I’ve been reading a scifi series called The Expanse and I love it. In the books, a grizzled detective tells a naive idealist about all the hidden risks that will get him killed if he’s not aware of them. “I keep warning you,” Miller tells Holden, “Doors and corners, kid. That’s where they get you.”
As the Caps rev up for the playoffs, these are their doors and corners — the things that could take them down if they’re not careful. I will rank them using the obvious native vocabulary of playoff disaster, the Escape Goat.
This is not actually a risk. Or, perhaps, it’s one that has already been mitigated. Orpik is a 36-year-old playing a style of defense that is rapidly falling out of fashion: heavy-hitting, non-mobile, ceding space. Except Orpik’s game really has grown this season. He makes better passes out of the D-zone, and he gets aggressive earlier — before the opponent gets into the scoring-chance areas. Add to that his always-excellent conditioning and two great partners in Schmidt and Shattenkirk and you’ve got a solid season from Washington’s last remaining BO44.
He’ll be fine.
Risk ranking: just one escape goat
Washington has one of the most fearsome third lines in the league, but Barry Trotz doesn’t use them much. Despite their practice jersey color, the third line gets less ice than the fourth line, who is not nearly as good.
Barry Trotz is a good coach, but his lack of trust in good, young players is maybe his biggest failing. Will it burn the Caps?
Risk ranking: two escape goats
The Caps have a top-5 power play and top-10 penalty kill, but they use the latter more than the former. Especially in the middle of the season, the Caps were killing way more often than they were a man up.
Matt Niskanen, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, and Dmitry Orlov are the deepest underwater, creating among them 38 more kills than power plays. Marcus Johansson is doing his best to offset that (he’s drawn 11 and taken 2 during 5-on-5), but he’s only one man.
The refs will call the playoffs differently, and at some point they will put the whistles away. Will the Caps get their chances before they do?
Risk ranking: three escape goats
Alex Ovechkin is still spectacular when he’s scoring, but there’s a tradeoff. No Caps player allows the opponent a higher shot-attempt or scoring-chance rate.
|Player||Opp attempts/60||Opp chances/60|
If Ovechkin can finish on his chances, this won’t matter, but buttoning up the defense a bit might be wise too.
Risk ranking: four escape goats
Karl Alzner has never been a possession stud, but he’s distinctly fallen off in the last year. Whether that’s due to the sports hernia surgery he got last summer, another latent injury, or the aging curve, there is obviously something wrong. Except Alzner’s usage hasn’t changed much. Every player pays a price for skating with Alzner, and the team might pay a price as a whole in the playoffs.
Risk ranking: five escape goats
Braden Holtby has been nearly perfect in the playoffs. The only goalie who’s been better has been the composite mutant goalie of all goalies that Washington has faced, like katamari damacy rolling over Tim Thomas and Marc-Andre Fleury and company. JP put it like this:
In other words, Caps have gotten NHL-best (ever) .937 playoff goaltending with Holtby in net and have faced what would be 2nd best, .933.
— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) March 21, 2017
This is a familiar story. The Caps’ scoring tends to dry up in the playoffs. If, all of a sudden, the pucks stop going in and Washington gets desperate, all bets are off. Lines and tactics will get shaken, Ovechkin will prioritize hits over shots, and sports columnists across the continent will start salivating. It’s the nightmare scenario — all doors and corners and escape goat rodeos.
Risk ranking: ALL OF THE GOATS
Headline photo: Forrest
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