February 16. This date has more significance than being just one month ago today. It is the most recent occasion where the Washington Capitals won a game by more than one goal.
For many, this is concerning. I mean, earlier in the season as they quickly accelerated away from the rest of the league in the standings, they were blowing teams out in the process. Why has that suddenly died down?
There are a lot of valid questions that can be raised at this time regarding the recent play of the Washington Capitals. Why can’t the team score first? Why aren’t we dominating teams the way we used to? The list carries on and on.
Yesterday, the Caps became the first team to clinch a berth in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs – and there aren’t any teams that are particularly close to performing that same feat. Sure – there are many teams around the league that are all but locks to make it in, but making it official on March 15 feels pretty good.
More from Stars and Sticks
There is still a lot of reason to be optimistic about this team heading into the playoffs despite their recent struggles.
Last night, Alex Ovechkin commented on the “boring” game that they had just been victorious in. It is easy to take this the wrong way, but there is no reason to.
These types of boring games – meaning low scoring, physical and defensive battles – are what playoff hockey is all about. At the same time, the Washington Capitals are undoubtedly in the middle of an offensive slump, so the explosive potential of this offense is still there as it has been all season, and could come out in the playoffs, which should scare every team in the league.
That offensive slump has, in the big picture, done absolutely no damage to this team. The only visible and statistical result has been their drop to second in the league (3.14) in terms of goals for per game. What a bummer. I like to call this regression, and when the regression involves remaining in the top two for goals scored in the entire league, so be it.
It isn’t as if the defense has suffered much, either. This is notable given their top blue liner, John Carlson, has been out of the lineup for extended periods of time twice now. They rank third (2.32) in the league in goals against per game. Again, this is all when the team’s eighth defenseman, Mike Weber, is seeing time in the lineup.
One thing that has been a bit more alarming has been Braden Holtby’s regression. He hasn’t had as good of a second half of the season, but he still managed to set the franchise record mark in wins by a goaltender (42) in one season. By the way, that has come in 56 games. Simply incredible. The team as a whole is still is tied for first with a .920 combined save percentage.
It’s just the same old story for their special teams. The power play is tops in the league (23.7%), and their penalty kill is the fourth-best (84.3%). Even when the power play has been struggling, the Washington Capitals’ man advantage continues to set the tone for the rest of the league.
These are all very basic statistics, but even through “rough” times (as rough as they can get with a 50-14-5 record) the Washington Capitals are in an incredible, almost historic, position.
The Caps played their best first period in weeks the other night against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also managed to score first and hold a lead of any kind for the first time in almost two weeks. If you noticed, that didn’t prevent the Hurricanes from coming right back and forcing overtime.
The Capitals have an uncanny ability to come back on any occasion. As long as the scoreboard displays more points for the Caps at the end of games, it won’t really matter who scores first.
Yes, the Capitals may lose in the first round of the playoffs. But they also have their best chance ever at winning a Stanley Cup, and that needs to be recognized and celebrated.
No matter how easy the regular season has been – for any team, ever – winning a championship is hard. That isn’t a debate.
So, everyone just enjoy the ride, and appreciate the record setting run that we have been witness too – and one that isn’t even close to over, yet.