The Washington Capitals won their fourth game in a row on Sunday night as they took down the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 on the road. The Caps, riding their hottest wave of the season, are producing deserved good results based on how they have played in recent weeks.
In this numbers post, we’ll first take a look at this individual game and then zoom out a bit for the second half. Capitals country, let’s laugh. This will be a long one so get your reading glasses on.
- I honestly believe the Caps were the better team for 50 minutes of this game. I don’t buy the stats from the second period (6 to 1 Winnipeg in five-on-five high-danger chances) as a good snapshot of how that period actually played out. Charlie Lindgren really wasn’t that busy and watching it with my own eyes the Caps had way more than just the one high-danger chance at five-on-five. There were two alone for me on Eller’s goal, a few more on the shift that led to TVR’s goal, and Mantha had a mini-breakaway late in the frame where he hit the post. The stat sheet was just drunk. The Jets are a very good team, so they were always going to push a bit in the third. Savvy timeout call from Peter Laviolette and the Caps really shut the door and gave them nothing after that. Be proud of that road effort, because it was great.
- Let’s get the big man out of the way here early. Alex Ovechkin potted his 797th career tally into another empty net. He has goals in three-straight games and nine in his last twelve. You don’t need me to tell you what milestones he is nearing because you hear about them endlessly every single day. The Great Eight is on pace for over 45 goals in his age-37 season.
- I think sometimes we (more probably me) get hyper-focused on five-on-five play and tend to forget about how important good special teams are to winning hockey games. The Caps have a lot of that lately as with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s marker in this game they have scored a power-play goal in six straight games and nine of their past ten. They also killed off all three Jets’ power plays and their penalty kill is up to the eighth-best in the league, operating at 81.4-percent effectiveness.
- Staying on the penalty kill for a second, what a set of plays from Yevgeny Kuznetsov to set free Marcus Johansson for the breakaway that eventually led to the shorthanded penalty shot goal. You saw it on the TV broadcast but that was the Caps’ first penalty shot goal since Mikhail Grabovski scored one in 2013 against the Rangers.
- I thought the team’s best line on the evening was obviously the fourth line. Those guys had three or four shifts of just absolutely beautiful cycle work. With Nic Dowd on the ice at five-on-five (10:33), the Caps saw positive differentials in shot attempts (+4), scoring chances (+4), high-danger chances (+2), and saw Dowd deftly feed Trevor van Riemsdyk for the game’s opening salvo. They did all of that while receiving zero offensive zone shift starts.
- You can’t talk about the four-game winning streak without noting that the same guy has been in net for all four games. Charlie Lindgren has filled in masterfully for the injured Darcy Kuemper as the team’s starter. Chuck has a 1.50 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in the four victories.
The Capitals have earned 15 points in their last 10 games, which is tied for the second-most points in the NHL since Nov. 23.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) December 12, 2022
- Now, for the big picture stuff. The Capitals have been legitimately one of the best teams in the league over the past ten games. That ten-game mark is coincidentally also when TJ Oshie arrived back in the lineup. Since that game against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 23, the Caps at five-on-five are seeing 50.1-percent of the shot attempts, 55.6-percent of the expected goals, 54-percent of the scoring chances, and 58.7-percent of the high-danger chances. They hold a deserved 7-2-1 record in those games.
- To put those into a little more perspective, the final three percentages listed there during that stretch rank 6th, 13th, and 3rd in the league respectively. And they are still having no real “luck” when it comes to putting the puck in the net as their five-on-five shooting percentage during that same span ranks 28th in the league (5.86%). They are however getting some fantastic five-on-five goaltending (.933 save percentage) which is good for sixth best.
- If you do a little peek at the standings situation, you will see that the Caps are now just one point back from the second Wild Card spot in the East, two points back from the first Wild Card spot, and four points back from both second and third place in the Metropolitan Division. I’m not saying it’s time to start celebrating or anything but those deficits can shrink very quickly if they get super hot here.
- Alex Ovechkin recently told Al Koken that he thought the Young Guns Caps teams of the late 2000s played hockey like Brazil plays their ‘Samba’ or ‘Ginga’ soccer. That got me thinking, how would I describe how the current Caps play? Then the first-gen Italian American jumped out of me and I realized they very much do play Italian ‘Catenaccio’ style hockey these days. Now, what the heck does that mean?
- It’s all about detail-oriented defense and slowing games down until you can hit the opposition with devastating counterattacks. If you watch the Caps often you can see that they rarely forecheck the life out of other teams and that’s because they prefer to sit back in almost a 1-1-3 formation and pick their spots aggression-wise. They don’t forecheck if it’s clear their opposition has controlled possession because they know they’ll be beaten by speed to the outside given how the team is currently structured. Instead, they’ll wait for a fumble, mistake, or odd-man situation in the offensive zone before a breakout and then pounce on it. Once the puck gets turned over, all of a sudden all five guys are joining the rush. That’s how Laviolette’s system is supposed to work. It’s a more patient setup that can definitely be boring sometimes depending on matchup or game context because it really relies on the other team wanting to come forward with their own pressure for the Caps to then turn it around on them.
- Now, Chris, why do any of us care about any of that? Well, I think it’s a system that is very hard to play successfully with the names that have been out of the lineup all season. You need guys that think the game at the highest level and you need guys that can execute swift blows to the opponent on counters. I don’t think it’s just happenstance that things are starting to turn around for the Caps now that they are getting a smidge healthier (Oshie, Carlson) and finding line combinations that are really working (Ovi-Strome-Sheary) as guys get shifted into more comfortable, normal roles due to the addition of even just one more healthy forward. And…more help is on the way likely sooner rather than later.
Numbers thanks to Hockey-reference.com and NaturalStatTrick.com.