The Washington Capitals really should have won Thursday night’s game in Detroit. With the team profoundly depleted by injury, securing at least a point whenever you can should be critical. The Caps are in their float era: just kinda get by, maybe force OT — until reinforcements arrive.
That’s going to be really hard next week. The schedule is a gauntlet.
The Capitals play on Monday against the Edmonton Oilers, then Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, then Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then it’s a quick road trip to Florida for another game against the Lightning and one more against the Florida Panthers. I’d be happy if the Capitals get even four points from that stretch. These are tough teams.
Connor McDavid (a.k.a. hockey’s other Connor Mc) has decided in addition to being the best player in the world he’s also going to score a load of goals this season. He’s on the hottest start of his career with 12 goals in 11 games, plus 12 more assists. Sure, he’s shooting about twice his career shooting percentage, but this guy is still next level and probably the level after that.
They are trying to trick you. Do not fall for it. People are pretending that the Penguins are too old. Yeah, they’re old — like almost Capitals-level old — but they’re still deadly. Similar to McDavid but somehow even less charismatic, Sidney Crosby has cranked out a hot start with five goals and seven assists in eleven games.
People claiming there’s something wrong with the team are detecting two problems: bad depth (which kills them especially on the penalty kill), and bad goaltending (which kills them doubly so on the penalty kill). The team controls 56.5 percent of expected goals during five-on-five play (fifth best in the league), but they’re 28th in penalty kill percentage. They’re awful on the PK, and the Caps should punish them for it.
With competent goaltending and maybe some trades for depth, the Penguins will be fearsome again.
Here’s the only team that’s disappointing me so far. The Bolts aren’t driving play (opponents attempt exactly as many shots as they do), and they’ve lost four in regulation. Stamkos is scoring — he’s got the same boxcars as Crosby — but Nikita Kucherov‘s game has opened up a bit in the last couple seasons. Opponents are now generating almost three expected goals per hour during his shifts — up from between 2.1 and 2.4 over previous seasons.
Getting chances against the top line won’t matter much if Andrei Vasilevskiy is lights-out. The 2021 Conn Smythe winner has saved 3.9 goals above expected so far this season, ranking him in the top half of the league’s starters. That’s an odd number, as Vas has given up three or more goals in his last four appearances. Something is up there.
The NHL’s most forgettable team was expected by some to drop off this season after a few years of Cup contention. Early-season signals are mixed. They’re outside the league’s top ten in points percentage, but they’re top three in controlling expected goals (59.5 percent, behind only Carolina and New Jersey). They’re getting league-average goaltending and have a middle-of-the-pack penalty kill, so I’m not sure what’s going wr–
Oh, it’s the power play. The Panthers have converted just five of their 47 power plays, which would be last place in the league if Columbus weren’t even more of a tire fire (zero for 25!). The Cats are shooting 6.1 percent during the PP, and league average is usually twice that. Florida’s fundamentals seem very strong, so a bounceback is coming. Hopefully not on Tuesday, November 15.
So, yikes. That’s a murderer’s row, which is a phrase I’ve never understood. Is that like a dangerous part of town, or like a part in a prison where murderers stay? And also was America’s murder boom just a function of lead and other industrial pollution from the early 20th century? We’ll find out the answers to those questions as the Capitals play four really tough teams in five really tough games.
Oh, wait. I totally forgot. Silly me. On Saturday the Caps play the Arizona Coyotes (3-6-1). They’re even worse than their record shows (anyone can beat the Leafs), so not taking two points to kick off Washington’s longest homestand would be criminal. No way they don’t win in rego. No way.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins
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