The Washington Capitals have concluded the regular season and will officially have home-ice advantage against the Boston Bruins. It is the #2 vs #3 seed matchup in the East Division. During the regular season, we saw comebacks, OT winners, blow outs, Tom Wilson drama, and high scoring games. I think it is fair to say the games between these two clubs certainly had no shortage of drama this season. The Capitals road to the #2 seed faced many ups and downs and the last few weeks specifically have been strange to say the least. But here we are…it’s the playoffs!!! Ready or not, here they come!
Today I am looking at three initial X-factors from the Capitals perspective for their matchup against the Bruins:
1. Health – The Capitals need to get healthy and they need to get healthy asap. They have three days...good luck! Pretty much every other player on the roster is legitimately banged up right now. You name the player and there is a fair chance they have missed 1-2 games in the last week or so. Regardless of health, I don’t believe anything is serious enough that would result in significant players missing any time. I believe some of the Capitals top guys are certainly hurt but pretty much everyone in the league is banged up. The boys will play through it. It remains to be seen just how much of a factor “health” will play into this series. If these guys are actually really hurt, they will be more prone to reinjury if they are forced to play through it. If people start missing playoff games, the Capitals will in all likelihood be vegas-line underdogs for a majority of games. It also remains to be seen if Kuznetsov and/or Samsonov will be available for the first round. They are still on the covid protocol list last I checked as a team discipline. Seriously Kuzy and Sammy?! What the heck!
2. Goaltending – I will cut straight to the point. Vitek Vanecek will be the starter for game one. I am a big believer in Vanecek but let’s just say I wouldn’t drink the punch for him. If you keep up with my blog, you know I even ranked Vanecek over Lundqvist in the preseason before Lundqvist opted out of the season for health reasons. Vanecek has a track record of consistent success at both the NHL and AHL level. Vanecek leads all rookie goalies in wins (21). His season averages are pretty meager. Of 73 qualified goalies who played a minimum of 8 games, Vanecek ranks 36th in save percentage (.908), and ranks 35th in GAA (2.69). It feels like Vanecek is either riding a shutout late in the third period or he is giving up 5 to 6 goals a game. I would not describe his performance as consistent. If the Bruins jump on the inexperienced goaltender early, we could see a quick trigger to Craig Anderson in game three or four. I could be wrong, but it does not sound like Samsonov will be back any time soon. Even if he clears COVID protocols, does Laviolette throw him in for a playoff game when he is relatively cold? That is a huge question. Either way, if Samsonov misses the series against Boston, that is a massive blow to the Capitals. I will say, I really like what I have seen from Craig Anderson this season. In four games for the Capitals this season, Anderson is 2-1 with a .915 SV% and a 2.13 GAA. He could be a sleeper pick for MVP of the first round series should he be called upon.
3. Special Teams – The Capitals have one of the best power plays in the league. The Bruins have one of the best penalty kills in the league. Both the Capitals and Bruins are extremely talented when it comes to special teams. The Capitals have the third best PP at 24.8%. The Bruins PP is ranked 9th at 21.9%. The Capitals PK is ranked 5th at 84%. The Bruins PK is ranked 2nd at 86%. That is objectively some very respectable and very talented special teams stats for both teams. The Capitals also showed during the regular season they can score on the Bruins PK. Id say the early edge in special teams has to go to Washington given their stronger stats between both PP and PK.
Look for another post (hopefully tomorrow) where I compare the season stats head to head between the Capitals and the Bruins. I will be adding up stuff like shots, scoring chances, high danger chances, 5v5 play, special teams stats. You name it, there is probably a stat I can dig up for it. I have done something similar for the Islanders and the Penguins and there is usually some fascinating data to comb through. It can be very telling.
Game 1 between the Capitals and the Bruins is Saturday 05/15 at 7:15pm ET. Good luck to fans of both teams. I hope this is a fun and clean series. I'm talking to you Tom Wilson, keep you damn cool.
Oh ps, here is what happened last time the Caps played the Bruins in the playoffs…I miss you Joel Ward!