Welcome to the Caps Blog! With the playoffs right around the corner (hallelujah!), I wanted to take a moment and rewind to the state of the Caps as the league came to its pause.
Leading up to January 1st, 2020, the Capitals had the best record in the NHL at 27-9-5. Behind them were the Blues at 26-9-6 and the Bruins at 24-7-10. From January 1st up until the league pause on March 12th, The Capitals ranked 21st in the league with a record of 14-11-3 during that span. No team had a larger drop in record than did the Capitals. So, what happened? Why does a team who won their division have so many question marks? Let’s take a closer look at areas of opportunity I will be paying extra close attention to during the round robin games:
1. Defense – From January 1st and on, the Caps gave up 3.29 GA/G. This ranks 5th worst in the league during that span. The four teams with worse numbers include Detroit, Ottawa, Anaheim, and Vancouver. Three of the four teams were not even close to making the playoffs. The Caps have the second most penalties in the league at 298 penalties taken. With that penalty rate, the Caps are 14th worst with 0.64 PP GA/GP. This would be worse if our PK wasn’t ranked 6th in the league at 82.6%. The Caps also tinkered with their defensive lineup all season and just couldn’t quit get the production they desired from the bottom two pairings. This led to them to trading for Brenden Dillon to pair with Orlov. The trade didn’t seem to do much in terms of collective defense. Since they traded for Dillon on February 18th, The Caps are 8th worst in the league at 3.40 GA/GP and 21st on the PK. Dillon looked strong and I am hopeful that trade pays more dividends in the playoffs. John Carlson led the league with 75 points and looks to have the Norris Trophy wrapped up. I hope that production continues in the postseason. There’s not much else to say about the defense, they were inconsistent but have the talent and experience to be great in a tight playoff series.
2. Goaltending – The season was also inconsistent for Braden Holtby. In a contract year, he was up and down. Ilya Samsonov played very well and got more comfortable as the season went on. I will not be diving into Samsonov too much today as he has already been ruled out of the playoffs because of an undisclosed injury. More on that later, but all that matters is this is 100% Holtby’s net for the playoffs. Of 61 goalies on the season who played a minimum of 15 games played, Holtby ranked 53rd with a .897 SV%. Sergei Bobrovsky had a better save % for crying out loud! He did have a nice stretch from October 29th to November 18th where he posted a 10-0-1 record and a .931 SV%. Holtby is a veteran and knows how to turn it on when he needs to. He still holds the 6th best playoff SV% of all time at .928 in 89 games played. I am hopeful we get this Holtby in the postseason but who knows after such a long layoff.
3. Special Teams – The Capitals saw a slight regression in the power play this season going from 12th ranked at 20.8% in 2018-2019 to 17th ranked at 19.4%. In regard to the penalty kill, the team was ranked 24th in 2018-2019 at 78.9% and saw a nice jump to 82.6% this season. The penalty kill is arguably the most consistent part of their game. YES, it is great to have a top penalty kill but it also doesn’t help your team when you take the second most penalties in the league. Take too many penalties against offensive teams like Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Tampa Bay and you are asking for trouble! I am interested to see how this plays out moving forward.
Those are the three things I will have my eye on during the round robin games. How does the defense look against the top teams in the eastern conference in Boston, Tampa, and Philly? How does Holtby look? What is the root of our successes and shortcomings?
The Upcoming Capitals schedule is as follows:
Wednesday July 29th vs Carolina Hurricanes (Exhibition)
Monday August 3rd vs Tampa Bay Lighting
Thursday August 6th vs Philadelphia Flyers
Sunday August 9th vs Boston Bruins