While The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga is already planning a parade, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg had some interesting thoughts after his team’s 6-3 loss to the Capitals.
Two nights earlier, Detroit played another Metropolitan Division superpower, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Zetterberg was asked to compare the two teams.
“[The Capitals] are really skilled and when they can roll in transition or turnovers that they did today, they’re a good team,” Henrik Zetterberg said, according to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. “Columbus, the last game we played, I thought was a tougher team to play against. They’re a lot harder and they play different. Don’t get me wrong, this is a really, really good team, but it’s a different team than let’s say Columbus.”
Tuesday, the Red Wings lost an overtime thriller to the Blue Jackets, 3-2.
Zetterberg, a 14-year NHL veteran, is one of the most gentlemanly players in the game and is friendly with longtime Swedish national teammate Nicklas Backstrom. He would not utter anything to intentionally disrespect another team — notice he made sure to still call the Capitals “really, really good.”
Drilling down even further, what I think Zetterberg’s trying to say, is that Columbus grinds games out more and is a more physically-demanding team to go up against. Zetterberg probably felt more tired and goals were harder to come by against Columbus than Washington.
But if we look at the shot attempts from both games, the Capitals were more dominant overall.
And here are the timeline shot attempts graphs for both games.
In three head-to-head match-ups against the Blue Jackets this season, the Capitals have lost two of three. The only game the Caps won was on January 5th, when they ended Columbus’s winning streak at 16 games.
Since then, the Capitals have turned into a god and shot up the standings. They currently have the most standings points in the NHL (82) and, after trailing Pittsburgh and Columbus for a majority of the season, lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the second-place Penguins and nine points over the third-place Blue Jackets.
Understanding the differences between division foes is important because the Capitals will likely have to go through one of these two teams to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Last season, the NHL changed their playoff seedings, which is why the Capitals and Penguins — the two best teams in the Eastern Conference — matched up in the second round.
Also keep in mind, we all mocked the Blue Jackets’ RJ Umberger when he said the league-leading Capitals were playing the wrong way seven years ago.
“I don’t think any team in the West would be overmatched by them,” Umberger said. “They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.”
“A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they’re going to get frustrated because they’re in their zone a lot.”
The Capitals lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens that year.
Yes, the Capitals are playing dominant and are overmatching teams with their skill and speed right now. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are many more tests to come. The team is about to enter their mandated bye week, which could halt all momentum they have built over the last two months. The team appears likely to lose one of their best offensive players in Andre Burakovsky with a hand injury, potentially messing with the third line’s unmatched chemistry. And in the playoffs, all bets are off. Games are more physical and goals are harder to come by. The Capitals will have to beat some of the best teams in the league to advance, no matter how unfair that might be.
So while I’m very, very impressed with this Capitals team, Zetterberg’s quote should serve as a good reminder for all of us that we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Until Washington wins 16 games in the playoffs, they are not champions.
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