With the Capitals rallying to knock off the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, in overtime on Alexander Ovechkin’s howitzer of a shot on Saturday night, here are 10 thoughts on the Caps after their sixth straight home victory.
Home Sweet Home – after dropping three of their first four on Capital One Arena ice this season, the Caps have won 13 of 15 at their barn and have used home cooking to take over sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 21-12-1 record (43 points). Washington is using the last change and a typically boisterous atmosphere to their advantage. The only bad thing about playing in DC has been the ice and it was just awful on Saturday night after an afternoon college hoops game. Brooks Orpik was being nice in his post first period interview with Smokin’ Al Koken when he said “the ice is terrible tonight.” Can’t that local college find their own gym to play in?
Quality Scoring Chances – There have been many Capitals games lately, especially on the road (see Boston), where they’ve lived off of their all world goalie, Braden Holtby. However, in the Ducks game, it was Washington who carried most of the play in the game taking what I charted as a 24-17 edge in scoring chances. The shot attempts for the game were 69-60 for the Capitals, including 68-60 at even strength. In five on five chances, the Caps had a plus nine advantage (67-58). The Caps have not been as dominant in the puck possession department as past years, primarily because they lost a few high end players and are breaking in some rookies at forward and defense. Going forward you’d like to see more domination from Washington in that department as the lineup is starting to solidify itself.
Puck Management – If there is one area where the Capitals really need to improve, it’s with their play with the puck in all three zones, but primarily in their own end and the neutral zone. Up front the Caps are doing a better job of eliminating the cross ice passes as they come into the offensive zone and they are playing more of a north-south game. On the back end they’ve been very careless with the biscuit in stretches lately. These turnovers, whether they are bad execution on a pass or a poor decision, like some of the defensive or neutral zone cross ice plays we still occasionally see, need to be brought to a minimum. Cleaning those up will lead to more speed through the neutral zone and more shot attempts and quality scoring chances.
Odd Man Rushes – the Capitals have done a pretty good job of limiting opponents odd man rushes during this stretch in December where they’ve won seven of eight games, but Anaheim had several on Saturday night. The first one led to Derek Grant’s sweet top shelf marker that made it 1-0 in period one. Dmitry Orlov was playing the system properly when he held the left wing boards in the offensive zone, but when the puck went by him it was a Ducks two on one where Grant held the biscuit and then beat Holtby with a great shot. That was not #9’s fault there, although some will place blame on him. It’s up to the third forward to read the play in the offensive zone, and in that case, Devante Smith-Pelly failed to realize that he was the player who needed to be up inside the offensive blue line to cut off a cross ice breakout pass if the puck changed hands. The coaches won’t like the poor execution on that play. Another odd man rush ensued when Lars Eller fell at the offensive blue line, likely due to the bad playing surface, and the Ducks had a two on one the other way. The veteran Orpik, however, played it perfectly and forced a lower quality shot that the Holtbeast (28 saves) easily snared and put of harm’s way. In the statistics department Orpik gets dinged with a shot attempt against (and the Corsi crowd loves to call #44 out on that stat), but the 37 year old, in a bad situation, made a heads up play to prevent a goal. Corsi is a nice stat, but it needs to be taken in context and should never be used as an end all be all analysis metric, it’s just one piece of the overall puzzle. Hockey is chaos theory and totally non-linear, so you can’t quantify what happens on pure mathematics alone (and I have a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University to back that up).
The Post Man Always Rings How Many Times? – the Ducks hit the post three times in the middle frame. The first was their power play goal after an Andre Burakovsky hooking fraction. This tally came directly off of the faceoff when Jakob Silverberg deflected Ryan Getzlaf’s point shot down and past Holtby. The puck hit the right pipe behind Braden and banked back in off of #70’s pads for a 2-0 lead. The second post was struck by Adam Henrique after he hooked Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 goal) and somehow got away with it at the defensive blue line. His backhander fortunately did not find the twine because the zebras clearly were sleeping. That stick to the midsection of #92 should be an AUTOMATIC call these days. Finally, the Ducks hit one more post that could have made it 3-0 in the second half of period two when Washington was struggling with their puck management.
John Blutarsky’s GPA – the zebras, Graham Skilliter and Ian Walsh, did Washington no favors in the man advantage department on Saturday night. They missed the Henrique hook on Kuznetsov that could’ve been disastrous and they also missed a trip by the Ducks on Tom Wilson in the middle frame when Washington was down two pucks. I also thought that Francois Beauchemin got away with a cross check on Jakub Vrana in period three with the game tied. #13 was about to split the Ducks D with his blazing speed, much like he did in Beantown on Thursday night on his goal, when #23 knocks him to the ground with two hands on his stick. That’s cross checking according to the rule book. You have to love the way Vrana is playing, he had a great assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but the zebras gave the Caps no power plays in this affair, for no good reason other than they might have a had an early post game dinner or plane to catch. It was a 0.0 Caps power play night.
Top Line Domination – I didn’t like the play of the Capitals top line for most of this week, especially on the road in Brooklyn and in Boston. Washington managed to get a W against the Bruins thanks to Holtby and some timely goals from Vrana and Alex Chiasson. On Saturday, the dominant top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tom Wilson was back. Those guys were racking up the quality shot totals in this affair and John Gibson (24 saves) did all he could in the first 30 minutes to hold that line at bay. Wilson also hit the post early in period one right before fighting Kevin Bieksa. The heavy Caps top unit was strong on the forecheck in this affair and it was that style that led to the goal that ignited the Capitals comeback early in the third period. Wilson picked off an errant Ducks clear in the right wing circle and he made a super cross ice pass to Ovi, who quickly fired the disc on net. Gibson made a super save but couldn’t handle the rebound. Backstrom was right there for it and he adeptly kicked the puck to his stick and fired it near post for his fourth goal in the last six games. Ovechkin then won the game in OT WAY late in his shift when he rushed the puck into the offensive zone and just fired away while two new Caps were coming on the ice. Gibson had a hard time picking that shot up because Brandon Montour put his stick in the shooting lane. The rifled blast struck iron, which erupted the Capital One Arena crowd and sent them home happy for the holidays.
Christmas Vacation – Washington’s nice run of home games comes to end now and the Caps will be in Dallas on Tuesday, Arizona on Friday, and then Rock Vegas on Saturday night when they take on the Golden Knights. The Caps have had a propensity to play like Cousin Eddie on the road and the Lone Star State has not been friendly to them in franchise history, although Washington won the famous “Dad’s trip pushups celebration” affair last January. The league will shut down for three days (December 24-26) and then the Capitals are right back at it on the road, in Madison Square Garden, against the Rangers on December 27th. The Caps have climbed the ladder in the Metropolitan Division with some quality hockey, but most of that has come at home. Can they keep their roll going out west this week?
Closing Thoughts – On Monday the Capitals will hold their final practice before heading out on the road and the big question will be whether T.J. Oshie participates. If the Osh Babe, who has been skating for over a week now since the Joe Thornton cheap shot to the head back on December 4th, can go, then a forward needs to come out of the lineup. #77 will slot in with Kuznetsov and Vrana bumping the surging Chiasson to the bottom six. I’d like to see more from Burakovsky, as would the coaches, so it’s likely they don’t break that unit up, just yet. That leaves someone on the fourth line as the healthy scratch, and based on Saturday’s game, I’d venture to say that Smith-Pelly will be the odd man out. DSP hasn’t been bad, but Oshie has to go back in and others have been too good to take out.
Notes – Dmitry Orlov continues to play outstanding on the back end and he logged 24:29 of ice time, had four hits, and was +2 against Anaheim…Wilson had an assist, a fight, four hits, four shots on goal, and was +2 in 19:58 on Saturday. He did not get an assist on Kuznetsov’s game tying goal, but he made the hit to jar the puck loose to Vrana and then he went to the net, which kept Gibson deep in his cage on #92’s goal. That tally really looked like an intended pass for Willy, which hit the D-man’s skate and went in short side. As Alan May will tell you, good things happen when you get bodies and pucks to the cage…the Gr8 now has 23 goals in 34 games (55 goals pace) and he’s tied with Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.