By Nathan Sick
Tuesday night, the Capitals held on to beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime to start a five-game road trip. The Caps just barely skirted by on this one, propped up almost entirely by special teams, Braden Holtby, and their top-line star power.
Alex Ovechkin had what was (surprisingly) his first ever three-PPG game and his 17th career hat trick. TJ Oshie continued to pressure the captain for the team lead in goals with two of his own (including the OT winner), and Nick Backstrom had yet another three-assist night.
Overall, this was a low-event game in terms of shot attempts. The two teams combined for only 60 shot attempts at five-on-five. The Caps alone produced 74 in their 2-1 win over Columbus. In the end, the Wild had the better of possession, with 38 five-on-five shot attempts to just 22 by the Caps.
Any one of the top line trio would get this, except that they wouldn’t be the most “unsung” recipients. No, this actually goes to Brooks Orpik, and not because of his five-on-five play. He skated more than five minutes on the penalty kill and only saw four shot attempts against during that time and one in favor of the Caps. Only two of those shot attempts against were unblocked, in five minutes of penalty killing. To put that in perspective, while Brooks was PK’ing the Caps saw a rate of unblocked shot attempts against that was one-third of what it was at regular five-on-five play last night. Also, his expected goals against per 60 minutes was only 2.2, lowest of any of the primary penalty killers by a wide margin.
Alex Ovechkin may currently be answering the question as to whether a player can “flip the switch” come playoffs. Having been relatively “quiet” (by his standards) for a good portion of the year, he’s been very obviously heating up lately. The statistics back this up as well, and even more interesting is that it looks like it happened last year, too. His on-ice possession has skyrocketed over the last 15-games, which is partially a function of how well all of the top trio has been playing. Last season, he entered the playoffs at 58 percent score-adjusted possession over the final stretch, while this year he is up to 55 percent over the last 15 games (from a season-minimum of 46 percent). Furthermore, not only does he now have five goals in his last four games, but his rate of taking shot attempts is skyrocketing (see the chart below). There very well may be something to the idea that he has been humming along at less than his maximum, and is now deliberately starting to turn up the heat.
Stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and NaturalStatTrick.
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI.
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