The Washington Capitals went on a storybook run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory during the 2017-18 season. Goaltender Braden Holtby was a huge part of the run and spoke with Caps Radio’s Ben Raby about it on the ‘Caps This Morning’ podcast.
During the discussion, Holtby revealed that he is of the belief that the Capitals could have won multiple championships during his time in DC.
“If you had the magic formula, you would win every year so I don’t really know why it worked that year,” Holtby started. “I’ve said it all along, that we weren’t playing with any pressure. Honestly, that year we just went out and played. I think the years prior to that (the pressure of winning) weighed on us a bit, just held us back a little bit because I think those two teams that we had before the year we won are probably the two best hockey teams I’ve ever played on through the start of a year to the end of a year.
The two teams Holtby is referring to are the back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2015-16 and 2016-17 Capitals that were both ousted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six and seven games respectively. Those teams are widely considered to be far better overall hockey teams than the eventual Cup-winning team which we can see in the following score and venue adjusted five-on-five stats.
The stats included are team record, Corsi for percentage, expected goals-for percentage, scoring chances for percentage, and high danger chances for percentage.
2015-16: 56-18-8, 51.5 CF%, 52.2 xGF%, 51.7 SCF%, 51.3 HDCF%
2016-17: 55-19-8, 53.2 CF%, 51.3 xGF%, 52.5 SCF%, 50.0 HDCF%
2017-18: 49-26-7, 48.3 CF%, 47.1 xGF%, 48.6 SCF%, 45.3 HDCF%
As you can see, the 2017-18 team hemorrhaged scoring chances and saw far less of the puck than the previous two teams did during their respective regular seasons. Holtby himself went into the playoffs in the Cup-winning season allowing more than four goals (-4.4) than expected. In the previous two seasons combined he stopped 59.6 more goals than expected, a gigantic discrepancy.
Over the course of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 playoffs, no team that was able to win at least one series had a better expected goals rate (54.6-percent), shot attempt rate (53.7-percent), or scoring chance rate (55.9-percent) than the Capitals. They however had only the 14th best PDO, saving percentage plus shooting percentage, among all playoff teams in those years (99.4).
“We just couldn’t get it done and we obviously lost to a very good Pittsburgh team,” Holtby continued. “In saying that, a few goals here and there and that’s either of those series and we might have been talking about multiple Stanley Cups. That’s how close and fine the game of hockey is. Everything clicked for us in ’18 and we just went and played free and I think that’s a big reason why we were able to pull it off and obviously some big performances from a lot of guys, good bounces at times when we needed them, and everything that needed to go right, did.”
Were the Caps truly a few goals away from being the latest NHL dynasty team? Holts sure thinks so.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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