With 41 games in the bank and the season’s back half sprawling out ahead of us, I asked two good, good RMNB boys, Brendan Doyle and Pat Holden, to hang out with me for an hour and unpack the past, present, and future of the 2017-18 Washington Capitals. Below is our chat transcript.
Brendan. Pat. We are 41 games into the Caps season. If today were still October 1, and I if told you the Caps at the halfway mark would be leading the division, with a 90 percent chance of making the ’loffs, would you call me a liar?
I wouldn’t call you a liar because I trust you.
If you told me that before the season, I’d believe you. If you told me that 15 games into the season, I definitely would not.
I agree with Brendan on that. Going into the season I expected the team to be really good, near the top in the East. The Matt Niskanen injury kind of reset my thinking.
Yeah. Things were pretty dark in Caps land in October-November. But beyond that, at least at a high level, the team has not fallen off nearly as much as we might’ve thought, right?
A lot of projection models had them dropping compared to last season, but still being a top team. And I trusted those, largely.
I’d agree with that. If you asked me before the season, I don’t think I would have predicted that the Caps would be running at the top of the Metro. I still believed they were a playoff team, and probably would be top-3 Metro though.
But the lack of depth makes any injury to a guy in the top-6 forwards or top-4 defense way more of an issue than previous seasons.
That’s so true, Pat. The team’s superstars seem to be the ones responsible for the team’s standing right now. Holtby and Ovi in particular. Let’s start with Alex Ovechkin first. He is on pace for 52 goals, what is he doing differently this season, and can he keep it up?
It’s hard to comprehend how he’s on pace for 52 goals at the age of 32. I think it’s always safe to bet the under on a pace like his at his age, but he continues to somehow defy the odds.
I think he can keep it up. I do think his production shifts more towards the PP from 5-on-5, but I don’t know if we’ll notice a big drop-off. Like @peterhassett pointed out a couple of weeks ago, he’s scoring more than expected at 5-on-5, but less on the PP.
Those two hat tricks in games one and two sure did give him some padding on the way too. So Brendan thinks Ovi can keep it up. What say you, Holden?
I would bet he’ll finish with less than 52 goals.
Okay from offense to defense. Braden Holtby is right around 92.5 percent saving at 5-on-5, though he had been riding around 93 for much of the season. Right now he is well out of the Vezina race, but I’d have to think it’s another strong outing for him. How much of the Caps’ win record should be credited to Holtby?
I think Holtby has been good, and the team is certainly better with him than without him. And while he’s seemingly earned two points all by himself some nights, I think he can be even better. He’s 25th in the league in 5-on-5 save percentage. I’m not knocking on him, I’m just saying he can be better than that.
I think Holtby’s one of the primary reasons that the Caps are in the position that they’re in right now. He certainly helped them out in the stretch without Niskanen, helping cover up for some of the young d-men (Djoos, Bowey) getting their first shot. He’s had a rough stretch as of late but I think we can expect to see him rebound as the season goes on.
(A stretch of ~15 games in which you had to play two rookies and Ness/Chorney every night could have been much worse than it was.)
So you think we’ll be talking Vezina buzz in April? He’s had a much harder workload compared to previous seasons…
I do not, as of right now. But one Holtby-like hot streak can change that in a hurry.
I don’t know if we’ll be hearing Vezina. But I do think that he’ll end up playing near that level, even if he’s been a little inconsistent this year.
I’d like to see that. I feel like I’ve seen way too much of him staring up at the jumbotron watching replays all forlorn lately.
Okay, moving on.
The trade deadline is looming. John Carlson is on the last year of his contract, Lars Eller is UFA too. Philipp Grubauer is a tasty fungible asset. Should the Caps keep them all and be buyers? Or should they sell off? Or a little of column A, little of column B?
I think they should be a little of both. If I were GMBM, I’d be shopping Grubauer hard.
If they can move an asset and improve the club, they should go for it. It’s hard to see how moving Carlson and Eller could do that, but I suppose it’s possible. In reality, I don’t see any chance they move either of those two.
However, I do think they should hold onto Carlson and Eller, especially given that they’re in great playoff position.
Grubauer on the other hand, sure, I’d move him for the right deal. But, given how long the Caps have held him, perhaps that market just hasn’t developed and he’s more valuable on the team than for what he’d get in a return.
So shifting from should to would. (And I agree about Eller and Carlson, though I suspect Grubauer could fetch a king’s ransom in some places this spring.) So you both think the Caps will be buyers? What do they need?
If you could move Grubauer for a good bottom sixer to help solidify that, I think it has to be done, given how bad the fourth line especially has been.
In any case, given the goaltender prospects in the pipeline, I think you have to move Grubi.
Well, if the Brooks Orpik–Madison Bowey pairing doesn’t improve, they need to address that.
We know Orpik isn’t going anywhere, so a right-handed defenseman to play with him to solidify that pair would be nice. Perhaps a poor man’s Nate Schmidt-type player, since Orpik had so much success with Schmidt last season. A guy who can skate like the wind and get the puck up ice quickly with his feet or a pass.
But, perhaps that guy is Bowey. He has time to sort out his game between now and the deadline. But even then, bringing in a depth D would be the move I’d make.
But not a Mike Weber type. Someone who can skate and play hockey.
So F depth and D depth are the problems that need solving?
Depth has truly been the issue for the Caps this year. Their top-six forwards and top-four defense are as good as anybody’s in hockey.
So, hopefully, Burakovsky can get off the shneid and slot back into that third line with Connolly and Eller, and you look for a solid fourth liner or third pairing D to help clean things up.
Well, in that same vein, name one player who has impressed you, and one who has disappointed you this season.
Christian Djoos has impressed me. Andre Burakovsky has disappointed me. Runners up are Vrana and Beagle, respectively.
When it comes to a player impressing me, no player has impressed me more than Christian Djoos. He’s really been a revelation on the blue line this season.
I’d say Burakovsky disappointed me, but to be unique from Pat, I’ll say Lars Eller has disappointed me so far.
Yeah, any question marks over Djoos from the preseason should be gone. Kid’s looked natural as hell in the bigs. But put me down for Devante Smith-Pelly though. While he’s been so-so in the depth role, but I don’t think he’s been out of place in his top-line stints. It’s exciting to know a marginal player can step up like that.
With Jay Beagle, I don’t know if he’s to blame or if he’s just a victim of circumstance, so he’s got me like 🤔🤔🤔🤔
I agree with your assessment of DSP. I don’t like the deployment of him on the first line, but I think he’s done about as well as anybody could have asked there.
I think there’s some circumstances to point to that could explain some of Beagle’s issues. But, he’s being asked to do a job he seems incapable of doing at the moment.
Let’s zoom out. The Penguins are out of the playoff picture right now. The Knights are apparently Cup contenders. Arizona and Buffalo still stink, but that surprises no one. What has surprised you most outside DC?
Wow, way to steal the answers.
The Knights have to be the story of the season thus far. I don’t know anybody who expected them to be as bad as, say, the expansion Caps, but the fact that they’re out here pacing the Pacific is unbelievable.
I think Pittsburgh and Vegas have been huge surprises, but Tampa has also surprised me. I picked them to win the division, so I thought they’d be good. But I didn’t think they’d be this good.
Tampa looks like a Cup favorite.
Not to be super nerdy, but I ran Pythagorean win expectations for the league, and the top-four teams getting more wins than their goal differential would predict are the Knights, the Bolts, the Devils, and the Caps.
Any notable teams getting less wins than their goal differential would expect?
excuse me, *fewer
Well played, Doyle. Yes, the Coyotes, the Sabres, and the Senators are underperforming.
The Penguins are neither over- or under-performing in case you’re wondering, which you are.
I certainly was.
What about Edmonton? Shouldn’t they not suck?
I think it’s perfectly reasonable that they suck. McDavid is good enough to build a team around, but they keep weakening the team around him.
omigod it’s a mirage I’m telling all y’all Peter Chiarelli is committing sabotage
but he was right about Seguin. That guy was going nowhere.
It’s one for one.
Okay last Q. 41 games left. For the Caps, for the NHL, for all of hockey and beyond, tell me one thing you’re sure will happen, one thing that is 50/50, and one thing that is a super longshot.
Well, since you said for all of hockey and beyond, one thing that I’m sure will happen is that, come February, I’ll be wishing NHL players were in the Olympics.
What a frustrating situation.
I agree, but it’s at least cool to see Chris Bourque get a shot there.
50/50: Tom Wilson will end the season as a legit top-six option moving into 2018-19.
OoOoOoO I could see that– it would just take a leap of faith for Barry Trotz to trust him up there long-term.
Super longshot: Jakub Vrana gets red hot, a couple rookies around the league get hurt, and young Jakub wins the Calder.
My 90 percent is that the Caps don’t win the Metro.
50/50: The Penguins don’t make the playoffs. Matt Murray has looked really, really shaky when he hasn’t been hurt.
Bold on that 90 percent.
(How weird is that that MAF has legitimately outplayed his successor in Pittsburgh – and with a way crummier defense.)
Longshot: Ovechkin gets hot on the PP and scores 55-plus goals.
Bless you for that optimism.
…and does not win the Richard.
And there’s the twist. Nikita Kucherov?
Yup, he’s my favorite at the moment.
Brendan, Pat. One of you is a gentleman and the other is a scholar. Thank you for your time. Any closing thoughts?
Hockey is fun and I miss Nate Schmidt.
I second that.
Crash the net.
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