Tuesday night, the Caps beat the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-1. It was a strong road game by the Capitals, in which they shut down the Leafs’ superstars save for a last-minute powerplay goal by Mitch Marner to spoil the shutout. There was a lot to like last night. Kevin Shattenkirk finally netted his first goal as a Cap from the Ovi Spot™, and Nate Schmidt escaped his Schmidtuation with a very pretty goal. Alex Ovechkin also moved into second place all-time among Russian scorers.
While it felt like the Caps were in control from start to finish, shot attempts were even in this game at 46 to 44 in favor of the Caps at five-on-five. The disparity was a bit larger in terms of shots on net, with 31 to 21 in favor of the Caps. All in all, only six of the Caps’ five-on-five shot attempts were blocked.
Not normally one to be “unsung,” this will go to Alex Ovechkin for last night’s performance. Held off the scoreboard save for a secondary assist on the Shattenkirk PPG, Ovi was exactly what the Caps need him to be. He was an all-around presence, with 19 total minutes (most of any forward), five shot attempts, and four hits. He finished dead even in shot attempts at five-on-five, with sixteen for and against. Nazem Kadri was tasked with the shutdown role, and while Ovi was held off the board he still looked like a force of nature out there, throwing his weight around and getting a few dangerous chances. If Ovi plays like he did last night in the playoffs the Caps will be just fine.
Unfortunately, last night the Pittsburgh Penguins also won their matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Because of that, the Caps will have to wait to clinch the Metro division, but (knock on wood) it’s all but assured as they just need one point in their next three games to clinch. Only if the Caps fail to gain a single point and the Pens win their next three will they not win the Metro.
So we can assume the Caps will be playing whoever slots into the second wildcard spot. We wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, and the picture has almost entirely changed. The image below from HockeyViz.com is from yesterday, and after last night it will already be outdated, but it still provides some context. A decisive win over Tampa by Boston, along with a regulation win by Ottawa, might have just put the nail in the coffin for the Lightning last night. The Caps are therefore down to three realistic matchups: Ottawa, Toronto, and Boston, with Toronto currently occupying the spot. All of those are favorable. Not guaranteed wins by any means, but a clear edge for Washington. The Caps had a lot to play for down the stretch, and play for it they did.
Stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, Corsica.Hockey, and HockeyViz.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI.
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