Washington Re-Capitals: Week Six

This week, I read a really cool RMNB article on the argument to reunite 819 on the first line after the Columbus game and I dared, dear reader, to hope. And that hope was rewarded. So let that be a lesson to all of us: if you want something enough at the exact right time, Todd Reirden will read your mind and make it a reality.

If only Peter DeBoer was that open to suggestion, right?

In the interest of transparency, my prediction for this four game week was three wins. I was a little overenthusiastic (but only by one game!), but this wasn’t a terrible week overall. Changes were made, and though they’ve yet to pay off in some cases, they make for some good, chaotic fun next week.

Status Cup-date

Record: 7-6-3 (Home: 5-3-2 / Away: 2-3-1)

Standing: 6th Metropolitan / 11th Eastern

Goals For: 54

Goals Against: 56

Team Leaders:

  • Goals: Alex Ovechkin (12)
  • Assists: Nicklas Backstrom (15)
  • Points: Evgeny Kuznetsov (20)
  • PIM: Evgeny Kuznetsov (20)

Game Recap-ital(s)

5th November: Edmonton Oilers @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST (W, 4-2)

Wow, Jakub Vrana. Wow, Devante Smith-Pelly. But above all, wow, Travis Boyd.

I told everybody I knew that scoring only once in eight games was a fluke and what did they tell me? He’s a rookie, you can’t expect anything! And look what we have been blessed with, in his first game back from a lower body injury that kept him out through the first five week of the season. Two fourth line goals. Vrana was apparently not very happy with his demotion to the fourth line, but a multipoint night certainly eases the sting. The Capitals carried that lead for the first half of the first, but unfortunately, Connor MacDavid on the power play. Do I need to say more than that? I feel like it explains itself.

Either way, the Caps left the first period behind with an extremely terrifying 2-1 lead. Everyone says the two goal lead is the least defensible lead in hockey, but I feel like one goal leads, while slightly more defensible, also serve the purpose of injecting pure, concentrated terror directly into your veins. The fourth line looked amazing, Jaskin didn’t look terrible up on the first, and there was enough to offset the terror coming into the second period.

The theme of the second period, like this season, was obvious — John Carlson did not come to play.

Eight minutes in, Carlson and Backstrom assisted on a T.J. Oshie goal that made Talbot look silly. While Leon Draisaitl made an effort to come back, an Alex Ovechkin power play goal, from Carlson and Kuznetsov, sealed the deal for the Capitals while tying Ovi with Marcel Dionne for eighth place in career power play goals. The third period was largely uneventful, save for an anxiety attack of a Backstrom boarding penalty with a minute left in the third, and the game ended with a W for Pheonix Copley, who ended the night with a 93.9% save percentage.

Fun facts of the night:

  • My favorite Oiler, Jujhar Khaira, ended the night with a CF% rel of -24.4.
  • The worst Capital, in terms of CF% rel, was Travis Boyd, with a -24.1, but Travis Boyd also assisted on two goals, so whomst cares?
  • The Capitals were really bad defensively. Like more Oilers were in the positives on CF% rel than the Capitals, bad. But that’s a known issue, so let’s stop bothering about it.

We got the W, right? Carry on, boys.

Before next time, carpe D-iem.

7th November: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Washington Capitals, 7:30pm EST (W, 2-1)

Happy Nicklas Backstrom Appreciation Day. To thank Nicklas Backstrom for his community service, please leave a tin of snus and the ashes of any IKEA furniture construction manual outside the closest bridge to your house. He’ll find it. Guaranteed. He’s got this. The Capitals celebrated their extremely elite center’s 600th NHL assist by giving him gifts that, per the video feed, everyone’s favorite garden gnome was mystified by.

The team thanked him by getting him on the board, bringing him to eight hundred and sixteen career points, six hundred and four of which were assists. That’s right. Less than 26% of Backstrom’s career points are goals. His career high was 33 goals in 82 games almost ten years ago, during the 2009-10 season. Backstrom, with three goals through fourteen games, is on track to score slightly over half of that. But who needs Backstrom to do anything other than dish out the prettiest pass in the league when we have No Defense All Offense First Line Duo Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Ovechkin, right?

Oh, wait, they’re not on the same line?

Oops.

Either way, despite the distinct lack of first line 8-19, the Capitals played a good game against the Penguins. T.J. Oshie, known superhero, played an absolutely unbelievable game against the Penguins. But we’ll get to that later.

T.J. Oshie’s game started with a present from Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta in the form of a stick blade beneath the visor. To be clear — not a present. Not sure Maatta got the message, but the apparent cut to Oshie’s nose and potential injury to his eye sent him to the locker room.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was so worried about Oshie that the most surprising part of Sidney Crosby’s power play goal (boo) to open the scoring wasn’t that Crosby had scored or that the Penguins had taken the lead — it was that Jack Johnson, who I’d completely forgotten about leaving the Blue Jackets, was on the Penguins.

Oshie returned for the second period, prompting a sigh of relief among the team and fans alike, just in time for the Capitals’ first power play unit to convert, Alex Ovechkin scoring his twelfth goal of the season and passing Marcel Dionne for sole ownership of eighth place on the all time career power play list. John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom assisted, in a spectacular display of skill, strength, and an intense desire to not score the goal themselves to bring it to, as Ian Oland on twitter put it, Ovi – 1, Crosby – 1.

Highlights of the third included an Evgeni Malkin ejection three minutes into the third for a headshot on T.J. Oshie and T.J. Oshie, haver of potentially one point five eyes and giver of zero (0) bats in a wind tunnel about Evgeni Malkin, scoring the game winner, from Carlson (who had his second two point night this week) and Kuznetsov.

Holtby saved forty-one of forty-two shots he faced, so when T.J. Oshie told us all that it was Holtby’s night more than it was his, it was easy to believe it. The Capitals had many heroes that night, and going into the match against Columbus with two wins in a row isn’t a bad idea. This team lacks two things — defense and defense — but the longer Bowey and Djoos stay in the lineup, the more surefooted and qualified they seem for the responsibilities they have (and potentially more!).

I’m excited for the Columbus matchup. Hopefully Bobrovsky’s slide continues for at least one more game.

9th November: Columbus Blue Jackets @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST (L, 2-1)

Jonas Siegenthaler, who you may remember from almost making this team out of camp, made his NHL debut tonight against the Blue Jackets, and while it didn’t end with a W, he became one of a rising number of Swiss developed players to make the NHL in recent years, a list that includes Timo Meier (SJS), Nico Hischier (NJD), and Kevin Fiala (NSH). The one hundred and two games he spent in the AHL with the Hershey Bears served him well — Siegenthaler didn’t look out of place beside Bowey, and Djoos impressed in the top four, promoted due to a John Carlson injury that kept him out of the lineup.

All three goals tonight were power play tallies. Oliver Bjorkstrand opened the scoring in the waning minutes of the first period, and Matt Niskanen scored as the first half of the second period wound down, also getting Backstrom and Kuznetsov on the scoreboard. Duclair scored the third power play goal of the night to put the game to bed, and the Blue Jackets left D.C. with a W.

However dull the scoresheet looked, that doesn’t mean there weren’t bright spots from the Capitals’ younglings. Jakub Vrana showcased his wheels and agility in the third and had an impressive CF% of 70.6. He was tied for second in the team in individual Corsi For events with Matt Niskanen, with 7 to his name, only behind Dmitry Orlov, who had 8. Vrana’s CF rel% was 24.9, the best on the team by more than 2%! The next closest were Lars Eller (22.8%) and Brett Connolly (18.7%), which speaks to a great possession night by the Capitals’ third line.

Siegenthaler struggled with possession (CF% 40, CF% rel -12.8%, FF 42.9%, and FF rel% -5.6) but had the second-lowest percentage of offensive stats among Capitals defensemen (eclipsed only by Michal Kempny). The difference between Corsi and Fenwick percentages, relative and for percentage, tells us that a lot of shots were blocked while Siegs was on the ice, which means a lot of his struggles could be solved by better luck. Look for Siegenthaler to maintain his tie with Aaron Ness as the most likely defensive callup over the course of the season. This may be his last season as a Bear, so the fans in Hershey better enjoy what time they have left with him, because he is just too fun to watch with the Capitals.

Andre Burakovsky… he did something. I’m proud of him. The positioning isn’t always there, and the scoring isn’t either, but hearing about how much the mental side of his game has improved over the last few years is amazing. He started 2/3rds of his shifts in the offensive zone, but only generated three individual Corsi for events and tying for fourth worst in shot attempts for (13) while he was on the ice. The bright side — three was a large percentage of the fourth line’s thirteen events — is obvious. His possession stats are steadily improving — Andre was one of seven forwards to register a positive Corsi For relative % tonight, and while that hasn’t made a big impact on his season numbers (his CF is still at 48.9% fifteen games in), a few more good games will do the trick.

One loss out of three games isn’t a terrible place to be, and there were plenty of bright spots in a game that, overall, didn’t look so great for the Capitals as far as the scoresheet went.

There’s always room for optimism.

You’ve just got to let it in.

11th November: Arizona Coyotes @ Washington Capitals, 5:00pm EST (L 4-1)

There’s this one gif that I remember seeing floating around the Internet from an episode of Big Brother that says something along the lines of “I give so much and now I get to receive”, and that’s just about all I’ve got in terms of feelings now. First line 8-19. We’re here, folks. We survived the Long Drought. Life is good, love is alive, and our souls have been renewed.

I get it, I’m being a little dramatic, and sure, maybe it’s not cool to get teary eyed over Nicklas Backstrom being an awesome dad, but I’m having a great time and you should consider it too.

John Carlson drew back in after missing the Columbus game, and Dmitrij Jaskin drew out, going straight from the first line to the press box. Boyd, instead of centering the fourth line, got moved to the wing so that Dowd could take back over at center, and Vrana, who Reirden tossed back in the top six line blender, got moved back to 2LW.

The defensive pairs also got similarly shuffled, with Carlson and Orlov paired together and Kempny and Niskanen paired, rather than the usual Kempny-Carlson and Orlov-Niskanen, but Djoos-Bowey is still standing strong as the third pair, and they’ve certainly proved they belong, since Brooks Orpik’s injury.

Anyway, no matter what happens tonight, this is the highlight we should all hold dear to our hearts.

The Coyotes opened the scoring, at 16:56 of the first, on a power play goal by Vinnie Hinostroza (recently liberated from the Chicago Blackhawks), and notched their second goal (Richard Panik, also recently liberated from the Blackhawks, unassisted at 11:57 of the second period), the first even strength goal the Capitals have allowed in three games. Lest you think that’s a good sign, they’ve also allowed at least one power play goal in every one of the last four games.

But then magic happened.

Alexander Ovechkin, known elite passer, fed Nicklas Backstrom a goal, his first since the game against Dallas, and Madison Bowey caught the wave as well, getting his name on the scoreboard. I died a little bit in the best way possible, honestly. We all knew 8-19-77 was going to work, but seeing it in action was something else.

That carried on until Alex Galchenyuk helped the Coyotes to a two goal lead with another power play goal, Arizona’s second of the night. Honestly, I wonder if Arizona’s just trying extra hard to score on the power play just to spite all the people who pointed out that their penalty kill was better at converting than their power play. I respect that. Spite is healthy and wonderful, as Nicklas Backstrom has taught us, and if that’s what gets the Coyotes rolling, by all means, roll on.

The score held steady at 3-1 to close out the second, but the good feelings, however short lived in their original form, were easily revived upon rewatching the goal video. (A million thank yous, as always, go out to Ian Oland of RMNB, HockeyKot, and all the other accounts who gif goals and plays for those of us who can’t watch the game live. You guys are rockstars.)

Like, convince me this isn’t just a full on body swap.

I know, I know, Backstrom has a shot too, he does use it with some regularity, and Ovechkin is not only capable but willing to pass, but the reversal of the Great Archetypes that hockey media has relentlessly constructed and perpetuated about them being deconstructed with one hell of a goal upon being reunited is just too poetic.

The Capitals took their third offensive zone penalty of the night on a T.J. Oshie hooking call, and Devante Smith-Pelly saved the day, taking the majority of the penalty kill shifts over the four minute penalty. After two power play goals lovingly gift-wrapped and handed to the Coyotes, one uneventful penalty kill was a blessing beyond explanation. Washington’s giveaways have been the weakness this game — with twelve minutes left in the third, after forty-eight minutes of play, the Capitals trailed the Coyotes with nine giveaways to three, and only four takeaways to the Coyotes’ nine. But the Capitals are winning faceoffs, so… never mind, actually, that’s… not as positive as I’d like it to be. The Caps are getting that right, at least?

The real positive of the night, outside 8-19’s Return To Their Former Glory, is Alex Galchenyuk’s redemption tour of a season, both tonight, and overall so far. Montreal must be giving themselves kidney stones. He’s scored three goals and eight points in nine games played for the Coyotes, and that as their first line center. Montreal definitely got that one wrong (regardless of Max Domi’s 25% shooting percentage), and as good as Kotkaniemi is or might become, it would’ve been amazing to have Galchenyuk to be the proverbial cherry on top of their depth down the middle. We all know he wasn’t ever going to get deployed as a center while playing in Montreal, though, so good riddance to the Habs and happy liberation to Chucky. Hopefully his days in Arizona continue to be happy and productive, as long as he doesn’t score against the Caps again.

Darcy Kuemper had a hell of a game, and at the end of the day, the Caps’ lack of defense really got the best of them — the Coyotes stole the puck often and the Capitals just couldn’t steal it back. The empty netter by Stepan, Galchenyuk and Keller was Arizona’s celebration of a wonderful night, and if any team in the league deserves to celebrate, it’s them.

The Capitals love sharing the joy, but maybe (maybe actually makes this sound like they have a choice in the matter, which they absolutely do not and should not) they should stop.

Roster Spot Musical Chairs

Notable transactions this week include:

  • To NHL: Travis Boyd (from AHL), Jonas Siegenthaler (from AHL), Aaron Ness (from AHL), John Carlson (injured, missed one game (vs. CBJ))
  • To LTIR: Brooks Orpik (from IR, retroactive to 10/27)

Next Week’s Games

  • 13th November: Washington Capitals @ Minnesota Wild, 8:00pm EST
  • 14th November: Washington Capitals @ Winnipeg Jets, 8:00pm EST
  • 16th November: Washington Capitals @ Colorado Avalanche, 9:00pm EST

Weather Forecast

The Minnesota Wild (10-4-2) face the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, November 13th, and the Capitals… oh boy. This is going to be a hell of a game.

Mikael Granlund leads the Wild in goals (9) and total points (17), while Ryan Suter leads them in assists with 10. These totals belie a problem that the Capitals could look to exploit — the total goals scored by and against the Minnesota Wild during their games are below the league average of 6.21 goals per game by 0.4 goals. They’re riding excellent goaltending (a team wide save percentage of .926%) and a hot scoring streak from Zach Parise, who looks pretty young for thirty-four when he’s got the puck on his stick. When they make their way to Xcel Energy Center, the Capitals are facing a team that’s won three games in a row, even if those three games were won against the Kings, Ducks, and Blues. They have an opportunity to snap a winning streak while starting a new one of their own.

Next, the Capitals jet over to Winnipeg (ha ha ha) to face a team with equally strong goaltending (.920% save percentage, thanks to incredible performances by Hellebuyck and backup Laurent Brossoit) and team scoring leaders Blake Wheeler (team leader in assists [18] and points [21]), Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor (T-1st for goals [7]). The offense has nothing on the Capitals — only two Jets (Wheeler and Scheifele) and have scored above fifteen points this season, as opposed to the Capitals’ four (Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Carlson and Backstrom, with Oshie close behind).

The Capitals close out the week in Colorado, facing the mountain of the Mackstreet Boys. Hopefully 8-19-77 are up to the challenge. The Avalanche are below league average in shots, but above league average in shooting percentage (by nearly two percent!) — the Capitals can take advantage by playing better defense, which seems impossible right now, but maybe will happen eventually? Maybe? The Avalanche’s power play and penalty kill are both better than league average (PP is +4% and PK is ~+2.5%), so the Capitals will need to score at even strength to win a game in Denver.

This Week In Review

The Capitals did not look good this week. They split the homestand 2-2, which isn’t terrible, but in a division that’s notoriously tough to survive in, they need all the help they can get. The lack of defense is starting to drag the Capitals downward, and as Carlson, Orlov, Kempny and Niskanen struggle to keep the goalie facing less than forty shots a night, changes obviously need to be made to both the forward and defensive corps. Reirden made some changes, juggling Vrana up and down the lineup, substituting Siegenthaler, Bowey and Djoos into the lineup in the face of injury, and reuniting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the first line.

The Capitals are uniquely gifted in knowing that their depth is above league average — during the game against Arizona, they had a legitimate NHLer sitting in the press box. All the depth in the world, though, won’t save the team from the wrong combination of forwards. I’m excited to see what Vrana – Kuznetsov – Stephenson will do going forward, if they last through to the game against the Minnesota Wild — Stephenson’s faceoff acumen might be a good counter for Kuznetsov’s lack of strength in the area, and Vrana’s defensive skill, while not enough to protect both Kuznetsov and Ovechkin from themselves, might be enough to manage Kuznetsov by himself.

Oshie, Backstrom, and Ovechkin are a proven combination, and their offensive skill rounds out an incredibly potent top six — we should see more scoring all around, if this particular iteration of the lineup gets a second chance despite the loss in Arizona, and I’m excited to see where the chips land. Even if the homestand didn’t end exactly how I thought, I’m glad to see change being made, and I’m especially glad to see the baby Capitals stepping up to the plate and making a point of their readiness to play in the big leagues.

Jakub Vrana is not going to let you forget his name anytime soon and that’s the way we all like it.

(Picture Credit: NBC Sports)

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