seem to give up when they were down two (again). Both teams played quite conservatively to begin this game, with four shots total halfway through the first. And the Hawks even scored first (again) on a nifty play by Hagel, who swatted the puck out of the air and behind him for Kane to bury into a wide-open net. Now his goalless streak has been snapped.

Unfortunately, Dylan Strome’s brother Ryan scored shortly into the 2nd period to tie things up for the Rangers after a penalty by Borgstrom put the Hawks on the kill. Ryan Strome was set up easily by Adam Fox and old friend Artemi Panarin to get the puck past a sprawling Kevin Lankinen. Fox and Panarin would later team up again near the end of the period to get the Rangers the lead, sneaking the puck just under Lanks and into the back of the net.

The Hawks continued to get chances through the 2nd and 3rd, but Anton Georgiev was able to stop just about every shot. Panarin scored in the 3rd to seal the deal for the Rangers, although the Hawks’ effort in the waning minutes of the game should be commended. The Cat got a weird goal after a shot that was originally saved by Georgiev ended up just barely sliding across the goal line as he is absolutely clobbered by Kirby Dach in the paint. King pulled Lankinen in the final minute or two of the game, but the Hawks weren’t able to tie things up. We are going to need some steadier production from guys like Kane and Kubalik in the future, as relying on only two guys for all of your offense isn’t a good long-term plan for success.

Hawks 3, Islanders 2 (Hawks win Tiddlywinks competition this time)
Box | Natural Stat Trick

The Islanders were coming off their 10th straight loss with this game and it certainly showed. As expected, the level of offense to watch this game was quite low, as both teams play more defensive-minded games.

And dear God did this one drag awhile. There were only 18 shots between the teams by the end of the 1st, but the Hawks went up with The Cat’s slapshot going off Hagel and into the back of the net. The Islanders had only eight shots in the first period, though it seemed like less because of the Hawks defense breaking up a lot of chances, plus the occasional sprawling save by Marc-Andre Fleury. Neither of these teams have a lot of offense firepower, after all.

The Islanders were able to tie it up nearing the end of a powerplay chance they had in the 2nd. Unfortunately a myriad of sloppy plays made the second half of the period an especially PK-heavy period for the Hawks. Luckily for them, it was Dylan Strome in the 3rd who put them in the lead, a goal he sorely needed for his confidence going forward. In a game where I thought the Hawks were doing way more passing than they were shooting, that was a super neat passing sequence by the Hawks that gave Strome the open net.

Unfortunately, the bad penalties kept coming for the Hawks, as it was now the turn of Amy’s Youngest to be sent to the box for interference. The Hawks can thank the acrobatics of Fleury and the sludge that is the Islanders powerplay for getting out of that one unscathed. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to keep the Islanders from tying the game up with only two seconds left in regulation. After just about the most boring 3-on-3 that can exist with only a few shots off from both teams, Kane scored the only goal in a meaningless shootout (again) to get the Hawks two points.

They seem to be turning their season around, albeit far too late to make the playoffs and therefore losing their first-round pick for this year’s draft. Though that pick would be extremely valuable to the team’s future, I’d certainly rather see a good effort like the Hawks are putting in every night than watching them tank to keep their first-rounder. And yes, I’ll probably regret feeling this way in the next year or two. The Rangers, Canadiens and Leafs are next week—let’s hope for 2 out of 3.



RECORDS: Capitals 5-2-2  Hawks 2-2-1


TV: NBCSN Chicago/NHLN Outside the 606


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.


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.

Everything Else

Tom Wilson – The head halfwit/nitwit/dimwit not just of the Capitals, but perhaps in the entire league. Simply a workplace hazard for everyone around. Wilson hasn’t popped off this season yet, and has been pretty useful on the second line. We know that won’t last, and he did brain someone in the preseason. The next time it happens, he should be suspended 40 games if not more, but the NHL doesn’t have the stones to do it. One day, he and the league will get sued by someone for someone’s rough retirement.

Radko Gudas – The Caps either wanted to save money by swapping out Niskanen for Gudas, or they felt they didn’t quite have the asshole level on defense to match the one at forward. What’s infuriating about Gudas is he is actually a good player when he’s not trying to be Freddy Krueger out there. He’s always on the plus side of the metrics and can be a steady centerfielder for a more adventurous partner. But he just can’t help himself.

TJ Oshie – He still makes engine noises while skating around the ice.


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.


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



New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers



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

We’re getting to the business end of the 1st round, and thankfully most of the bullshit and cock-holding has started to fade a bit. Some things will get decided this weekend, so it’s time to focus on what really matters. Here’s where we stand.

Toronto vs. Boston (2-2)

You hear less moaning and whining from Toronto now that Tampa won’t be waiting in the second round after spending a week filing their nails, as we all thought would happen. Still, you can easily see a scenario where the Leafs finally vanquish the Bruins, are overjoyed with their first series win since the Model-T was in fashion, and then get atom-smashed by the Jackets in four or five games. I’m almost kind of hoping this happens.

Anyway, this series has been as close as 2-2 would suggest and neither really finding anything to exploit on the other. The Bs really kicked around the Leafs in Game 2, and the Leafs kind of did in Game 4 without getting the result. Sometimes the other guys makes 38 saves.

For the most part, whether home or road, Patrice Bergeron has been matched up with John Tavares, and has gotten just this side the better. You wouldn’t expect that to change tonight in Boston. And much the same, the Matthews-Krejci matchup has been a standstill, though if you had to bet Matthews is the slightly better bet to pop off. But where this might get decided is the Bruins bottom-six has been getting devoured possession and chance-wise by Toronto’s, and if Nazem Kadri weren’t a galactic moron he’d be odds-on to make that count instead of his replacements. Still, that’s what I’d watch for the next two or three.

Avalanche vs. Flames (Avs 3-1)

This one doesn’t take much science. The Flames don’t have an answer for Nathan MacKinnon, even though by some miracle the goaltending has essentially been equal. It’s just that Mike Smith has faced 108 shots the past two games. Giordano and Brodie are getting blistered, and I can’t talk about what’s happening to Hamonic and Hanifin without asking any children in the room to leave.

On the other side, Sean Monahan hasn’t come close to answering what MacKinnon’s line is doing, and if that continues the Flames here are toast. Bill Peters, or Pill Beters if you prefer, at home tonight has to get Backlund out against MacK every chance he gets. Yes, Backlund had a nightmare end to Game 4, but he’s still one of the best checking centers in the league and there doesn’t seem to be much option. Still, no one on the Flames is carrying an xGF% over 45% except Tkachuk. That’s a big one, that’s a bad one.

Stars vs. Predators (tied 2-2)

If you haven’t watched this one, good for you. It’s been like watching the DMV. The Stars have turned into Trotz Ultra, and the Predators don’t really have the firepower to easily get through it. They play just enough defense to usually be ok, except when they don’t bother to show up as they did in Game 4. With Bishop and Rinne, and the way the Stars play this, the margins are awfully thin and this one could easily be decided by something hitting someone’s ass and going in. Just don’t cut time out for it, you’ve got better things to do.

Blues vs. Jets (Blues lead 3-2)

It’s rare you see a team try and out-Blues the Blues, but we live in strange times. The Jets, who I’m convinced have been trying to get Paul Maurice fired since November, had it in their hands last night. Up two goals at home and the Blues really doing nothing. But because they stopped playing defense long ago in that attempt to get their coach canned, they let them back into it. Also having an aging and even more-uncaring Byfuglien out there will lead to messes on the rug, evidenced by Oskar Sundqvist walking around him like he was roped off by caution tape for the equalizer last night. Jacob Trouba seems intent on costing himself money by the day, and the Jets are a mess.

This is still the Blues though, who also had the series in their hands and then kept tossing Colton Parayko at Mark Scheifele. This has truly been the debate of Mooseylvania, where each keeps pushing the the win back toward each other.

Hurricanes vs. Capitals (2-2)

It’s funny, but basically the Canes have kicked the crap out of the Capitals for most of this series and can’t seem to solve Holtby. only Game 4 was close in terms of possession or expected goals, and the Canes carried a 57% share in that one anyway. Again, as we’ve said with the Canes for years now, as fun as they are and as much right as they do, the lack of premier firepower is costing them. With it, and this one might already be over.

Still, it’s the former champs and you’d trust Braden Holtby more than Petr Mrazek, even though Mrazek has been good for months now. The Canes have to continue to dominate possession to make up for the snipers they don’t have, stay out of the box, and they can pull the upset. Oshie is going to be a big miss here, because his kind of finishing is the difference between these teams. Without him, that difference becomes smaller. And you know Aho is going to go off in one of these games.

Sharks vs. Knights (Vegas leads 3-2)

This one’s simple enough. When the Sharks get any saves whatsoever, they win. When they don’t, they don’t. They haven’t been outclassed or dominated for any stretch here other than maybe Game 3, but in the middle three games whatever chances the Knights got went in and the Sharks were always chasing. Jones played well last night, the Sharks won relatively easily, but that was also the case in Game 1 and then he went to the zoo for three games. There’s no margin for error now. Fleury has only been ok in this series, but he’s only had to be ok. Vlasic’s return also clearly makes a difference.

You’ll know by the 1st period on Sunday if this one’s over or not. If Jones hasn’t crapped out a chicken, the Sharks have every chance to get it back to Cali for a Game 7. If he has, pack up the cats.

Everything Else



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

Only in this way is it a shame that Russia-US relations are headed to Cold War status soon, because Alex Ovechkin should be considered an imported treasure, if not a national one. But being a close friend of The Shirtless Rider in charge over there probably won’t help his cause in a lot of eyes. Either way, we’ve spent years talking about what a true phenomenon Ovechkin is and has been. He’s leading the league in goals again at 33. and it doesn’t feel like he’s going to stop doing that anytime soon. What’s peculiar about this year is how he’s going about it.

Ovechkin used to score his usual avalanche of goals by sheer volume of shots. Think Matthew Stafford. No player in history averaged the five shots per game that Ovechkin routinely put up. although he hasn’t done that in a couple years. And while he had a decent accuracy on them, the fact that he found a way to get a puck through more than anyone else from anywhere is the reason he was always atop the scoring charts.

That’s not so this year. Ovie is only averaging 3.96 shots per game, his second-lowest since 2012 when Adam Oates tried to turn him into a fucking checking winger. As far as rates go, Ovie is only getting 11.2 shots per 60 minutes total on net, a low since that Oates-era confusion. His 17.7 SH% are a career-high this year, which explains the 33 goals.

It’s even more pronounced at even-strength. Alex The Great is only getting 8.9 shots per 60 at 5-on-5, when he’s comfortably been over 10 per 60 for his entire career. Again, his 17.5 SH% at even-strength is a career-high, and by some distance. The best he had done before was last year’s 12.8%. He’s not really making it up on the power play either, averaging less shots there than he has in seven seasons and with less accuracy. This could be the third-straight season his power play goals tally declines.

Which would lead one to ask if Ovie is just finding better spots to get a higher percentage of shots to the twine, or he’s just getting luckier. It looks like the latter. Ovechkin is nearly doubling his expected individual goals for per 60, which is 0.83 and he’s actually potted 1.58. This is by far the highest difference in the last five years. Now to be clear, Ovechkin is always going to outshoot what the percentages say he “should” score, because his shot is just that heavy. But doubling it up is pushing it. It also doesn’t suggest he’s getting to any different areas or getting chances he didn’t before. His expected-goals rate is below what it was last year, so he might not even be getting the same chances as before, though he’s pretty much in line with the past few years on that.

All of which would lead you to believe that if you wanted to wager that the decline is coming for Ovie next year, it might be smart money. Hell, he’s only got three in his last 14 right now, so it might already be here. Going five percent over your career-high in shooting-percentage is a neat trick at 33, and one that’s hard to maintain. That doesn’t mean Ovie is going to be a detriment or anything close to it. But it might behoove the Caps to start planning on him being a 25-30 goal guy soon, because underneath the fireworks, that’s the way things are trending.


Game #50 Preview Suite




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Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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We can only hope.

It was five years ago, so you would think the memory should be pretty yellowed by now. Yes, we’re biased when it comes to T.J. Oshie. He was the dude in St. Louis who made engine noises when he was on the ice. He was the asshole who Blues fans couldn’t wait to point out had scored more at North Dakota than Jonathan Toews, for reasons we can’t understand. Maybe it made St. Louis residents feel good in a way that only booing Cardinals who happen to be black does. Oshie also has that big dumb face.

But by far what came to annoy us most about Oshie was the glow and esteem he got out of a shootout performance in the Olympics in 2014. While the actual performance may have been fun at the time, let’s review: It didn’t come in a game, but a gimmick. Second, it came in a gimmick after a game that didn’t matter. It was the preliminary round. It basically got the US nowhere. Third, it was a shootout win over a Russian team that flat out sucked. The US should have ripped that team apart.

Really, check out this defense: Nikita Nikitin, Slava Voynov, Fedor Tyutin, Alex Emelin, Andrei Markov, and a couple of KHL wanderers. That’s a defense that’s asking for its doors to be blown off. The US could only manage a couple of power play goals. We should have known it was going to be a balls-up then.

And it didn’t help the US win a medal. They were utterly smothered by Canada in the semis, perhaps the biggest gap between teams in a game that ended up 1-0 in history. It could have been 120 minutes long, and the dunderheaded roster USA Hockey put together led by the simply bewildered Dan Bylsma–who attempted to play a dump and chase game against one of the best defenses ever assembled–would have never scored. The US didn’t bother to care in the Bronze Medal game.

And Oshie has been coasting off that ever since. It seems to always come up, and don’t be shocked if it gets mentioned on NBC again today whenever he is on screen. It was a quirk. An anomaly. A fissure in time. Nothing more. So leave us alone.


Game #50 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built